The Front Line

Sidney Little – sometimes referred to as  “The Concrete King”  was appointed to the post of Hastings Borough and Water Engineer in 1926, and over a period of the next almost 30 years, was to have an influence on the structure of the town that is still appreciated and talked about today.

What he found on his appointment was a run-down Victorian resort that he would turn into a modern paradise of concrete and chrome . Little took a walk around the town before his interview for the post. He was dismayed by what he found. Hastings and St Leonards were sleepy Victorian seaside towns that had yet to embrace the 20th Century. He told the interview panel that, if appointed, he would bring the town up-to-date. Once appointed he set out with a resolve and determination to do just that.

In the early thirties, the Town’s tramways were ripped up to make way for a completely new promenade built in reinforced concrete. This new front line was described at the time as Riviera Styled, one of the many features of this new front was a “double deck” Promenade with both upper and lower walkways. The lower walkway was built in a very functionalist style, but was relieved by decoration made from pieces of different coloured broken glass set into the concrete. The glass came from a large quantity of broken bottles that Little discovered on a rubbish tip. It is known as “Bottle Alley”.

The effect is striking and it looks remarkably modern given that is was built in the thirties. You could be forgiven for thinking that it was built in the ‘sixties. Also incorporated within the new front line was the Sun Lounge which incorporated entertainment and catering facilities creating a venue that locals and visitors alike could use all year round. His vision was that the front line would be uncluttered, a level but functional seafront that enabled both vehicles and pedestrians to share this ultra modern creation.

Britain’s first underground car park was constructed as part of the new development. It was opened in December 1931. At the time it removed the eyesore of cars parked along the front and it is still there today, but is, of course, nowhere near adequate for its original task.

There are also some rather futuristic concrete shelters dotted along the front. It was for these developments, amongst others at Hastings, that Little earned the title of “Concrete King”.

He was later to put his  skills to use in the service of the nation when he was involved in the construction of the Mulberry floating harbour used in the D-Day landings in 1944.

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