In 1782 Shoreham shipbuilder John Edwards is shown as owning land called ‘David’s Marsh’ where today’s Swiss Gardens School now stands, together with, just below it, ‘a meadow embanked.’ This was later acquired by his son-in-law John Britten Balley, his partner in the ship building business. Hitherto, the area had been unsuitable, marsh-land saturated by the waters of the Northbourne Stream on its last stretch before it emptied into the River Adur. The stream’s embankment of 1782 largely cured all that providing Balley with an opportunity to develop the land.
He had two lakes dug out using the stream’s contours to form the northern side of the West Lake and, although the Northbourne was no longer the fast flowing stream it once was, it was enough to eventually fill the lakes. His first buildings there were the large ‘Swiss Cottage’ and a theatre that were soon to be followed by numerous others of various sizes and purpose including a tall observation tower.
The Gardens opened in 1838 by which time there were plenty of amusements to visit and enjoy within the grounds. News soon spread and visitors flocked by train not just from nearby Brighton but also from the capital and further afield which perhaps prompted a French magazine to employ the talents of Henry George Hine to record it all.
Hine was a sketch artist who’s line drawings in the days before popular photography, enabled views and objects to be captured fairly quickly so someone with his skills could record much of the Gardens within a relatively short time. A set of the images he drew during his visit survives still in the archives of the East Sussex Record Office who have kindly given their permission for us to reproduce them here, their copyright reserved.
The location within the Gardens of some of the places in these drawings can be identified from the plan included here and many of them are already described in previous Swiss Gardens articles on this website:
Article: Swiss Gardens – a Short History
Article: Swiss Gardens Ballroom in 1876
Article: Swiss Gardens – Newspaper articles
(Hine drawings photographed by Neil De Ville)