“ Address: Marina / Bexhill-on-Sea / TN40 1DT / England „
Perhaps most famous for being the inspiration for the Warmington on Sea of Dads Army, Bexhill on Sea is hold a far more exciting secret. The gleaming white De La Warr Pavilion is a modernist icon and is claimed to be the first modernist public building in Britain. Set right on the coast, the fantastic and slightly surreal expanses of blue sea and sky behind pure white stone gazebos and landscaped gardens make the Pavilion a really special place to visit.
Seventy years ago the Pavilion's architect, Erich Mendelsohn, dubbed the sleek, streamlined form of the pavilion a "horizontal skyscraper" , and this gives you an idea of the size of the building. For me it is the simplicity of the design that gives it such beauty, together with the space and lack of architectural clutter around it. The building has a beautiful combination of curves, balconies, and glass. It is pure white - if you look at it from the sea, the blue sky behind it contrasts with the whiteness and highlights the beautiful, flowing lines of the design. If you look out at the sea from the building, you get the feeling of cruising along in the Titanic - the sea seems to surround the building on three sides, you can see parts of the whiteness in your field of vision, and the sky seems to go on for ever. The cantilevered balconies reinforce the feeling of being in a ship and the whole experience has a timeless and relaxing feel.
Outside the building, landscaped lawns run down to the sea's edge, with a shell-shaped white bandstand and two white pagoda connected by a white wall that runs along the edge of the promenade.
Inside, the flowing lines of the building continue, with a magnificent chrome and wood spiral staircase taking pride of place and the huge glass windows acting as a frame for the seascape beyond. Murals and terrazzo floors combine with modernist chairs and tables to complete the feeling of having stepped back in time.
In 1932, the mayor of Bexhill on Sea was the 9th Earl De La Warr - a young and wealthy man who persuaded the town council to launch an international competition for the design of a seaside Pavilion which was to provide culture and entertainment for the masses - a people's palace.
He specifically wanted the Pavilion to be cutting edge, and for him this meant in the Modernist style. By the 1930's, Modernism, which had started as an expression of national culture and the fusion of mechanical practice with artistic ideals, had adopted a politically informed position. Two architects won the commission - Erich Mendelsohn, a refugee from Hitler's Germany, and Serge Chrmayeff, a Russian. Their partnership lasted three years with the De La Warr Pavilion being their most famous achievement.
Building work started on the site of the old coastguard cottages on the sea-front in March 1935 and the building was officially opened in December 1935 and for a short while it provided entertainment and culture for Bexhill. There were concerts and exhibitions inside, with food and deck-games on the roof.
The declaration of war in 1939, put an abrupt end to the fun. The building was requisitioned, bombed and in the years after the war, fell into a state of disrepair and neglect. In 1985 it became a Grade 1 listed building, and moves were made to restore it to its previous grandeur. Eventually in 2005, it reopened - completely refurbished and ready to resume its cultural role.
I would thoroughly recommend a visit to Bexhill on Sea, just to see the De La Warr Pavillion, although a stroll along the promenade and a visit to the town and its museums are also interesting. Entrance to the Pavilion is free, and there is a selection of events and exhibitions which can all be found on the website www.dlwp.com
The Pavilion has a café where you can have soup, sandwiches or coffee with cake. It also has a restaurant which serves both lunch and evening meal. The food is organic and locally sourced, and is slightly on the expensive side. We treated ourselves to lunch and found the food to be really excellent. We were lucky enough to find a table by the window so that we could look out on 180 degree views of the sea while we ate.
The restaurant does a lunchtime deal of two courses for £10, but we chose a la carte since it was a special occasion. I had mushroom risotto followed by crème brule, and my husband had Salmon with Samphire, followed by panacotta. The quality of the food was fantastic and the service was exceptional. A large glass of white wine was £7.50 and the total bill for two of us came to about £57.
Both the café and the restaurant have magnificent views of the sea and the bandstand. The design of the building means that you can also sit outside on the balcony, which is very sheltered from the wind and can get really hot, even in February. There is free wi fi access and a very relaxed atmosphere, which means that you can sit and relax for hours without being hassled or feeling awkward.
When we visted there was a free art exhition in the galleries, which gave the visit an extra interest.
Home to contemporary exhibitions, performances and events.