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For bohemians everywhere

Gipsy teas and syllabub

This is part four of five  excerpts from a February 1966 Hastings Observer article entitled ‘Bohemia For Gipsy Teas And Syllabub’, which explores the possibilities of how Bohemia got its name. The story so far … Hastings Museum curator, Mr J. Mainwaring Baines, quotes a reference to Bohemia in the first Hastings Guide, published   in 1794, which mentions a farmhouse  called Bohemia, ‘famous for plenty of fine cream; on which account it is much frequented in the summer by tea and syllabub parties.’  A map published in 1783 shows Bohemy Farm and a reference to Bohemia is found in 1804 when the occupier was a Benjamin Foster. Now read on …
   The house [presumably Bohemia Farm] was rebuilt and turned into a mansion, and in 1830 the Princess Sophia of Gloucester stayed there for three months with great success. Hastings loves a title, and a princess met with immediate popularity. They pealed their bells, hung out banners, fired salutes, gave dinners, and so on, in tremendous fashion. In fact the princess Victoria arrived in St Leonards with her mother four years later – a girl who was one day to become queen – they had difficulty in finding even greater honour to do her. But that is all by the way.
   In 1831, the mansion was put up for auction, and described as ‘a substantial Family Mansion; newly constructed of White Bricks, with Stone Corners, and Window Mouldings, in the Picturesque Style of An Old English Manor House, with two Advanced Wings and Gabled Parapets, and slated roofs known as Bohemia.’ 
   The advertisement added, ‘For a Nobleman, or a Man of Fashion desiring a Residence on the Coast, the premises form a Mansion unique of its kind, designed in good taste, and well adapted for the accommodation of a family.’ (This may well have been so, but what of the servants’ quarters? In 1829, one of the domestic staff tried to burn the place down, but without success!)
   The note continued: ‘The prediliction for Hastings as a Bathing Place evinced by the public, and the great accession made to it within the last few years, and making to it, and by the formation of the new Town of St Leonards to the westward, and the difficulty of obtaining Ground in the direction of this Estate, will add very considerably to its value.’
   This potential building land is shown by a map attached to the auction sales catalogue. It did not become building land, as we know, for it was acquired by Wastel Brisco, and eventually became the Summer Fields estate (yet another name for the property). Now this map shows the names and extent of the fields round the old farm, which are grouped mostly to the north-west of the road ‘From Hastings to London’, which passes through them. This is Bohemia Road today.
   What is today the Oval was then the ‘Upper Chenies’ with our present tennis courts and White Rock gardens as ‘Lower Chenies’. Now this is a name of interest, for the family held land at Halton in the form of John Cheney Knight. In 1451, it seems he had omitted to pay the quitrent due for his holding there. His grandson was a Lord Warden of Cinque Ports.
   Lying on the seaward side of De Cham Road, was the Chapel Field – a link with the former Hospital of St Mary Magdalen, or ‘the Maudlin’. Then across the road in front of the museum, Wanty Field. The rest of the names were not very interesting, save the two northern-most ones, Great Hornty and Little Hornty. These two are very ancient names, and as ‘hornegha’ goes back to the 12th century, Norman times, but it is probably older. 

 Final part next week

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