The early C20 grounds of a hotel incorporated into municipal seafront gardens of the 1910s which were designed by Notcutt Nurseries.
Until the middle of the C19, Felixstowe was an agricultural area with few buildings and a minimal population. In the latter part of the century however the railway came, linking Felixstowe with Ipswich and at the same time many of the gentry began purchasing land and property in the area. The town grew rapidly and increased in stature following a holiday visit by a German Empress in 1891. In 1897, the Felixstowe Spa and Winter Garden Company decided to develop a public garden along the seafront, associated with a natural spa well which had become a popular visitor attraction. Although they ran a competition to design a pavilion and garden, and a winner, Brightwen Binyon, was chosen, the designs were not realised. In 1902, the Felixstowe and Walton Urban District Council built a granite sea wall with a promenade along it and at the same time laid out a small public garden on the cliff beside the Town Hall (OS 1903). It has been suggested that the artificial rockwork used in the creation of the seafront gardens was the work of James Pulham and Sons (P Shepherd Assocs 2002). In 1907 a bandstand was erected at the Spa by the council and when the owner of the Felix Hotel (formerly known as The Balmoral), which stood on top of the cliff to the north-east of the Town Hall, began to develop its grounds, the desire to make further improvements to the area around the nearby Spa were resurrected, this time by the UDC. A pavilion, known as the Spa Pavilion, was built 1909 and the local Woodbridge firm of Notcutts Nurseries was commissioned to lay out the accompanying Spa Gardens and to provide the plants. The result was an intricate series of terraces and paths with seats, shelters, enclosed gardens, and long vistas. From 1919 onwards a series of changes were made, most notably the replacement of the main zig-zag path down the cliff with the elaborate scheme of paths and planting beside the Pavilion which survive today. During the Second World War the Spa Pavilion was destroyed by a bomb but was rebuilt by the council in 1950. In the same decade the owners of the Felix Hotel gave their stretch of seafront garden, the Cliff Gardens, to the town and this was incorporated into the existing Spa Gardens. The seafront gardens remain (2003) in the ownership of the local authority.
LOCATION, AREA, BOUNDARIES, LANDFORM, SETTING
The seafront gardens at Felixstowe lie along the coast, within the town setting of Felixstowe which is itself located c 15km south-east of Ipswich. The site, which is laid out on the face of, and at the base of a cliff, covers c 3ha. It is divided into three sections: the Town Hall Garden which is the most southerly; the Spa Gardens surrounding the Spa Pavilion; and running north-east from these, the Cliff Gardens, formerly part of the Felix Hotel grounds. The Town Hall Garden is bordered to the south-east by Undercliff Road West, to the north-west by Wolsey Gardens on the top of the cliff, to the east by shops, and to the west by the Town Hall. The Spa Gardens and Cliff Gardens face the sea promenade to the south-east, are bordered by Hamilton Gardens and the grounds of the former Felix Hotel to the north-west along the top of the cliff, and by shops and houses to the east and west.
ENTRANCES AND APPROACHES
All sections of the gardens can be approached on foot by numerous entrances on the top or at the base of the cliff. Vehicular access is possible to the Spa Pavilion via Undercliff Road West which terminates in the Spa Gardens at the south-west corner of the building.
The principal building on the site is the Spa Pavilion, an entertainment centre and restaurant of rendered white-painted walls under a tile roof. It was rebuilt, on the same site, after the Second World War to replace the original Spa Pavilion which was erected by the council in 1909 close to the site of the spa from which it takes its name. The building which stands today reflects the style of the early C20 although neither this nor the previous building followed the design of the local architect, Brightwen Binyon, who in 1897 won the competition held by the Felixstowe Spa and Winter Garden Company to design a pavilion and associated gardens on the seafront cliff.
GARDENS AND PLEASURE GROUNDS
The Town Hall Garden lies c 300m to the south-west of the main seafront gardens, divided from the shore by Undercliff Road West and the sea wall. The garden comprises a series of steps and terraced paths forming a semicircle which rises up the cliff to a seat and shelter on Wolsey Gardens at the top. The paths create a symmetrical pattern with banked areas of planting containing evergreen shrubs and yuccas. At the base of the garden on a level with Undercliff Road West is a three-tier fountain flanked by two small lawns.
The Spa and Cliff Gardens are divided from the Town Hall Garden by properties facing onto Undercliff Road West. The Spa Gardens, lying to the south-west of the Spa Pavilion, are laid out in an elaborate series of paths and terraced walls built of artificial rockwork, some of which may have been supplied by James Pulham and Sons (P Shepherd Assocs 2002). From the base of the cliff where lawns are laid out, the land rises through three levels of terracing with walks through mature plantings of holm oak, hebe, yucca, euonymus, escallonia, and other varieties of evergreen and flowering shrubs suited to the seaside conditions. Seats and small enclosures created with the use of hedging or massed shrubs add variety to the design.
On the north-east side of the Pavilion lie the Cliff Gardens, originally part of the grounds of the former Felix Hotel which stands above them on the cliff top. The terraced paths here display less formality but are equally as intricate and occupy the whole space between the top of the cliff and the beach. Paths and steps descend the cliff in a serpentine network, through mature plantings with a similar high proportion of evergreens as the Spa Gardens, the size of which suggests that many are original plantings. Here also the artificial rockwork is thought to have been supplied by the Pulhams. At sea level a series of open lawns, divided by evergreen hedges, runs along the seafront, some of the lawns being planted with simple bedding schemes. On the cliff side of one of these, below the former Felix Hotel, stands a row of mid C20 beach shelters. Both on the cliff side and at sea level, paths lead to several small enclosed garden areas containing a variety of features. Two contain covered seating pavilions, one encloses a circular fountain pool, another an informal pond, and others have simple lawns set with seats from which to enjoy the view out across the sea. The Cliff Gardens are terminated at their north-east end by a long, low, covered shelter (mid C20) which faces back along the gardens towards the Spa Pavilion.
Gardeners' Chronicle, (28 August 1886), p 203; (1 September 1888), p 239
A Jobson, The Felixstowe Story (1968)
Report for Suffolk Coastal District Council, (Patricia Shepherd Associates 2002) [copy on EH file]
OS 25" to 1 mile: 2nd edition published 1903
Postcards, various dates (JE 10/4; HC453/5/9/1293), (Suffolk Record Office)
Records of the Urban District Council, various dates: Minute books (EF/12/1/1/9); various plans and documents (EF/12/3/4/6), (Suffolk Record Office)
Description written: January 2003
Amended: February 2003
Register Inspector: EMP
Edited: September 2003