[This document comes from Helena Wojtczak's English Social History: Women of Nineteenth-Century Hastings and St.Leonards. An Illustrated Historical Miscellany, which the author has graciously shared with readers of the Victorian Web. Click on the title to obtain the original site, which has additional information.]

Princess Victoria

The first female aristocrats to visit the new town of St Leonards were the future monarch, the 15-year-old Princess Victoria (left) and her mother, who in 1834 stayed at 57 Marina (now Crown House). In 1837 her aunt, Queen Adelaide, widow of King William IV, stayed at No. 22/23 Grand Parade (now Adelaide House). With this royal seal of approval, and being recommended by doctors all over the country for the beneficial efects of air and sea water, Hastings and St Leonards attracted the idle rich in droves. Some took a lodge for the season, complete with servants; others took serviced apartments in the lodging houses that quickly sprang up to meet the demand. Others moved here permanently into large houses at The Mount, Marina, Grand Parade, The Uplands and The Lawn.

The town attracted a large number of wealthy spinsters and widows and by 1841, over 11.6% of the female population of Hastings & St Leonards was of independent means (an extraordinary figure as the corresponding figure for men was just 5.3%).

By 1852 Hastings had 131 households of "Clergy, Resident Gentry, etc." The ladies spent their time promenading on the sea front, visiting reading-rooms and libraries, shopping, enjoying rural carriage-rides, holding "At Homes", musical soirées and dinner parties. They attended lectures and concerts at the Public Hall and Assembly Rooms. The town band played at many outdoor events and had its own regular spot on the Marine Parade.


Detail from a cartoon lampooning the aged rich at St Leonards, from the Illustrated Times, 15 August 1863

Visitors and residents alike helped to fund various improvements for the poor; for example churches, schools and educational institutions, and charitable organisations. The rich built many churches. Lady St. John endowed the first Christ Church, St Leonards, in 1860 (her son was its first rector), while the Countess of Waldegrave endowed seven others. Church attendance was high and the upper and middle classes paid to reserve pews.

The local paper listed weekly the arrivals and departures of visitors and the address at which they were staying. These names were listed in order of social prestige and almost always headed by one or two titled persons.

The rich socialised only with others of their class, but lived in constant domestic and trade contact with the working class. The relationship between a lady and her personal maid was often very intimate, yet socially they were a world apart. Well-to-do ladies provided work for hundreds of tradeswomen such as milliners, staymakers, straw-hat makers, furriers and dressmakers, laundresses and ironers. The wealthy usually had a set of live-in servants and sometimes day-servants too.

Last modified 2000