My first controlled assessment for my Journalism was to write an article for “Who Do You Think You Are” magazine regarding the history of my home and local area. Cue several hours sifting through housing documents and many expeditions to the local library. Here is the result.
Ask any resident how they feel about Astaire Avenue, and they will invariably give the same answer. Bev, a 52 year old mother of 2, will happily tell you the street is “wonderful” and Joyce, 83, will confidently inform you that the “neighbours are very nice and the road is very safe”.
I’m Aaron Loose, a sixteen year old student who loves cinema and Italian cuisine, and I could not agree more with my highly agreeable neighbours. But it’s no secret that Astaire’s relative privilege has a flipside: It’s agonisingly normal. According to Streetcheck.com, over 97% of residents are white. One does pine for a little variety.
So when I first received this assignment from “Who Do You Think You Are?”, I was convinced that I would not be able to facilitate its demands. I had lived at Six Astaire Avenue for nearly ten years, and could truthfully say that it was of naught interest, historically and aesthetically.
But then I started researching. And during this eventful excavation, I uncovered many secrets. It began when I sifted through the original housing documents, which claimed my abode was part of a 122 strong housing project commissioned by The Duke of Buccleuch in 1965, and was to be under the jurisdiction of The Duke of Devonshire. Mr. Buccleuch apparently had a taste for nostalgia, since these homes were moulded in the classical 1950’s style.
But being a very English 1950’s, they were not built to dazzle as much as they were made to function. However, I did discover that my home has been outfitted with Deep Bay windows, a typically Edwardian flourish dating to the reign of King Edward VII.
There is a verdant cycle path that stretches for about a mile behind the street. Today it’s a nifty short cut to the local retail park, but from the 1860’s to the 1930’s it served a different, infinitely more interesting purpose. In 1862, a railway line was laid for three miles to The Crumbles, a dusty quarry close to Eastbourne’s sunny foreshore. The trains transported shingle ballast from the quarry to Eastbourne Station, and from there on it would be used in constructing the developing South-east railway. However, a more accessible source of angular granite ballast soon rendered the line obsolete, and it 1932 the line was closed.
It was only recently in 2011 that an archaeological dig organised by Eastbourne Museum opened up a 17m long 3m wide trench, within which they found original sleepers used in the railway. This was an astonishing discovery, as these sleepers had been laid over a century ago, and yet somehow remained in a good condition.
But the closure was probably for the best, since on November 10th 1940 eight bombs fell on the disused line. There was further destruction on June 23rd 1944 when the clumsy interception of a German V2 by a RAF pilot over Langney Point resulted in the flattening of six houses, as well as the injuries of thirty residents. To my amazement, no one was killed.
And then there’s the matter of my street’s incongruously glamourous name. Surprisingly, it’s actually not a tribute to the legendary Fred Astaire, but to his sister and original dance partner, Adele Astaire, who gave up her career when she married The Duke of Devonshire’s youngest son, Lord Charles Cavendish. Their union begun when Adele drunkenly proposed marriage, a promise Charles held her to. Nevertheless, Adele made the best of the unfortunate situation and became a fervent ambassador for the Red Cross.
It’s spectacular how many secrets a street collects as time goes by. My area may be relatively modern, but I have learnt a tremendous deal about a heritage that I never imagined existed.