Norman Road and the Marine Quarter: what’s great about St Leonard’s-on-Sea
St Leonard’s has been up, down and now it’s very much on the up again.
What started life as a hugely fashionable purpose-built Victorian resort fell on hard times post WWII. The seafront’s white stucco terraces and the huge gothic villas behind them fell into decay. Like many other English seaside towns it went right out of fashion.
But in the last few years St Leonard’s has begun a rebirth, with artists and other creatives flocking here, joined by families escaping London for the more peaceful life and (relatively) dirt-cheap property.
With this new population have come cafes, bars and restaurants where the cooking is inspired and individual; design-led shops selling clothing, furniture and homewares; food stores focusing on the organic, local and sustainable; galleries and performance spaces.
But St Leonard’s climb from grimy neglect is still in it’s early stages, so you’ll find a lot of tat around the gems.
Two areas stand out – Norman Road and the Marine Quarter. So here’s a quick guide to what you’ll find in each of them.
But you won’t get the best out of St Leonard’s without dipping also into its fascinating past, so you’ll also find a short historical tour tacked on.
Getting to St leonard’s
St Leonard’s is on the western flank of Hastings. If you drive you’ll find parking on the seafront, and in some of the back streets. The Ashford-Brighton train service will drop you at Warrior Square, or you can catch the 100 bus from Camber or Rye.
The guide below follows a circuit, beginning at the eastern end of Norman Road, where it meets London Road, which is the main street running inland from the seafront.
Just about every shop in Norman Road is interesting, and what follows is just a personal selection. You’ll find a great quirky guide to the street, and to places that share its ethos elsewhere in St Leonard’s, at The Norman Road website here
And there’s a comprehensive map from the same source here.
Don’t bother coming on a Monday, almost nothing is open. Infact, the later in the week you come the better chance you have of finding the shutters up. If you want to be sure of finding a particular place open, check with them first – many open just one or two days a week, but by request at other times.
On the corner with London Road.
Coffee, crepes, loads of work from local artists on show, and this splendid artwork on the gable end. The cafe offers gallery space to young artists and holds regular exhibitions.
An eclectic mix of fashion, tea and cakes, vintage, homewares, jewellery, ceramics, accessories and furniture. We liked the nest huts – bird houses styled after the tall net huts on the seafront in Hastings Old Town
Xanadu, 37 Norman Road
Retro and glam clothes, accessories and bits.
The Little Larder, 39 Norman Road
Illy coffee, tea, fresh home-cooked food.
Baker Mamonova Gallery, 53 Norman Road
Noted for exhibitions of Russian art.
Lucy Bell Fine Art Photography, 47 Norman Road
Always-interesting photography exhibitions.
The Kula, 58 Norman Road
Stylish vintage furniture and homewares.
Hastings Antique Centre, 59-61 Norman Road
Three floors of antiques in “an emporium of style”.
Skylon Interiors, 64 Norman Road
Eclectic mix of mid-20th century furniture including polished steel desks, 60s chandeliers, retro leather sofas and old shop fittings.
Wayward, 68 Norman Road
Fabrics, including a wide range of vintage suiting, shirting, linens, plus haberdashery and vintage linen sheets, crotchet bed covers and quilts.
Bramwell-Cole, 72 Norman Road
Original, one-off womenswear using vintage and re-cycled fabrics, plus ceramics and lampshades.
Patrick Robbins, 78 Norman Road
Antiques and oriental rugs
Junk shop (its name is an abbreviation of ‘no name junk shop’) in the Mercatoria Business Centre at the top of the road.
At the end of Norman Road, in St Clements Place, you’ll find a great restaurant and a lovely pub.
Fish from the local fleet’s daily catch, chefs from The Ivy and le Caprice.
St Leonard’s oldest pub, Camra listed, stocking Harvey’s Best, Adnam’s Broadside, Greene King IPA plus guest ales.
When you’re done, go seawards on St Clement’s Place then down East Ascent.
The Burtons’ St Leonard’s tour
From the bottom of East Ascent you can take a quick tour of historic St Leonard’s by turning right up Maze Hill. If you don’t fancy that, turn left for the seafront and you’ll find the marine Quarter on your left.
St Leonard’s was created by two fashionable London builders, father and son James and Decimus Burton.
James – who built many of the houses around London’s Regent’s Park – did his stuff between 1827 and 1837, conceiving the town as a resort for the wealthy, and it instantly became popular with royalty and the aristocracy.
Decimus added further buildings in a second spate of development in the 1850s and 60s.
The Royal Victoria Hotel, on the seafront right behind you as you look up Maze Hill, was one of it’s prime buildings, named after the young Victoria, a one-time guest. As were Prince Albert, Georve V, Edward VII and Tennyson
The town’s centrepiece was St Leonard’s Gardens, in the deep, steep-sided valley to the west of Maze Hill. The great Gothic villas were built overlooking the park (which contained a maze and two ponds) from both sides.
As you climb you’ll see the eccentric Clock House on your left, with just the top of its three storeys visible at street level, the lower two dug into the cliff face and overlooking the park.
The clock had a mechanism made by George III’s clock maker, and was the official time-keeper for the new town.
At the top of the park you reach castellated North Lodge, with the road passing through it via an arch. Henry Rider Haggard, author of King Soloman’s Mines and She, lived here.
Close by is another plaque, to Alan Turing, the man who cracked the Enigma code and did as much as anyone to win WWII, and who was arguably the father of modern computing.
The lodge marked the northern edge of the original town. If you’re hooked on Burtons’ St Leonard’s, wandering the streets around here is interesting. If not, head back to the seafront and turn left for the Marine Quarter.
Marine Quarter is the shops beneath the great, 1936 modernist ocean-liner of an apartment block called Marine Court.
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Hastings Art Forum, 36 Marina
A continuous programme of two free exhibitions in two big seafront galleries. Latest exhibition details here.
Cafe Relax, 18 Marine Court
Colourful Armenian-cuisine restaurant, bar and cafe.
Bar Blah, 8 Marine Court
Relaxed bar and venue.
Vanessa Fowler, 6 Marine Cour
Burton Gallery, 5 Marine Court
Twentieth Century and contemporary find and applied art.
Heaven on Sea, 13 Marine Parade
Shoes, Crocs, umbrellas.
Grand Parade (along as far as the Zanzibar)
Keep on east past Marine Court and you’ll find more nice seafront cafes and one or two interesting shops, including:
Plenty, 16 Grand Parade
Local, eco, organic and fair-trade groceries, store cupboard essentials, fruit and veg, plus bread from the Lighthouse Bakery in Bodiam.
Why would you keep walking? Because of the Zanzibar.
Zanzibar, 9 Eversfield Place
Hastings’ only luxury boutique hotel and one of the top seaside hotels in the country. They say “classic Victorian elegance meets cool beach chic”.
It has a great restaurant, called
A great all-day menu plus more formal dining – and you can eat in the garden if the weather’s up to it.