The Chalybeate and Pump house
It was Dr Richard Russell (1687-1759) who first made St Ann’s Well famous by sending some of his clients to drink the water from a spring there (this is the same doctor who put Brighton on the map by claiming that drinking sea water was good for you!)
The Chalybeate (containing Iron) spring became known as one of the finest natural springs in the whole of Europe.
Mrs Fitzherbert (the Prince Regents girlfriend) wrote in a letter dated 1830 “I certainly was very unwell the first two or three days when I came here but I am wonderfully improved both in health and strength. I drink the chalybeate waters everyday, similar to those of Tunbridge. They fortunately agree with me in every respect.”
The water from St Ann’s Well was thought to be so good for you that in 1831 it was announced that sick people “to whom expense is an object” could be admitted to drink the water free on production of a medical certificate. A building was put up around the well to make a trip to take the waters into a more inviting experience; The Pump house for years was a focal point for activities in the Park, until its demolishment in 1935.
The Glorious Golden Age of St Ann’s Well Gardens
During the 1880’s the gardens were renovated and a series of interesting and sometimes eccentric characters took over the management of the gardens. At this time there was a charge to go into the “pleasure gardens” and there was a wide variety of entertainments on offer. There were regular open air concerts, musical tea parties, children’s fetes and there were also slightly more unusual attractions such as “The hermit in the cave”, a fortune teller (Gypsy Lee stayed in the gardens in her
caravan for 15 years.) Daring Hot air balloon ascents and a Monkey house were just some of the other entertainments.
One of the Park’s most colourful characters, George Albert Smith (1864-1957) held the lease on the gardens between 1892 and 1904. Before he came to the gardens he was a hypnotist, illusionist, photographer and he gave lectures on astronomy amongst other things!
It was during the time at St Ann’s that he started making moving pictures and he is credited with being one of the founding fathers of the modern film industry. George built his own camera and film studio in the gardens, he shot the first ever close up, and helped to invent colour film. During this time activities in the park continued and George used the gardens as a way of making money for his film making.
Private Gardens to Public Park
For years Hove council had wanted to buy the gardens so that it could be made into a public park, negotiations went on for years and in 1906 the gardens were offered to the council on a 100 year lease. Thankfully the sub committee recommended against buying the lease and finally in 1907, Mr d’Avigdor Goldsmid sold the gardens to Hove council for £10,000 which was incredibly generous of him (and very fortunate for us!) because he did have offers of £26,000 from local businessmen who wanted to build on the gardens.
On Empire Day (Queen Victoria’s birthday) the 23rd of May 1908 St Ann’s Well Gardens were finally opened to the public with much pomp and ceremony. The Park has benefited from many public spirited benefactors over the years. In 1913 Mrs Flora Sassoon purchased more land from the Goldsmid estate and donated it to Hove council on condition that it be added to the gardens. So on the 1st of May 1913 the area of land that today includes the Scented Garden for the blind and the tennis courts was opened up to the public, again with a Grand ceremony.