Developed as an exclusive seaside resort more than a century ago, Bexhill-on-Sea on the East Sussex coast continues to attract visitors with its quiet, elegant charm.
Bexhill’s most famous landmark is the De La Warr Pavilion, a Grade I Listed Modernist masterpiece constructed on the seafront in 1935. Designed by the architects Erich Mendelsohn and Serge Chermayeff, the streamlined structure is characterised by its clean lines, expansive windows, canopies and terraces, and was reopened in 2005 following a multi-million pound restoration. Today, the building functions as an international centre for contemporary arts, welcoming visitors to its changing calendar of exhibitions, and hosting musical performances by both new and established artists.
On the edge of nearby Egerton Park, Bexhill Museum is another visitor attraction that has recently been transformed, reopened in 2009 after an extensive refurbishment. With an eclectic collection spanning fashion, dinosaurs and local history, the museum offers a fascinating insight into Bexhill’s rich history.
Bexhill is also famous as the birthplace of British motor racing, between 1902 and 1904, and motoring history enthusiasts are well catered for. As well as a gallery dedicated to the subject in the Bexhill Museum, visitors to the town can also enjoy a recently opened Motoring Heritage Trail, which starts near the famous Sackville Hotel. Opened in 1890 as Bexhill-on-Sea’s first purpose-built hotel, the Sackville has now been transformed into luxury serviced apartments.
Sovereign Light Café
A less obvious landmark is the town’s Sovereign Light Café, on the West Parade promenade. Named after a lightship that used to sit out in the English Channel, the Sovereign Light Café is a traditional seaside eatery that has long delighted visitors and locals with its offer of hearty home-cooked meals and stunning sea views.
However, the café is set to attract a new set of fans thanks to the band Keane, whose song ‘Sovereign Light Café’ features on their 2012 album ‘Strangeland’ and recalls the band members’ visits to Bexhill as teenagers living in nearby Battle. Fittingly, the music video for the single, released in July 2012, was filmed on location in Bexhill with a cast of local people – capturing the spirit and atmosphere of Bexhill, and helping to introduce the town and the Sovereign Light Café to a whole new generation.
Venture inland and uphill from the seafront and you’ll soon come to Bexhill’s Old Town – the original Bexhill, before its 19th-century transformation into a thriving coastal resort. The lovely Manor Gardens, in Upper Sea Road, include the remains of the original 13th-century Manor House, as well as beautifully tended flower beds and borders.
Around and about
For those interested in days out further afield, Bexhill is an ideal centre for exploring the area known as ‘1066 Country’. If you fancy a break from the sedate pace of Bexhill, Hastings – from which the famous battle takes its name – is a larger and louder resort just a short way along the coast, with theatres, cinemas and an extensive retail centre. In the surrounding countryside, the moated Bodiam Castle, built in 1385 and now owned by the National Trust, is one of Britain’s most striking and iconic fortified structures. The Trust also owns Batemans, an attractive 17th-century house that was home to ‘The Jungle Book’ writer Rudyard Kipling from 1902 to 1936.
Accommodation and travel
As you’d expect from an English seaside resort, Bexhill offers accommodation to suit all tastes. The town boasts plenty of homely family-run B&Bs and smart seafront hotels, while all the well-known budget chains, like Premier Inn and Travelodge, can be found in nearby Hastings.
Getting to Bexhill is straightforward, too. London is less than two hours’ drive away, while regular trains connect the town to London Victoria; again, journey time is about two hours. If you’re visiting from further afield, Gatwick Airport is conveniently situated less than an hour and a half from Bexhill’s attractions by road or direct train.
So, whether you’re into Modernism, motor racing or music, Bexhill’s quirky heritage and rich contemporary culture make it a unique and appealing destination. Take a day trip from the big city, and you’re sure to want to come back for longer next time.
Photo credit: Graham Soult
For more, go to the unofficial tourism site Discover Bexhill.