By the mid 19th century most of Eastbourne belonged to two major landowners. The Gildredge share of land passed to the Gilbert family and the Cavendish family inherited the Burton share. The Selwyn share of land likewise later passed to these two and by 1850 they owned 80% of Eastbourne. William Cavendish, later the 7th Duke of Devonshire, and John Davies Gilbert were two dynamic Victorian innovators.
Encouraged by the rising prosperity of the Industrial Revolution they planned to develop Eastbourne in the grandest possible style to create a seaside resort built ‘for gentlemen by gentlemen’. The photograph shows Eastbourne seafront in about 1900. These grand plans would never have succeeded without the key advance of the 19th century – the railway.
The first train puffed into Eastbourne station on May 14th 1849 and sparked off celebrations which continued well into the night. In 1859 the newly titled Duke of Devonshire appointed architect Henry Currey to draw up a development plan for the town. The central feature of the design was an amazing 80 foot wide tree lined boulevard now known as Devonshire Place.
The promenade was built and the pier opened in 1872. The Duke personally funded the construction of the three-tiered promenades at Holywell and Eastbourne College was founded in 1867. By now East Bourne had expanded and incorporated the hamlets of South Bourne, Meads and Sea Houses.
Currey’s second ambitious plan saw the development of Meads into an exclusive area of villas and tree lined streets. Not to be out-done, the Gilberts achieved major development in the Uppertown area of town. In 1883 Eastbourne became a municipal borough and the Town Hall was completed in 1886.
By 1901 the town was established as a major resort, and in 1903 the local authority unveiled the first motor omnibus service in the country. Between 1851 and 1901 the population increased from 3,433 to 43,344.
The borough continued to expand until the outbreak of the First World War, during which Eastbourne lost 1,065 residents. The development was picked up again in 1918 and the next 20 years saw the establishment of the Towner Art Gallery (1924), the Bandstand (1931) and numerous parks and gardens.