The 7.3 hectare area of Summerfields Woods spans a central position between Holmesdale Gardens in Hastings town centre and Horntye Cricket Pitch in the Bohemia area of St Leonards.
There are numerous access points around the woods and a stream runs through the centre of the woods to two ornamental ponds at the lower (town centre) end. Brisco Walk runs the length of the Northern side of the woods and forms part of the Hastings Greenway Project.
The woods have been an SNCI (Site of Nature Conservation Importance) for some years and are now an LNR (Local Nature Reserve).
Plants & Wildlife
The upper woodland consists of mainly mature sycamore with some ash and elder trees. Rhodedendron and cherry laurel are also growing in the lower end of the woods. Holly, bramble, ivy and enchanters nightsghade make up the ground coverage, together with ferns, red campion, wood evans, cuckoo pint and dog violet that can also be seen growing on the woodland floor.
The two ponds are under a dense canopy of trees and Himalayan balsam, hogweed, flag iris and various ferns can be seen growing at the waters edge. The steep banks of the stream that supplies the ponds are also densely vegetated. The upper part of the woods has a carpet of bluebells in the spring.
Summerfields Woods are home to one of the largest populations of badgers within the town, with many setts in the woods themselves and surrounding areas.
The woods also form an important habitat for both migratory and nesting indigenous birds.
The two ponds in the lower part of the woods were constructed during Victorian times and are fed by a stream which runs down the central part of the woods. A third small pond is located further up in the centre of the woods and forms the start of the stream with water from local land drains.
History - Bohemia House & Summerfields
Originally the site of Bohemia Farm, this was demolished in 1817 to make way for Bohemia House. Constructed in 1824, Bohemia House was built in a Jacobean style with a notable imperial style staircase made from pine with iron balustrades.
The estate was purchased by Wastel Brisco in 1831 and remained in the Brisco family until 1901. In 1903, Dr G E Williams of Oxford extended his boys prep school to the building and it became known as Summer Fields.
During the war the house was used as Hastings town hall and was returned to a school post war. In 1966 the school was closed and the furniture and fittings were sold off. The house and grounds were purchased by Hastings Borough Council for £170,000. During 1970/71 the new police station and fire brigade HQ were built and in 1972 Summerfields House was demolished.
Summerfields Ice House
The ice house was thought to have been built in the 1830's as part of Wastel Brisco's improvements to the Bohemia estate following his purchase in 1831.
Ice was cut from local ponds during winter and stored in the ice house insulated with straw. The ice was then used to make ice creams, chilled drinks and sylabubs in the summer.
The Summerfields Ice House still exists and can be seen on the bank behind the fire station, at the edge of the Horntye car park.
A large walled garden was also constructed shortly after Bohemia House was built. Built into sloping ground, three sides have substantial retaining walls outside the main perimeter walls to protect it from the hillside.
Constructed from 13'' thick English Bond style brickwork, the garden walls measure 234' in length by 84' wide, and are 12' high. They are topped with a sandstone plinth and the southwest side is attractively faced in sandstone.
Also part of the improvements to the estate undertaken by Wastel Brisco in the 1830's was the construction of a mock Roman Bath with ornate grotto area, utilising a natural spring which emerges through the sandstone at this point.
The original construction was considerably larger than can be seen today and included further arched buildings either side of the grotto which were probably used as changing rooms.
The bath area measures 15' 6'' x 8' and was originally fed through an ornamental lions head which is no longer present. A further smaller lions head was also used as a keystone to the arch on the grotto.