The Royal and The Secret St Leonards Walking Trail
The railway came to Gensing and the station, designed by William Tress (architect of most of the stations on the line to Tunbridge Wells) was built in 1851, marooned a mile from the seafront.
The station made St Leonards and Hastings accessible by train on a direct line from London and from along the south coast. First class for the wealthy and second and third for everyone else and suddenly St Leonards was on the map.
The coming of the railway heralded the development of both London Road, King’s Road and Warrior Square and the Railway Inn was opened in 1854, first as a beer house and later with a full licence, on the corner of Kings Road and Western Road. There was little else around.
As the town grew and grew, the land around the station developed with a hotel built (1876) on the opposite corner to the Railway Inn. By 1884 it was known as the Royal Hotel with a large and classy saloon bar, a public bar and a ‘snug’ that catered for all classes, but everyone knew their place in the drinking hierarchy.
One can imagine the quiet snug, the spit and sawdust bar and the upmarket saloon of wood panelling, polished floors, glittering chandeliers and maybe a potted palm or two all reminiscent of the large Victorian pubs that still exist in parts of London. The commercial traveller, his trilby and heavy three-piece suit, his pocket watch and his case of samples, eating lunch, buttons straining and perhaps time for another bottle of beer and a cigar before the train home.
In his place today are suits and open necked shirts, bringing the noise of shared jokes and conversation, grouped by the bar and ladies sat, with a bottle of white wine in a chiller, sharing gossip. It is a meeting pub, a drink straight from the train or from work pub. It is like the bars that I used to visit, straight from work in London, some 45 years ago but without the layers of smoke. I’m glad to see that it is alive and well in St Leonards and that pint of London Pride brings back more memories (Theakston Lightfoot was the alternative) and Pride wins it for me.
I would have liked to have seen the Royal in all its Victorian splendour but, after its recent doldrum years, it has been transformed into a one roomed destination pub. The high ceilings and sense of space are remnants of its former grandeur and although the wood panelling is now deep blue it is the clientele that has changed the most in this mix and match pub – it is now the perfect finish for the Secret St Leonards Walking Trail.