St Leonards Foundary - Colin Priest

Page 1



The  SPACE, St Johns Road, St Leonards- on-Sea Thursday 14 th March – Sunday 13 th April 2014



introduction Inserting temporary art interventions into the fabric of the built environment can be fraught with issues – vandalism, indifference, incomprehension... But working in St Leonards-on-Sea brings its own set of challenges for the artist, curator & audience. The town’s rich architectural heritage juxtaposed with the ever-changing coastal landscape provides artists with a unique backdrop to research, experiment and make temporary work which is informed by the town’s special flavour. Since 2009, artists have been fortunate to have The SPACE, a name given to the disused outdoor locations that have been made available for artists’ temporary use. The first site, 58 Kings Road, hosted a range of temporary projects and events by artists from the area and beyond from 2009-2013. When it was handed back to the owners for proposed development, The SPACE relocated to its current site on St Johns Road, St Leonards-on-Sea, still in close proximity to St Leonards Warrior Square station. Bordered by buddleia and next



to a playground, this open site offers an intriguing opportunity for the artists and curator to embed temporary projects in St Leonards town centre and coastal zone. Colin Priest’s St Leonards Foundary is informed by his research into the utopian visions of Burtons’ Regency architecture and Sidney Little’s modernist seafront structures. Priest’s participatory intervention takes the viewer on a journey where they discover and frame their own interpretations of Hastings and St Leonards-on-Sea. The SPACE projects and events are made possible by The National Lottery through Arts Council England’s grants for the arts programme; Hastings and St Leonards Foreshore Charitable Trust, Community First through Central St Leonards Forum and the Community Development Foundation and Chelsea College of Arts, University of the Arts, London. The SPACE’s location is provided courtesy of Network Rail’s Community Scheme which encourages the temporary use of disused sites. Colin Priest’s research has been facilitated by conversations with Burtons’ St Leonards Society.



CHRISTINE GIST artist/curator & director of Tempo Arts Ltd January 2014



TAKE SOME TIME TO WONDER ABOUT THE PAST The coastal landscape of the British Isles is punctuated with architectural landmarks that negotiate urban scale and environmental fragility, a natural consequence of being between land and sea. Over time these seaside architectures and shared shores, as satirised by Osbert Lancaster in his fictional commentary Progress at Pelvis Bay in 1936, have inevitably worn in time becoming nearly obsolete. As we march our way through the early 21st century we are witnessing sporadic and uncertain forms of seaside renaissance, beacon-like, as towns and resorts grapple in their own ways with conflicting ideologies of heritage conservation, cultural austerity and the demise of the weekend1. Arriving at St Leonards Warrior Square Station, visitors are welcomed into a shifting landscape of phenomena and curiosities, perpetual horizons of unfurling exposure that categorically make St Leonards on the sea. A renowned resort neighbouring Hastings on the south east coast, the prevailing urban fabric of passage and building, stimulates a strong sense of verticality, as roads are tight and skies loom large. Perpetually looking up, the visitor experiences views and vistas a consequence of wartime incidents, iconic planning and engineered cooperation in a stubborn topography. Here the sky rather than the expected sea proportionally and jubilantly frames this place in time. FINDING YOUR WAY


Wandering through this East Sussex town, the streets are lined with a variety of unfolding activities at street level; antiques, prayer and play all jostle for transaction. At once a mirror and a window into contemporary realms and a rebellion of clouds from above, these everyday architectures reflect our life as well as our shared heritage. As a visitor you wander along paths, experience edges, step up into districts, and encounter various nodes or centres locatable through characterful landmarks. As proposed by Kevin Lynch in his urban handbook The Image of the City, these elements composite a series of images that make the town, noting ‘such group images are necessary if 7

