Just imagine: if you could get a tiny piece of a gracious London Park and lay it down gently within earshot of the sound of the waves lapping on the shingle of the seashore.
Regent’s Park: one of the better things which came out of the reign of the Prince Regent, later George IV. George looked up architect John Nash, the man who was an icon in English architecture of the time (think Bucks Palace, Brighton Pavillion, Park Square).
But Nash did not design Regents Park alone. He got a youngster to help him: one Decimus Burton.
Remember him? The man who, along with his son James, created a brand new seaside resort just outside Hastings?
There in St Leonard’s, just a short walk from Hastings Pier, you have only to walk along the coast path and turn right after Marine Parade. Keep walking and you’ll see it: a broad gatehouse, a whole white building which tantalises with an archway into another world.
Inside is the tiniest little microcosm of London Park, a secret garden hidden away within artfully designed houses.
In 1828, the gardens were opened as the jewel in the crown of the new seaside resort on the Sussex coast. It was a garden for the privileged: you had to pay to gain access to its left inner sanctum, around 25 shillings a year.
St Leonards Gardens was bought by the town for £9,000 in 1879, and it has been public space ever since. It is the most beautiful little conglomeration of lawn and winding path, using the levels of the land’s plunge towards the coast. You can sit on a bench high up in the park and gaze past the gatehouse and the houses to the glistening sea.
I spent a long time taking photographs there early one morning. But I lost a whole tranche of them, and I am heartbroken. The ones that are left do not have the light of the morning I sat in that beloved little space.
But if you ever find yourself at Hastings Pier, take a detour. Turn towards St Leonards and go to find The Secret Garden. Take a book with you, and a flask of cocoa. Watch the dog walkers corralling their charges and the amblers and ramblers taking the air. They choose this over the sea. It is a special place indeed.