Borough engineer Sidney Little had big plans for making Hastings into Britain’s top seaside resort.

He used modern designs and materials and encouraged others to do the same in a remarkable transformation.

In a new guide to East Sussex, Nicholas Antram says there was a radical remodelling of the seafront during the 1930s.

Hastings had lost out to neighbouring Bexhill in the Edwardian era and had even seen its population decline.

It invested £3.5 million, an enormous sum for those days, in modernising the promenade, which included Britain’s first underground car park.

Built below the prom at Carlisle Parade in 1931, it was just ahead of one in Blackpool. More than 1,200ft long, it could take 500 vehicles. Another two followed by 1936.

Little also rebuilt other parts of the prom between the pier and Warrior Square, making parts of it two-tier.

He produced a mosaic 500 yards long on the lower level of coloured glass, which earned it the nickname of Bottle Alley.

Although the prom needed attention with sea defences improved and old tramlines removed, Little’s first priority was to modernise the seafront.

Antram says, “Little was a Modernist with an enthusiasm for concrete.” A good example of his work was the shelters built along the prom which were practical and elegant.

Little was also responsible for an open-air Olympic-sized swimming pool with seating for 2,500 people at St Leonards.

He even created an airport between Bexhill and Hastings. It only lasted 11 years and was never used for commercial flights.

Other architects joined in, the most notable creation being Marine Court, which looks like a beached ocean liner.

The 1935 visitors’ guide caught the spirit of Hastings by calling it the 1066 town with the 1966 outlook.

But Antram says Little’s ambitious plans came too late to stem or reverse a decline in the resort’s fortunes.

The swimming pool, one of Britain’s biggest, never made a profit after the first year and was eventually demolished.

Little’s idea for a new civic centre in Bohemia Road never got off the ground in the 1930s but was revived 30 years later. He was 41 when he came to Hastings in 1926 and remained there until retiring in 1950.

Known locally as the Concrete King, he had great knowledge of reinforced concrete.

Not everyone liked his work but no one could deny his ability to improve the water supply to Hastings by building tunnelled aqueducts up to 200ft deep and three reservoirs.

During the Second World War he used his expertise to help create the concrete Mulberry harbours for the D-Day landings in 1944. Little died in 1961 aged 76.

  • The information on Hastings is part of the Buildings Of England series, updating the work of Nikolaus Pevsner. The East Sussex book includes Brighton and Hove. It was largely written by Nicholas Antram and is published by Yale University Press at £35.