an individual is to operate successfully within his environment and to cooperate with his fellows’2. As each unique image posits, a psychogeography begins to emerge connecting the past to the present to establish a sense of permanency. In St Leonards, the spatial extents of place gravitates around certain and well-known static objects, a square, a promenade, a church, a garden, a tower to name a few, each relating and supporting community narratives of yesteryear and yesterday, leaving drifts of value to manifest various forms of memorable continuity. As the urban fabric renews, coexistent stories of realm and memories marry to create new stories, invigorating a contemporary space that can only exist because of its past. As we come to terms with the extent of austerity and the need to build in the early 21st century we are reminded of how conservation of our past is integral to our future, where we as individuals and communities have determined the value of our past for future generations. Lynch, an American fascinated by worldly urban organization and city planning, quantified in What Time is this Place? stating; ‘there is a poignancy in evanescence, in something old about to disappear. Old toys, made for brief use, seemingly so fragile, are much more emotive symbols than are permanent, serious memorials’3. Obsolescence, and ultimately erasure is a physical act that casts a long shadow. Akin to wearing sunglasses, the image of environmental change and broadly heritage can encourage a renewed sense of time, filtering to enhance an understanding of the status quo and a positive outlook toward change. In acknowledging the lost, a resilient present is underscored. In making change visible it vivifies an image of time and as Lynch suggests in healing ‘the breach between the abstract intellectual concept and our emotional sense of it’4. The St Leonards Foundary was conceived as a public platform to contemplate these notions of place-specific environmental and urban changes. Inspired by the verticality and compositional built narratives of the place, past, present and future unite in the act of looking. With an open invitation to find lost heritage, the opportunity to locate and position oneself stimulates conversation where the sky is ever present and the act of looking is implicitly optimistic – upwards. Within this context, St Leonards Foundary becomes an action point, to seek and imagine a demolished past and their contemporary spatial extents if they had remained. A form of proactivity Lynch celebrates; ‘Being alive is being awake in the present, secure in our ability to continue but alert to the new things that come streaming by. We feel our own rhythm of the world. It is when local time, local place, and our own selves are secure that we are ready to face challenge, complexity, vast space and the enormous future’ 5. 8

The selection of specific built environment narratives connects key stages in the development and transformation of the town itself, namely a church, a pier, an archway, a promenade and a square. From afar the compositional nature of urban development along this part of the coast orients towards the sea. Parallel and perpendicular the grain of public and private, residences and recreation, trade and entertainment, routes and access ways pattern and emphasize particular periods of architectural bravura and present sensitivities. ST LEONARDS WITHOUT From above the pattern of St Leonards is founded upon a speculative plan undertaken by James Burton in the early 19th century, having purchased lands from the trustees of the Eversfield Estate to conceive his master vision of a seaside resort. Here, fresh from completing residences circling Regent’s Park he arranged familiar landmarks and public facilities in various revivalist styles including an assembly hall, villas, church, hydro and subscription gardens alongside districts of the town, Mercatoria (shops) and Lavatoria (laundries). Further to this his son, Decimus, oversaw the second phase of development from 1833 within the existing urban plan. Primarily arranged in layers of vertical and horizontal built narrative, arches, towers to name a few, Burton’s plans established axial points strategically navigating Maze Hill and London Road; he created complex orders and wise naturalism that is worthy of greater exploration but is sadly beyond the scope of this discussion and recommend a visit to Burton St Leonards for more information. The area was finally marked with a classical archway denoting St Leonards Boundary and St Leonards Without completed where Market Place meets Grand Parade just before his death in 1837. However, as the town’s popularity inevitably increased so to came greater urgency to widen its roads by a meagre ‘45 inches’  6, necessitating demolition of this now blackened stone mass. So on one fateful night in 1895, ‘the Borough Engineer and his assistants had kept the secret thoroughly, and nobody appeared aware that the order of demolition had gone forth. (…) At 11.30 at night men mounted the roof of the arch, and with pickaxe commenced the task of pulling down. (…) At noon only a foot of the piers remained above the pavment, and the debris had been carted away’  7. As noted by W.H. Dyer in A Brief Story of Hastings and St Leonards, ‘there was a stupendous outcry against removal of this landmark but the authorities solved the problem by getting most of it demolished and out of the 9

