Marine Court, St Leonards, East Sussex, TN38

Here is the magnificent Marine Court, a residential building on the coast at St Leonards in Sussex. It was built in the 1930s, although it looks later. It was hugely controversial at the time, as you can imagine. The design emulates that of an ocean liner, the Queen Mary. Wikipedia tells me that the building originally had a rooftop bar, which must have been fun.

Marine Court, St Leonards, in sketchbook 12

I was particularly taken by the design right at the top. From this angle, it looks like waves. This building is on the sea front, the sea is behind me and to the left.

The top of the building looks like waves. I had to number the floors to keep track of where I was…!

It is an Art Deco building, constructed between 1936 and 1938. It was requisitioned for military use in the 1939-45 conflict, and bombed in September 1942. The bomb damage was repaired after the war. It was listed Grade II in 1999.

The original concept was upmarket serviced apartments:

Design for total living environment
Marine Court was designed to provide “an environment for total living” – a self-contained lifestyle within the complex, but not necessarily within each apartment. Modest sized flats originally had tiny kitchens – it was assumed that most of the inhabitants would dine in the main restaurant at the eastern end of the building, or avail themselves of room service.
There were shops, parking, roof sun decks and recreational facilities (including a dance floor and bar) – and in-house staff to do the chores (there are still some call buttons to summons the now-defunct service).

Hastings Borough Council Marine Court, St Leonards-on-Sea Conservation, Management Plan [1]

It was privately developed. But the construction costs went over budget and sales of flats were slow. The owners, South Coast (Hastings and St. Leonards) Properties Company, went bust. After being occupied by the military, the building passed into the hands of Hastings Borough Council. By 2007, the building was becoming old, and evidently the repairs programme was not coping with the deterioration of the building. Hastings Borough Council proposed an plan [1]. This lists the problems in some detail, including such serious items as:

Condition of building service equipment
The condition of building services and utility equipment [gas boilers / water / electricity / air /lifts / other] are the cause of some shared concern amongst the building’s managing agents and the residential leaseholders

Hastings Borough Council Marine Court, St Leonards-on-Sea Conservation, Management Plan [1]

Evidently this plan by Hastings Borough Council did not work out well, because by 2010 the leaseholders had acquired the freehold and formed their own company: “Marine Court (St Leonards On Sea) Freeholders Limited”.

The flats look beautiful inside, as you can see for example in this listing from “The Modern House” estate agent: https://www.themodernhouse.com/past-sales/marine-court-vi/

The “Hastings Independent” reported on January 25th 2019: “The Grade II listing in 1999 made the costs of upkeep that much higher. However, the freehold was bought by the residents through a company, Marine Court (St Leonards on Sea) Freeholders Limited in 2010, and the prestige of the address, not to mention the glorious sea views from its upper windows, has ensured that most of the flat owners have been affluent enough, or can charge sufficient rent to sub-tenants, to meet the restoration bills as they are incurred.” The article goes on to describe problems in letting the retail shops which are underneath the canopy. They say: “Current controversies centre on the cost of works to upgrade a series of shared toilets at the rear of the premises with enhanced fire precaution measures including smoke alarms. The shops, which don’t need to provide toilet facilities for their customers, make sparing use of them; on the other hand, they are essential to the bars and restaurants, which do. Either way the projected cost of almost £100,000, charged in advance on the basis of estimates, is widely regarded as completely out of proportion to what is necessary or reasonable. …Some [business owners] are said to be taking legal advice on how to challenge the extent of the charges being levied. Others have simply left. There are several shopfronts now boarded up, which is having an adverse effect not just on general morale, but on the footfall which most of those who remain depend upon. “

That was in 2019. When I walked past in 2022, the majority of the shopfronts were boarded up, which is a great pity, as it is a good location, and shielded from the sun and wind.

Marine Court colonnade, July 2022, looking East.

It is a building on the edge, in many senses.

In case you are a little hazy about the location of St Leonards, here is a map.It is on the English south coast, between Brighton and Dover.

Reference 1: Hastings Borough Council Marine Court, St Leonards-on-Sea Conservation, Management Plan (2007)

p6: “Design for total living environment”

p10: “Condition of the building service equipment”

You can read or download the document directly here (31 pages):

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