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Beauport Park

Beauport Park

Beauport Park is situated at the Western end of the ridge of hills sheltering Hastings from the North and East.

In the early morning of Saturday 14th October 1066, William moved his troops north from their base in Hastings, to this ridge of hills. From their position at Telham Hill they were able to see Harolds` men positioned at the place where the town of Battle now stands. William advanced his men, and at 9.00am the battle commenced, to finally end at dusk with the death of Harold.

The earliest known history of this area dates back to Roman times. Roman tracks have been found passing nearby, and with the proximity of Sussex Oak forests and local ironstone, a thriving iron smelting industry grew. Remains of this industry have been found on the estate, and over a thousand tiles, stamped “CL BR”, have been discovered which demonstrates the involvement of the British Fleet “Classis Britannica” in the smelting operation. As the iron smelting industry was hot and dirty work, a bath-house was built late in the second century which was extended and repaired over the years. It was finally abandoned when there was a general decline in the Wealden Iron industry about 250AD. At the present time all the remains are covered and the site is not open to the public. In June 1998 the Channel Four programme “Time Team” investigated the site looking for signs of a Roman settlement to accompany the Iron Works.

During the 12th century the area was part of the Manor of Baldslow owned by Robert de Hastings. In the 17th Century David Denham built a small stone building which was left incomplete and became known as Denhams` Folly. Denhams` sons were a Rector of Hollington Church in the Wood, the other a clerk to John Collier in 1729.

The first mention of Beauport Park is when General Sir James Murray is shown on local records as paying rates on some woodland. He built the house between 1763 and 1766, subsequently adding to the estate until it comprised about .

General Sir James Murray

James Murray was born in 1721 to Elizabeth and Alexander, Lord Elibank. He joined the British Army as a young man and in 1744 he was sent to Hastings as an assistant to the Preventative Service, helping to catch smugglers. Whilst there he made the acquaintance of John Collier, the Hastings town clerk and his eldest daughter Cordelia, who was to become his future wife. John Collier became Mayor of Hastings in 1741. Captain Murray and Cordelia were married in London in 1748 and the following year he was sent to Waterford in Ireland and promoted to the rank of Major. By 1751 he had risen to the rank of Lt. Colonel, but left Ireland in 1755 and returned to Hastings.

In 1759 the attack on Quebec was planned with General Wolfe in command. Murray, now a Brigadier General was second in command. During the siege of Quebec Wolfe was fatally injured and died after seeing his army victorious.

John Collier died in 1760 leaving his estate to Murray, making him a substantial land-owner in the area, including the mansion at Ore Place where he lived whilst building work on Beauport was carried out.

In 1763 Murray was made Governor of Canada but was recalled to England in 1766 after a disagreement with the Government of the day. Beauport Park was named after the village of Beauport near Quebec.

In 1774 Murray, now a Major-General was appointed Governor of Minorca. Unfortunately, in 1779 his wife Cordelia became ill and died at Beauport. In 1780 Murray married Anne Whitham, who bore him four daughters and two sons, two children dying in infancy. His eldest son James later served under Wellington at the Battle of Waterloo. In 1782 the island of Minorca was taken by the Spanish and Murray returned to England where he tended his estate at Beauport. It is thought that he originated the tradition of Beauport as a centre for rare and unusual trees, and for many years there was a specimen of every tree that would grow in Britain planted here-many surviving to this day. Promoted to General in 1783, Murray presented to Hastings a shield taken from the gates of Quebec, inscribed with the arms of the city. In 1925 the shield was returned to Quebec, but a replica now hangs in the Hastings Mayors` parlour.

General Sir James Murray, Lord of the Manor of Ore, died at Beauport Park on 18th June 1794 and was placed in a tomb at Old St Helens` Church, Ore in Hastings. His son James and his wife Elizabeth occupied the house until 1804.

James and Charles Burges

Beauport Park was then purchased by James Bland Burges, whose father had captured the Young Pretenders` standard at Culloden. In 1794 a rich London merchant, John Lamb, had left a fortune to James Burges who was at that time under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs to William Pitt. In 1795 James Burges left the Government, receiving a baronetcy and the office of Knight Marshall of the Royal Household, deputy to the Earl Marshall. As Knight Marshall, Sir James Burges figured prominently at the coronation of George IV.