Welcome to St Leonards work inviting visitors of

Foundary all ages



The Up


Kings Rd




Hill T err Union St

Stanhope Pl Norman Rd







Gensing Rd


dary, a temporary place-specific ages to seek out some of the town’s


LOST heritage







way in the course of a single night. Marina still begins where the archway stood; note the curious numbering, 1, 15, 16 etc. The original numbers 2-14 were given to buildings on the Promenade side, since demolished’8. Today the archway is only remembered with a pink granite stone; This stone erected in 1898 marks the eastern boundary at this point of the town of St Leonards founded by the late James Burton Esqr 1828. NEVER FORGOTTEN As a part of Burton’s vision for St Leonards, spiritual as well as physical enrichment was essential. Originally conceived on the top of the steep west hill, after friends suggested this might keep people away he decided to locate it off the new seafront road. Tucked near the Assembly Rooms, Hydro and Gardens, between some residences near Undercliff, portions of the steep rock face behind had to be dug out, with the church eventually consecrated in 1834. Designed as a celebration of gothic revival facing the sea rather than the usual eastward orientation, the church was to be Burton’s only church construction. With bulky proportions and frequented by royalty, a turreted bell tower, a round north window and side lancet windows the church divided opinion in its modest scale and position. Withstanding this, the church continued to struggle in its context, firstly from the collapse of the cliff behind and finally over one night on 29th July 1944, when a doodlebug bomb crashed into its front doors leaving a deep crater for the bell tower to fall into, bringing the rest of the church with it. Today, the church’s catenarian arches and waved dado interior, pale buff-coloured brick and cream-coloured stone exterior, designed by architect Adrian Gilbert Scott soon after the end of the war, rightly underscores and neatly braces its history with ‘national importance’ as a listed building. THE AMERICAN PIER As the town developed its reputation as a seaside resort into the 20th century, key landmarks were introduced to increase its popularity. West of Burton’s demolished saltwater Royal Baths, which also included a progressive mixed-use low-level development incorporating a post office, library and bank arrangement opposite St Leonards Hotel, laid St Leonards Pier. In parallel to its nearby competitor Hastings Pier, a 300m-stilted structure, it housed a landing stage and pavilion 16

screening films and a roller-drome. Initially designed by R. St. GeorgeMoore in 1891, the pier suffered during economic decline in the 1920’s only to be weakened with unflattering cosmetic art-deco additions in the 1930’s. As the British Isles prepared for World War II, seaside architectures inescapably deteriorated with the pier being sliced in half for defence purposes, only to endure bomb damage in 1940. As the war ended, the remnants of the pier remained until 1951, after irreparable damage was caused by sea winds. As you wander along the promenade now, the landscape rakes to a thrashing English Channel, relentless and unforgiving, and a timely notice of the architectural fortitude of our seaside piers and the support needed for those trying to save the pier further up in Hastings and further afield with enthusiasm and voice. RECREATIONAL PERSPECTIVES The onset of seaside optimism after World War I, expressed itself in many ways including a bright white and clean architecture – modernism. Inspired by mechanic geometry and industrial efficiency, buildings became icons, asserting themselves firmly in a comparatively comfortable and parochial landscape. This is evident in the West Marina Lido development and primarily at Marine Court; ‘a huge liner of brick and concrete’ 9 designed by architects Kenneth Dalgleish and Roger K Pullen as the tallest building in the UK and opened in 1938. Modeled on a Cunard White-Star Line Queen Mary, the building continues to stand proud as an early skyscraper at an astonishing fourteen storeys high. As an early pioneer of steel-frame construction, akin to the nearby De Le Warr Pavilion, opened in 1935 and designed by Erich Mendelsohn and Serge Chermayeff, the residential estate was inevitably damaged during World War Two. Today the building continues to vertically dominate; however it is the horizontal gesture that is truly modern. ‘Concrete King’ Sidney Little designed the double deck prom in the 1930’s, with the sheltered promenade between Warrior Square and Hastings pier locally known as Bottle Alley. With its back walls decorated in broken bottles on the lower deck, this half a mile long shelter also provided front cover with sliding glazing, a particular celebration being the lounging areas and Sun Lounge near Marine Court. Today along this tenacious straight coastal line are some eroded impressions of shutter tracks in the concrete windowsill below and a chequered upper deck with modern wind shelters for romantic strolls and eager jogging. 17


