pagepaul Facebook square blue small Twitter square blue small
pagepaul pagepaul pagepaul pagepaul pagepaul pagepaul pagepaul pagepaul

By jillrutherford, Oct 16 2016 03:09PM

I’ve just returned from a wonderful afternoon out at the Redoubt Fortress on Eastbourne seafront. It’s one of the events that you wonder why the place is not stampeded by eager visitors taking advantage of the £6 ticket fee for entry to the museum, an hour’s talk in one of the atmospheric ‘casements’ (a cell like room) and afterwards, delicious tea/coffee and cake – all for £6. Incredible – and the fortress is incredible too.

For those who don’t know what the Redoubt Fortress is, it’s one of those buildings that were inspired by our ancestors’ imagination and seemed like a good idea at the time.

It’s rare. There are only three in the UK, in Dymchurch, Harwich and Eastbourne!

It’s a magical place, full of history, misery, strange happenings, joy, and now respect for the past. Originally, it was built because England got in a state about possible invasion from France. In the early 1800’s, Eastbourne was a scary place to live at that time with the very real threat of invasion by Napoleon. Newspapers whipped up the scaremongering and the powers that be decided a fortress on the seafront would be a good idea, together with many Martello Towers (round, robust small lookouts to sea), dotted along the coast.

The building of the Redoubt started in 1807 and was built circular, heavy, thick, large and imposing. Unfortunately, as is the way of things we cannot foresee, it was made obsolete by Wellington winning the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 and defeating Napoleon!

What was it like to live there? It housed around 340 soldiers at any one time and after an interesting and informative talk by Eastbourne Heritage, I would say four words sum up living conditions well.

Drinking, stinking, starving, freezing.

The soldiers slept on trestle beds, ten to a small, cell like brick built room. Rations were weekly and if you ate all yours before the week was up – too bad – you also had to cook it yourself. Toilets were only for officers, and a goodly walk outside the fortress, for the ordinary man, a bucket was provided for each room of ten men.

One poor soldier, Robert Keable, committed suicide at the Redoubt in 1854 and on his death certificate it says, "suicide due to temporary insanity because of drinking".

It is cold enough now in winter at the Redoubt with the sea crashing onto the beach only a few yards away, but then, it would have been not only cold but running with damp.

Soldier, John James Hass, went AWOL many times and got arrested each time until he left the army and got a job as the Sanitary Inspector for Eastbourne. Mmm . . .

The Redoubt was put up for sale by the Ministry of War in 1884, but no one wanted to buy it. They decided to use it for training soldiers and they even took in some destitute families who had nowhere else to go. Can you imagine being a lone woman with children and ending up living in the Redoubt with all those soldiers and no cooking facilities, dodgy water and a bucket! I doubt they stayed long. Maybe that was the idea.

By the early 1900’s, some improvements like basic plumbing were made. Groups like the Church Lads used it for camps and then, finally, Eastbourne Local Authority bit the bullet (as one might say) and bought it from the war office for £160. And it has been debating what to do with it ever since!

It was reincarnated as a bandstand in the 1930’s. A model village in the 1950’s. An aquarium in the 1960’s – yes I did mean aquarium – and guess what? With all that water and the sea so close by, it riddled the building even more with damp and created many problems the council had to deal with.

In 1977 it opened as a military museum and it is a great little museum for the Royal Sussex Regiment. One member is our own hero, Nelson Victor Carter, who won the Victoria Cross in the First World War for his outstanding bravery.

I’ve never felt a car to be frightening before, but I was certainly intimidated by a huge, cream four wheel drive car from the Second World War. It was captured with the Nazi General Von Arnim in the western desert (North Africa) in 1943. The Royal Sussex were the company who captured him and the car was given to them for safe keeping. As I stood in front of it, I had to look up to the windscreen above my head. Imagine a German general standing in it and glaring at you. No doubt about it – it was scary – and I felt the car still held an aura of menace around it. I can’t get it out of my mind.

The damp and cold have taken their toll on the exhibits and the regiment have to find a new place for their collection before it disintegrates.

