Marine Court, St-Leonards-on-Sea
Marine Court, a hulking Art Deco apartment block, dominates the seafront at St Leonards-on-Sea in East Sussex. When it opened in 1937 it was the tallest block of flats in the UK. The strange thing is its sheer bulk makes the wonder of its design easy to miss. From St Leonards it is a shabby block of flats, but look at it along the coast from Eastbourne or Hastings and it becomes clear that this architectural behemoth is a graceful ocean liner ready to set sail.
Once you know this it's impossible to see it any other way. Marine Court was modelled on the Queen Mary, Cunard's famous liner which first sailed in 1934. To describe it takes a mixture of architectural and nautical terms. At the eastern end, the curved lower floors protrude like a ship’s bow and the floors above recede like the stacked decks of a liner. At the west end the balconies end in a graceful curl, leaving a gap at the stern. The architects, Kenneth Dalgleish and Roger K Pullen, stopped short of adding portholes but it’s a simple but effective set of visual clues. On a sunny day, residents could feel like they were enjoying a luxury cruise from the comfort of their own flat.
However, not everyone could see the bright side. A competition to name the building had suggestions like ‘Monstrosity Mansions’ and ‘Have No Care House’. When it opened it contained 153 flats and 3 restaurants. In the 1960s it was home to The Cobweb, also known as the Witch Doctor - a nightclub that saw Jimi Hendrix, David Bowie and other luminaries play. Today, it's much quieter and the "comfort superstore" that occupies the ground floor is more suited to its current, mostly elderly inhabitants.
Grade II listed in 1999, it is starting to show its age. The exterior is a bit tatty, and the original details have been compromised by double glazing and rogue DIY. But it could have been a lot worse. It's still standing and it’s lived in. It looks like it has a few stories to tell.
This is why it caught the eye of noted psychogeographer Iain Sinclair, who chose it as the setting for Marine Court Rendezvous, a video installation that he directed with Chris Pettit. Sinclair found that "its interior spaces, endless corridors, forgotten ballrooms, humming radio masts, anticipated Stanley Kubrick’s out-of-season resort hotel in The Shining".
Marine Court has seen its fortunes ebb and flow over the years. Currently awaiting some planning decisions, let’s hope that it will soon set sail for sunnier times.
Marine Court photos
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How to get there
Marine Court, Marina, St-Leonards-on-Sea, East Sussex, TN38 0DX. Marine Court is on the A259, the main road that passes through Hastings and St Leonards.