James Burton: St. Leonard’s is his Legacy

Feb 13, 2020  |   Admin   |  Categories: Hastings


He was the most famous builder and property designer in England at one point. But today, few outside Hastings and St Leonard’s are aware of him. This is despite the fact that during his working life, James Burton created more than 3000 properties by the time of his death in 1837.

As well as creating and conceiving of the idea for St Leonards-on-sea (‘a seaside resort to rival Brighton’), he designed and build much of Bloomsbury in London – including Bloomsbury Square, Russell Square and Tavistock Square. Other famous architectural triumphs designed and built by this property developer extraordinaire include the capital’s Regent’s Street, St John’s Wood and Regent’s Park.

Burton’s and St Leonard’s architectural legacy

In St Leonard’s he – together with his architect son Decimus – built the Regency homes on the Waterfront, including the Marina colonnade, as well as various porticoes and institutions. The Masonic Hall and Victoria Hotel were also conceived and constructed by him. So too were many of the town’s terraced homes.

He actually began the building of the town in 1827 after learning that the ancient Manor of Gensing, sitting between Hastings and the Bulverhythe Marshes, was up for sale. Six years later he had finalised the project, having created the townhouses and villas at St Leonard’s Gardens. His ‘pleasure and holiday spot for the gentry’ was complete. Two decades later his architect son would buy adjacent land and extend his father’s resort plans by adding the Mount, the Uplands and the Lawn and North Lodge.

Burton’s other interests and his (large) family life

But the indefatigable James Burton was more than a mere builder or respected architect, he was also impressive when it came to networking within respected society at the time. For instance, he once had the young Princess Victoria (later Queen Victoria) residing in his family home for a few weeks holiday.  He was also a member of the London private club the Athenaeum, where the creative, intellectual and wealthy of the period met to socialise and swap ideas.

Burton’s other interests included buying a gunpowder manufacturing company, at Powdermills and which his first-born child later ran. And talking of children, Burton had 12 in total – six boys and six girls – 10 of whom survived to adulthood. Many of the boys went on to have impressive careers; one as a physician, another an Egyptologist and a third a lawyer. Probably the most famous and celebrated at the time though was Decimus who followed his father into architecture and property. The latter also trained under the renowned London and Georgian architect John Nash for a time.

For a man who was so devoted to his career Burton was also able to see ‘the big picture’. To the extent that during the Napoleonic wars he feared a possible invasion from France so created a volunteer arms of 1600 men – of which he was the Colonel. Not even the French would stop him in his tracks, it seems. And it’s for all above reasons that James Burton (and his son Decimus) will always be much-loved and admired sons of St Leonard’s-on-sea.

Interested in property in this area? Then do get in touch with us here at Easy Let and Sale. We have a wide range of homes from different periods to buy and rent in St Leonards-on-Sea. Call 01424 44 70 80 or email hastings@easyletandsale.co.uk.

Thank you for all your hard work and publicity!

Richard Sumner Vendor Premier Service October 12, 2018

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