Sir James` son, Charles, was born in 1785. He married the widowed Countess of Eglinton in 1816. His wife had been born the daughter of an Earl of Eglinton, whose younger cousin and successor she had married. When, after his death, she married Charles Burges, she elected to be called by her maiden name, Lady Mary Montgomerie.

An obelisk which stands opposite the front of the Hotel is in memory of James Burges` second son, Ensign Wentworth Noel Burges, who was killed in 1812 in the Peninsular War, aged 18, whilst leading an assault on the citadel of Burgos in Northern Spain.

In 1821, James and his son Charles changed their name to Lamb in honour of their benefactor.

Lady Montgomerie was often homesick of her native Scotland and the family estate in Ayrshire. As a result of this she used to surround herself with reminders of home. The two life-size seated statues in the garden are an example of this, and depict Tam O’Shanter and Souter Johnnie, from a Robert Burns poem. They were hewn between 1830 and 1835 by James Thom a self-taught sculptor from Ayrshire.

The Ionic temple on the estate is a memorial built by Sir Charles to his wife, who died in 1848. A marble block, suitably inscribed which used to stand on the memorial is now placed on the lawn at the rear of the Hotel.

Charles and Mary had a son, also named Charles, born at Beauport on 7th October 1816. At seven years of age he decided to create the Kingdom of Winnipeg for his Guinea Pigs. It was built in the gardens of Beauport Park, tended and its history recorded, over many years in eight miniature green and red leather volumes. “The History of Winnipeg, from the foundation to the present time by Royal Command” was a chivalrous tale, copiously illustrated with Guinea Pigs in armour sporting coats of arms taking part in battles, and as Kings or Queens, Princes, Princesses and Knights in their castle. A map showed the main walled city, six pyramid tombs, a columned monument, and the cities of Farai and Leila. Cabbage Castle, as this grand hutch was called stood on its own, with flags flying. It was built by the estate carpenter and by the 1830’s the “peeks” it housed had multiplied into hundreds. The remains of the castle can be seen today near the gate beyond the Hotel swimming pool, although only a small part now remains. A description of Cabbage Castle is given in Lucinda Lambtons` book “Beastly Buildings”

In later years Charles had a passion for the Medieval, and amassed a very fine collection of armour, some of which can be seen today at Firle Place near Lewes. Firle was the home of the Viscount Gage who was friendly with the Burges family. Charles’ interest in armour was shared with his stepbrother, the young Earl of Eglington, who staged the famous and disastrous Jousting Tournament at Eglington Castle, in August1839. Visitors flocked from all over the Western Hemisphere, including Prince Louis Napoleon of France, to see this fabulous display. However, on the morning, with the banners flying, knights parading before their ladies and tented pavilions prepared for the culminating banquet, the heavens opened and the ensuing thunderstorm raged throughout the day, entirely washing out all the festivities. A best-selling book which recorded this event and included a description of life at Beauport in the early 1800s was published in 1963 by Geoffrey Bles Limited. The book, appropriately entitled “The Knight and the Umbrella” was written by Ian Anstruther. Today, the castle ruins and grounds at Eglinton form part of a Country Park near Irvine in Ayrshire. A splendid silver trophy made for the occasion by the Crown Jewellers depicting characters from the tournament, stands almost eight feet high on its carved wooden base and can be seen in the Irvine Council Offices.

Charles eloped and married Anna Grey, from Chichester and had two sons, Archibald (1854-1921) and Charles (1857-1948); and two daughters, Mary Montgomerie Lamb (1843-1905) and Flora (1849-1942). Mary was born shortly after their marriage and was sent to Beauport to be brought up by her grandparents. She showed an interest in poetry and story-writing but was discouraged by her family. In 1864 she married Henry Sydenham Singleton, an Irish landowner and had four children. She published many works between 1872 and 1902 using the pen-name “Violet Fane” and became a well known member of London society famous for her beauty, charm and wit. After Henrys` death in 1893 she married Sir Phillip Henry Wodehouse Currie, and after many years in Constantinople and Rome they retired in 1903 to Hawley, Hampshire. Mary died in 1905 at the Grand Hotel, Harrogate. Charles died in 1856 before his father Sir Charles and so upon Sir Charles` death in 1860, the baronetcy passed to Archibald.

Thomas Brassey

In about 1860 an engineer by the name of Thomas Brassey (1805-1870) leased the house from the Lamb family. Brassey, a friend and contemporary of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, supervised the construction of the railway between London and Hastings.