Through identifying specific histories – and therefore stories – it is apparent the cultural geography of St Leonards is punctuated by action. Charting these through collected ephemera, such as postcards, found maps and guidebooks alongside researched voices; combined they manifest the inherent permanency of the ephemeral and to look at time. Each a passing voice shaping the socio-political understanding of a particular narrative to ultimately fuse and elucidate a complex world. The St Leonards Foundary becomes another reading of the town, an open-air museum to look at objects and architectures. Guide grasped, walking in and around St Leonards written texts and physical textures mosaic to strengthen inquisition and awareness of the place itself, only to critically make the gaps between fleeting transformations of time itself. Collectively seeking intangible architectures with a view to imagining how they might have been, a reality is interrupted with our own frames of reference to speculate upon facts and fictions. Up close or far away St Leonards presents an opportunity to acknowledge our understanding of time and space – and our legacy. As the ceaseless rhythmic tide washes over the shores, holiday seasons and politicians come and go, the inevitability of dealing with change particularly along the coast can be burdensome. However in reconciling responsibility with action, to conserve or demolish, comes an opportunity to recalibrate these mutable identities and to stablise our own contemporaneity, rendering ghosts real and builders fortune-tellers.

The primary site near St Leonards Warrior Square Station, The SPACE is a vacant site in transition and open to the elements. Now operated by Tempo Arts Ltd, and basecamp for St Leonards Foundary, the existing landscape is provisional, a weathered concrete, patterned with history from previous occupancies. In some ways, reminiscent of ‘Magnet’, a speculative project by architect, writer and thinker Cedric Price, where intermediary spaces would stimulate new situations of urban growth in London, analogous and operative – simultaneous and real – the SPACE is contingent. St Leonards Foundary comprises of twelve 1.5 ×1m black honeycomb rubber mats laid in a rectangle temporally fixed at the corners. As a new porous layer, its perforations expose the rough surface below whilst dampening the experience of the ground upon occupation in the demarcated space itself. Dimensionally designed to encourage gathering with an invitation to look up and see the spire of Christ Church and imagine the missing copper 18






spire of neighbouring, St Leonards-on-Sea Congregational Church lost to the Great Storms of 1987, the guide emblematically encourages the public to roam, to shadow history at various places through the town and perhaps beyond. In doing so the surface physically transposes the archway and geography of the boundary line between Hastings and St Leonards together with the lost spaces of the promenade glass, Church, Pier and Warrior Square Putting Green – transforming into a Foundary – a space to find. Dissolving a drawn line or vintage postcard image and at the same time renegotiating it in terms of how one mentally inhabits a place over a postcode or county or site, to address a new psycho-geographic fiction and relationship to heritage. Punctuated on the surface of the St Leonards Foundary is the word LOST, alongside an A-board openly inviting the general public to find lost heritage with fingers cupped around their eyes – play acting as binoculars – guided to observe missing landmarks and buildings around town. A critical part of the work is the production of the guide – re-presenting the value of urban history and the role of heritage in our urban realm in the production of places. In documenting urbanisms and their socio-cultural and political constituents through the act of seeking destroyed or under-threat architectures, a stronger sense of place will begin to emerge through civic engagement, public participation and some childlike seaside fun. The St Leonards Foundary becomes an agent for observing and an ambassador of this seaside town exploring the objectives of the Central St Leonards Forum & Community Development Foundation by ‘bringing communities together’ and ‘enhancing the environment’ as well as representing information gathered from the Burtons’ St Leonards Society with their headquarters at South Lodge (West), Maze Hill, St Leonards-on-Sea. The encounter configures an experience of space where individuals can invest as much or as little in the activity as they wish. Through anonymity, the performative act is liberated and ageless – whereby action and conversation with the landscape whether explicitly as participant or implicitly as passer-by becomes the artwork. Here the episodic character of daily life becomes extraordinary, encompassing history, place and time to establish new narratives for St Leonards in 2014. COLIN PRIEST