The Redoubt is about to find a new life with Eastbourne Heritage soon and personally, I am looking forward to its next reincarnation. I’ve volunteered to help – hope they don’t think I’m one of the exhibits!


By jillrutherford, Oct 9 2016 11:45AM

I was lucky enough to be included in a tour of one of Eastbourne’s best kept secrets: Compton House. It is not open to the public, but thanks to Sussex Archaeological Society, I was able to join in with one of their rare tours.

It’s a secret place, hidden behind tall, knapped flint walls with a narrow entrance. Mmm, intriguing. I’d always wanted to explore . . .

The house is beautiful and full of wonderful mouldings and architecture as one would expect, but I would like to concentrate more on the people who lived there and their personal stories.

The 7th Duke of Devonshire, William Cavendish, was the man who inherited Compton House when one of his ancestors, Lord George Cavendish married Lady Elizabeth Compton in 1763. In 1858 it was added to the estates of the duke.

Those of us who are interested, know that the 7th Duke had a vision to create an upmarket, seaside resort in Eastbourne for people of quality. He built huge, extravagant villas and connected them with wide, tree lined boulevards. It is rumoured that he told the head of the railway company, when it finally reached Eastbourne in the mid 1800’s, that he didn’t want them to sell cheap day tickets to Eastbourne as he didn’t want that class of person to visit. Well, I’m sure the Duke must be turning in his grave as today, Eastbourne is full of that class of person (including me) living here and enjoying his legacy.

For me, one of the most poignant stories attached to this house was a tiny piece of history. Scratched in the corner of a window pane in one of the bedrooms was this:

It says, Alex, 1892.

This was Queen Victoria’s grand-daughter, Alexandra of Hess, who, two years later, married Nicholas, Tsar of Russia. The same Nicholas and Alexandra who were assassinated, with their children, during the Russian Revolution. This tiny bit of history really touched me and brought it to life. It was such a small, personal thing to do and it moved me with its intimacy, innocence and tragedy.

Last century, after the death of a few dukes close together, the family were rocked by death duties and were forced to sell off a lot of their assets in Eastbourne and the house was rented out to a ladies’ finishing school. Their most famous student was Benazir Bhutto. She was also assassinated later in life. How extraordinary!

Another extraordinary thing is, the duke at that time, with the help of his son, was chopping down a tree in the garden of Compton House when the duke felt ill and the doctor was called. For those of you who don’t know the history of Eastbourne, as well as having two famous visitors who were later assassinated, we also have our own alleged serial killer doctor. Dr. John Bodkin Adams.

Dr Adams was accused of murdering 163 patients but was acquitted after a trial, however, doubt still hangs over him and he was known to have disliked the duke because he was a freemason. Dr Adams had a hatred of freemasons. The duke died three hours after the doctor’s examination. The mystery remains – did the doctor kill the duke?

Death duties also forced the family to sell some of the land around Compton House and developers built several tall blocks of flats in front of the house, which of course, meant the house was overlooked. It is said that a recent duke loved Eastbourne and the house so much he wanted to bring the house back into the family and spend time there, but his wife said she refused to live in a house overlooked by the hoi polloi.

The house became a language school with many students from all over the world taking advantage of this beautiful setting.

One day, the duke decided to visit the house to see how things were going, and as he walked down a narrow corridor used by the students, he stopped suddenly beside a huge 18th century painting of a brother and sister. “What’s that doing there?” he is reputed to have asked. “It’s worth a quarter of a million pounds!” The painting was carted off to the duke’s other home – Chatsworth. But the school had become fond of the painting and wanted a copy. It now hangs in the same narrow corridor as the original and the story goes that the brother depicted in the painting suffered from the gambling sickness and was in serious debt. He came out of a gambling den one night and was attacked in the street. He woke up in chains on a ship in the middle of the ocean. He was taken to Jamaica and was kept as a slave for seven years until it was deemed he had worked enough to pay off his debts and he was allowed to go back to England (his father paid his fare). Another extraordinary story involved with this house!

