It’s easy to miss the memorial bus shelter on De La Warr Road but it’s been there for almost eighty years. There have been considerable changes to the shelter’s use and setting since it was first built in 1930. Originally the shelter would have been adjacent to Bexhill’s golf course, golfers would have used the shelter as a very welcome place to rest while waiting for their bus back into town after a bracing day’s sport. This colourised image was taken during the Second World War where it was repurposed as an air-raid shelter. Today the shelter is equally well-used – this time by students from Bexhill College as they wait for their transport home after a hard day in class.
Who does the shelter commemorate?
Built by James Bodle Ltd, the shelter commemorates a past mayor of Bexhill, George Herbert Gray.
Bexhill Heritage member, Paul Wright, knows something of Gray’s background.
Gray was born in London in 1856. He trained as an architect and surveyor. He lived at Botfield, 21 Sea Road, Bexhill. In 1895 he was appointed by the 8th Earl De La Warr as the agent and surveyor of his Bexhill and Cooden estates, a post he held for 30 years. As a consequence, he was involved in laying out Dorset, Magdalen and Manor roads. George Gray was also a partner in the estate agents, Riches and Gray. Amongst many buildings within Bexhill which he designed are the Peace Memorial (unveiled on 2nd November 1919) outside St Mary Magdalene’s Roman Catholic Church; St George’s Presbyterian Church (now United Reformed Church), Cantelupe Road and “Wrestwood” the residence of Sir Edward Malet on Wrestwood Road (now the site of St Mary’s School). Gray He also made additions to the “Manor House” for Lady Muriel de la Warr and “Collington” for Daniel Mayer (Mayor of Bexhill 1911 – 1914).
Gray was a member of Bexhill Urban District Council and then a Borough of Bexhill alderman. He was Mayor of Bexhill 1918 – 1920 and proclaimed the Armistice to the town on 11th November 1918 earning the nickname of the “Peace Mayor”. He maintained a wide range of both political and social interests around the town during his life. He died on 18th January 1929, in Bexhill, aged 72 years. His funeral service is recorded in the Bexhill Observer of January 26th 1929.
Paul Wright has also discovered the ‘secrets’ of why memorial shelter was built.
Soon after his death in January 1929 Bexhill Borough Council proposed that one of three new bus shelters it was proposing to build should be used as a “fitting memorial to one who had done so much for the town”. The site chosen was the junction of Penland Road and De La Warr Road. This proposal soon gained full Council approval and the Borough Surveyor was instructed to prepare plans including an appropriate inscription be placed upon (the shelter). In June 1929 Lord De La Warr expressed his willingness to allow the shelter to be built on the golf links (this land was still part of his private estate). The golf club also gave approval and in October 1929 the Council accepted a tender from James Bodle Ltd to build the shelter for an estimate of £70.
As no other relevant Council minutes can be found it is presumed the shelter was completed during 1930. At present no evidence found that there was an unveiling of the new shelter during 1930 or whether the inscription was applied.
What condition is the shelter in today?
In recent years the shelter has been damaged and sadly neglected. Nevertheless, the quality of the original construction has meant that the shelter has remained surprisingly resilient. As a result, most of its heritage features remain.
This image is all that is left of the original cast iron guttering and downpipe. Note that the brick work remains in good condition.
Bexhill Heritage’s plan
We think it’s time to be proud of this shelter again and to restore it as close to its original condition as is practical. We also wish to encourage people to respect the shelter by understanding and celebrating its history.
So far, we’ve carried out a preliminary condition survey which we’ve made available to representatives of Rother District Council who still have ownership of the shelter. We’re also poised to contact Bexhill College and Stagecoach for their ideas and support. As always, we’ll need to raise money to restore the shelter and fund an interpretation board.
Please contact us if you can help – we’ll be happy to hear from you.
Main image: CC0 Alexis Markwick
Air-raid shelter image: © Bexhill Museum
Portrait image: © Story of Bexhill, L.J. Bartley, 1971