BIBLIOGRAPHY A ntram , N & P evsner , N (2013) Sussex: East: With Brighton and Hove. London: Yale University Press C larke , P. (1941) James Burton, founder and builder of St. Leonards-on-Sea. Architectural Review. (Sept) p.93-94. C orner , J. et al. (1999) Recovering Landscape, Essays in Contemporary Landscape Architecture. New York: Princeton Architectural Press D yer , W.H. (XXXX), A Brief Story of Hastings and St Leonards. XX, XX H ardingham , S (2003) Site Lines. Magnet. Architectural Design. Vol 73. 4. (July/August) p.126-127. H aydon , A. (2006) Bridget Smith. Bexhill on Sea: De La Warr Pavilion Trust Ltd H ollis , E. (2013) The Memory Palace, a book of lost interiors. London: Portobello Books L ancaster , O. (1950) Progress at Pelvis Bay. 5th ed. London: John Murray L ynch , K. (1960) The Image of the City. London: MIT Press L ynch , K. (1972) What Time is Place? London: MIT Press M ass O bservation , (2009) Meet yourself on Sunday 1st ed. London: Faber Faber M anwaring B aines , J. (1956) Burton’s St Leonards. Hastings Museum. M ass O bservation , Meet yourself on Sunday (2009) 1st ed. London: Faber Faber M anwaring B aines , J. (1956) Burton’s St Leonards. Hastings Museum. M ostafavi , M. & L eatherbarrow , D. (2005) On Weathering, The life of building in time. 4th Ed. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press P enrose , S (2007) Images of Change, an archaeology of England’s contemporary landscape. Swindon: English Heritage R attenbury , K. (1997) Cedric Price, Magnet. London: Architecture Foundation S tamp , G (2013) Anti-Ugly, Excursions in English Architecture and Design. London: Aurum Press Ltd W oodward , C. (2002) In Ruins. London: Vintage



1. (Mass Observation, 2009) 2. (Lynch, 1960, p46) 3. (Lynch, 1972, p44) 4. (Ibid, p163) 5. (Ibid, p89) 6. (Manwaring Baines, 1956, p55) 7. (, 2013) 8. (Dyer, XXXX, pXX) 9. (Stamp, 2013, p231)

Cedric Price: Magnet. (Online) Available from: programme/1997/magnet-cedric-price (Accessed: 2nd January 2014) Bottle Alley. (Online) Available from: (Accessed: 29th December 2013) Modernist Britain (Online) Available from: building/Marine+Court (Accessed: 29th December 2013) S inclair , I. (2010) Marine Court: Hymn to the Sun. The Guardian. (Online) Available from: marine-court-iain-sinclair-leonards (Accessed: 29th December 2013) St Leonards Archway. (Online) Available from: st_leonards_arch (Accessed: 29th December 2013) The foundations of St Leonards. (Online) Available from: history_-_foundations.html (Accessed: 29th December 2013) LINKS Christine Gist: Hastings Pier Charity: Tempo Arts Ltd: The Burtons’ St Leonards Society: The De Le Warr Pavilion: The Heritage Alliance:



ST LEONARDS FOUNDARY 14 March – 13 April Many thanks to all who have supported the project St Leonards Foundary Guide designed by Camberwell Press Printed by Sharman & Company Ltd Cover: Hastings and St Leonards from the Castle Back Cover: St Leonards and Hastings looking eastward Publication © Colin Priest | Images © the designers | Texts © the authors No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form without written permission from the individual copyright holders All rights reserved ISBN: 978-1-908971-31-9