What a fabulous place to learn English. I hope those students realise how lucky they are.

A classroom

By jillrutherford, Oct 6 2015 11:04AM

I loved this book. I bought it because I had met Vanessa at some event I can't remember now, but also heard her talk about writing and that her publisher's had bought the rights to the book before she had finished it. But I had not yet taken the plunge; not invested my time.

I bought a copy and started reading and thought, mmm, different. I read on a little and thought, mmm, but it has a distinctive voice – then I was into it and just loved its poetic writing. The softly flowing dialogue, the image of a world I knew in my childhood. She has captured it with a lyrical lilt, a feather-light narrative that hooked me in like a friendly straightjacket. I couldn't put it down – this gentle story of the eccentric people of a South Wales mining valley of the past.

It's Dylanesque in style and captured the atmosphere, the characters, the eccentricities I remembered.

I recommend this book highly for all readers who want more than a fluffy read, who like to work to get to the core: and once you do, the images remain with a satisfying pleasure.

By jillrutherford, Sep 28 2015 09:50AM

A month or so ago, I went into my local Oxfam bookshop and bought a Peter James Book. This was the first time I'd read him and as I settled down all comfy with coffee and biscuits full of anticipation of a good read, something fell out of the book.

it was a Euro Millions lottery ticket !

All sorts of things went through my mind:

Is this a lost jackpot winner?

If it is, do I go against a lifetime of honesty and claim it?

Or do I try and find the owner?

Who is the legal owner? Me or the person who bought it and carelessly lost it?

I checked the date of the ticket. February 14th 2015 and ran upstairs to my computer to check it, my heart beating fast.

Then my heart rate plummeted as I read the ticket was two weeks out of date and no information was available about it.

Now I was left wondering whether the first ticket owner had put it in there on purpose?

Well, it got me going.

And it proves one thing. Strange things like this do happen, so if you are writing your novel or short story, don't overlook the unlikely.

By jillrutherford, Sep 23 2015 05:08PM

If I don't write it down I don't remember it. Now I have sheets of scrap paper everywhere - their surfaces defaced with aide memoirs scribbled inelegantly across them.

Piles sit either side of my computer. More clutter up a corner of my kitchen, one or two even sit on my office floor - the idea being that if I have to step over them I will remember to do them - doesn't work !

Every so often I go through them:

Out of date. Throw away.

Too late. Throw away.

Did I really think that was important? Throw away.

The moral of this?

We do too much !

Chill out and relax.

By Aimee Fry, Sep 7 2015 09:23AM

Has anyone seen a house floating in the sky recently? I swear it's up there - and it's mine!

I've cleared out the loft, de-cluttered, de-nuded, de-homed countless spiders and other creepies from their secure and undisturbed abodes as box after box was emptied of its unloved contents, stuffed unceremoniously and without scruples into black bin liners.

There was so much stuff up there it took two of us ten hours all told and four trips to the tip. And now, in the strange way of houses, it feels lighter. Different. Or maybe it's me that feels different?

I'm the one who feels lighter, not having all that weight above my head, accusing me of laziness − 'Oh, just shove it up in the loft,' rather than take it to the tip.

Just as I was admiring the open, clean and impressive space I had created, sweat running down my face, old shirt and jeans sticking to me, a deep calming satisfaction surfaced, swallowing me up in a self-congratulatory hug − and then I saw it. A piece of paper resting on a beam next to the water tank.

I almost ignored it - the straw that broke the camel's .... but perfectionist that I am, I picked it up and looked at it.

It was small (about 130 x 130mm), yellowing, with four lines written in my handwriting.

When I recognised it, a deep glow started to seep through me − so that's where it went − how on earth . . . ?

It had been on my office wall for years and then one day disappeared without me noticing. I had sorely missed it.

Written on it is a quote:

"Indeed, I would venture to guess that Anon, who wrote so many poems without signing them, was often a woman."

Virginia Woolf, 1929.

RSS Feed

Web feed

Notes from the Beach Cafe