For nearly 240 years, the Grade II listed Gildredge Manor House, set in over eight acres of park-land, was one of the finest Georgian buildings in East Sussex.

Photo by Kevin Gordon

Following a generous bequest by art lover and local benefactor John Chisholm Towner in 1920, the Manor House was bought by Eastbourne Council in 1922.  Not only did Alderman Towner bequeath important 18th, 19th and 20th century paintings from his private collection, but left £5,000 for a new art gallery to be built for the people of Eastbourne.


With the money, the council purchased the old manor house and it was opened as the Towner Art Gallery in 1923, and soon become one of the most significant collections of 18th, 19th and 20th century art in the south of England.  It also mounted local exhibitions and workshops, and later housed historical and archaeological artefacts. The gallery and local museum were much used by schools as part of the National Curriculum and it became a popular tourist attraction.

It continued to flourish for the next 80 years until Eastbourne council decided that the Old Towner had become a dinosaur and what was needed was a cultural centre for the 21st century.

The council gradually withdrew funding for essential maintenance and repairs of the Old Towner, until, desperately needing funds for the new Towner, in 2006 they sold it, far below its value, to a property developer.

The sale enraged the artistic community and people of Eastbourne, who felt they had been deprived of their own art gallery and museum without any meaningful consultation. The anger continues to persist even though the new Towner, sited near the seafront, was opened in April 2009



Meanwhile, any plans to develop the Old Towner seem to have been abandoned by the owner and this once beautiful building lies empty and in a state of severe dilapidation and neglect from gradual decay, vandalism and theft. The adjacent front garden has become a haunt of youngsters and the hedge and lawn have been badly damaged.


The Old Towner Project firmly believes that it is not too late to save this glorious building, now back on the market for £1.3m, for the people of Eastbourne and its visitors.

Once under the ownership of a trust and after essential remedial work has been carried out, the hope is to convert it into a community based visual and performing arts centre with its own gallery, shop, concert hall, workshops, studios, cafe and offices.


It would also provide an opportunity for local artists and craftspeople to showcase their work, an educational venue for a variety of workshops, a space for music and performance, a focal point for people to meet and provide revenue by hiring it out for weddings and private functions. The revitalisation would also bring much-needed support for the Eastbourne's historic Old Town, a conservation and tourist enhancement area.

We believe that with sufficient funding and support, the Old Towner can be restored to its former glory for the people of Eastbourne and its visitors.  

For further information, please  E-mail:

Your contributions and / or comments would be greatly valued.

Thank you.  



Designed by Simon Smith