Fairlight Hall – 19th Century
Amended plans for the new mansion were finalised in 1848 and construction began a year later using local stone. Building work was complete in 1855 and Lucas Shadwell moved in with his young wife Florentia Wynch (1831-1921) the daughter of the Vicar of St Mary and St Paul, Pett. By now he had produced a son and heir, William Peter (1852-1915), and a daughter Florentia Sarah (1854-1924).
William Drew had been born near Petworth, the son of William and Sarah Stent. At 27 he took his childless uncle William Lucas Shadwell’s name upon inheriting his uncle’s fortune. His Hastings-born relative had been a prominent lawyer and developer in the town and had helped finance Hastings’ first bank, a hospital and a racecourse, as well as the neoclassical Pelham Crescent and St Mary-in-the-Castle. William Lucas Shadwell (1765 to 1844) had also improved his family’s fortunes by supplying stone for the construction of the Martello Towers, and a wooden carving of one of the towers features prominently on the fireplace in the front hall of the mansion. The young Sussex heir quickly amassed a surrounding estate of some 4000 acres to match his new manorial seat. The land stretched from the outskirts of Hastings all along the coast to Rye harbour, including multiple tenanted farms and much of the land that now forms Fairlight village.
As was the fashion of the time, the interiors of Fairlight Hall were chosen to be redolent of the medieval world. The walls were decorated with repeating oak leaves and Tudor roses, deeply incised into the plaster. The striking double-height great hall was built with arched tie-beams supported on shafts held by naturalistic corbels and capitals. Biblical quotations were carved into the walls and fireplace mantels, reflecting the young William Shadwell’s devout and temperate nature. His wife Florentia was especially devoted to the temperance cause and in her lifetime wrote numerous evangelical novellas for the Religious Tract Society. Florentia’s evangelical inclinations were fired by personal tragedy. As a child in the 1830s her nine-year-old brother was killed when thrown from his pony outside the Two Sawyers pub in Pett; his groom had abandoned his charge to take a pint inside the pub. Very quickly the Lucas Shadwells established their estate as ‘alcohol-free’ and the Two Sawyers was a temperance hotel until the 1970s. William later became Chairman of the National Temperance Federation.
William Drew Lucas Shadwell died of a fever while in Florence on a continental tour in 1875. He was an evangelical scion of the Church of England, indeed his brother Henry Stent was vicar of St Andrew’s Fairlight until 1901. But his sympathies for Catholicism had grown in his later years and he had been drawn to return to Rome some 40 years after his Grand tour had taken him there as a young man. in early December 1874, shortly after his arrival in Florence he was taken ill with a fever. Florentia was summoned by telegraph from England. But nine weeks later, aged just 57 he succumbed to his illness at the Hotel d’Arno. His body was brought home in state by train to Hastings Railway station where it was met by a long cortege of carriages and mourners. As a man with great compassion for the poor and the vulnerable, he had been a popular incumbent at Fairlight Hall. Shops in town were closed and curtains drawn as over 1000 people, dignitaries, friends, servants and farmworkers processed through Hastings to his funeral at St Andrew’s Church, Fairlight.
A dower house, Woodcote, was built for his 44-year-old widow, Florentia on Peter James Lane, Pett, and his son william Peter returned breifly to live at the Hall with his young wife and family in the early 1880s. William Peter’s son, William Noel, the last of the male Lucas Shadwell line, was born at the Hall in December 1882. By 1895 William Peter had been elected as the Conservative Member of Parliament for Hastings. Continuing a family concern for the welfare of the poor, William Peter made his maiden speech to parliament on the question of working class housing. He held the seat for five years but his personal religious views and increasing interest in Roman Catholicism, had offended his constituency party members and he was not invited to stand again as the representative for Hastings in the 1900 election.
He and his wife Beatrice chose to move to Rome where they converted to Catholicism, and in 1905 he was given the honorary title of private Chamberlain to Pope Pius X. Shortly thereafter he retired to Sussex and lived in a house in Pett, Fairlight Hall now being let to a private tenant. He died in 1915 and is buried in St Andrews, Fairlight, in a portion of the graveyard that he donated and had consecrated for Catholic burial. Fairlight Hall was home to the Lucas Shadwells through to the end of the 19th century but their era of residence and ownership was close to an end.
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