In 1868 Queen Victoria’s eldest daughter, Princess Victoria, who was staying in nearby St. Leonards on sea, came to Beauport Park to take tea with the Brasseys. She later wrote to her mother that she “liked being here immensely at the house of the Brasseys with the wonderful gardens and especially the trees” She believed that she saw here “the largest Cedar tree that I have ever seen”

Whilst staying at Beauport, Tom built a large mansion at Catsfield, near Battle. It was called Normanhurst Court and was built in the style of a French Chateau. Unfortunately, he died before it was completed and the property later passed to his eldest son, Thomas (1836-1918). Thomas was a barrister, and from 1868 until 1886 represented Hastings as Member of Parliament. He was knighted in 1881, raised to the peerage in 1886 and created Earl Brassey in 1911, also holding the post of Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports.

Together with his wife Annie, he travelled the world aboard his yacht “The Sunbeam” and brought back to Beauport many interesting plants and trees. According to Kew Gardens some of these plants were unique in Great Britain to Beauport Park. In 1887 during one of their voyages to the East Indies and Australia aboard “The Sunbeam”, Annie became ill and sadly died. She was buried at sea off the coast of Northern Australia. Lord Brassey married again in 1890 and became Mayor of Bexhill in 1907.

Today, the Brasseys are commemorated by the Brassey Institute in Hastings which houses the town library. In addition Lord and Lady Brasseys’ portraits dominate the main staircase at Hastings Town Hall. The Durbar Room in the Hastings Museum records the trips aboard “The Sunbeam” and displays many of the items collected on their journeys. It was constructed for the Indian and Colonial exhibition in London of 1886, and brought down to Hastings some years later.

Lord Brassey’s uniform as Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports is on display at the Museum.

Recent History

Sir Archibald Lamb, was the last member of the Lamb family to live at Beauport Park. He succeeded his grandfather in 1860 to become 3rd Baronet, and served with the 2nd Life Guards. In 1875 he married Louisa Mary Caroline Durrant, but they had no children. After his death on the 6th November 1875, the contents of the house were gradually disposed of at auction. In 1923 when the house was occupied by only a butler and a housemaid, who had served the family for many years, a fire broke out, the origin of which is not known. The alarm was raised at 4.30 pm, and despite valiant efforts by firemen from Battle and Hastings taking water from nearby ponds, the fire spread rapidly and by morning the entire building was gutted. The blaze attracted many local people who stood to watch the flames. Some days later the public were allowed to view what remained of the building. The house was rebuilt in 1926, except for the south wing which formed the original ballroom.

The baronetcy passed to Archibalds` brother, Charles Anthony Lamb, who had been the military attaché at Rome during the first quarter of the century and led a distinguished military career. He married Leila Frances Adamson in 1886 and lived at Hartley Witney, in Hampshire until his death on 28th January 1948, aged 91 years.

Little is known about the Hotel during the period that follows its reconstruction in 1926 up until the Second World War. At the beginning of the war an underground citadel, consisting of tunnels and chambers, was built by the Canadians and was intended as a hiding place for a secret resistance army which would have fought behind the German lines following the expected invasion of Britain. Later, the house became an Officers` Club and the headquarters of one of the Canadian Divisions who left for the shores of Normandy on D-Day, 6th June 1944.

After the war, the house became a small Hotel. In 1964 it was purchased by Miles and Gill Anderson who carried out many improvements including the provision of a new bedroom extension. The Eucalyptus tree in the garden was a gift from Miles’ father and was planted as a sapling at the time of purchase.

Kenneth Melsom mbe purchased the Hotel on 26th January 1983, and during the following years, with his co-director, Stephen Bayes, a complete renovation has taken place. In December 1999 the conservatory was added to the rear of the house, and in 2005 the adjacent Bannatyne Health Club opened.

On 20 July 2007, the Hotel was purchased by Bannatyne Fitness Group

The gardens at Beauport Park were carefully tended by George Martin from 1952, until his retirement at the end of December 1997. His father was Head Gardener to Rudyard Kipling at nearby Batemans, and George remembers as a child being told off by the great man himself! Since February 1998, John Sutherland has been Head Gardener, introducing new herbaceous borders and creating the annual stunning displays of summer bedding.

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