Caple Ne Ferne

From Historical Hastings

Caple Ne Ferne
General information
Address2 Albany Road
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Construction and Early Use

Caple ne Ferne is a Grade II listed ​building​ situated at 2 Albany Road in St. Leonards-on-Sea. It was built in 1879 for Colonel Robert Tubbs, a retired army officer and his French born wife Fanny, although construction did not finish until around 1883. The large detached house with servant quarters was built by local architects Jeffery & Skiller in an eclectic style that is also reminiscent of the architecture of northern France. The name Caple ne Ferne was thought to have come from old Norman French meaning 'Chapel in the Woods', possibly in a 'nod' to Fanny's Huguenot descent.

The house took full advantage of its commanding position and had open views to the sea from the balconies and veranda on the south side before the ​building​s opposite in Pevensey Road were later built. Principal rooms included the drawing room, dining room and a 'boudoir' (as described on the architect's drawings) which overlooked the garden to the south. Major Tubbs' room opened off a large baronial hall and three of the five bedrooms looked out to sea. Stairs led to a tower with a small west-facing balcony.

Caple ne Ferne was left to Tubbs' wife Fanny when he died in 1891 and remained her private home until her death in 1922. [1]

Convalescent Home

The London Omnibus Company bought the house in 1922 for £12,000 and built a large extension which was subsequently opened in 1923. This contained a commercial kitchen, large dining hall and a games room big enough to house two full size snooker tables. Upstairs were several bedrooms, some large containing four to six beds, whilst others were smaller containing either one or two singles. During 1927 under the management of The Employees Friendly Society, the whole complex became a convalescent home for employees who needed to recuperate after illness or surgery.

The London Omnibus Company changed its role in 1933 and was renamed The London Transport Board. Caple Ne Ferne became known as The London Transport Convalescent Home for Male Employees and was financed by employee contributions levied by the unions.

Various garages undertook the responsibility of furnishing and maintaining one of the many rooms. Rooms were named after the garage that supported it, for example Forest Gate, Elmers End, Acton, etc. Other garages took on the supply of equipment, cutlery, TV, snooker tables etc. During this time cost was never a problem and Caple ne Ferne even boasted its own private bowling green, much loved by the recovering patients.

The home continued to serve the employees of London’s transport system until 1992, when medical science and keyhole procedures had become so advanced that convalescence was no longer required. Caple ne Fern was often empty of patients but was so popular with past ‘inmates’ that they often returned to enjoy a week or two holiday by the sea. The home retained a large staff, including 4 gardeners and won many prestigious awards for its flowers blooms and lawns as well as being only one of two homes in the country that could boast an ‘oak hedge’ bordering the sandstone walls.

It soon became too costly to maintain and the decision was made to close and sell the property, considered now to be surplus to requirements.[1]

School Journey Centre

During 1993 Caple ne Ferne was firstly leased and then purchased by an ex-teacher named Dan Tranter with a plan to open the home as a school journey centre, accommodating groups of students from the UK and Europe. The larger rooms became dormitories for 6/8/10 children and the old bedroom furniture was replaced with timber bunk beds, wardrobes and cupboards for storage. Their teachers had one of the single sized rooms nearby. Comments recorded in the visitors book show the groups thoroughly enjoyed the experience and soon became repeat visitors. A staff of 12 were employed from the local area to look after the groups.

The language school business proved to be very seasonal with all the groups wanting to visit in the late Spring and early Summer. Winters found the centre empty which made financing such a large ​building​ an impossibility. Hastings Tourism Department was keen to help promote the centre and did so as much as possible but it was difficult at times to break into new markets.

An application was made to Hastings Borough Council for a licence to operate as a venue for weddings and special occasions. A bar was built in the old house to serve a new kind of guest. Nearby residents made numerous complaints about noise and the suitability of the venue, but these were duly investigated by the local inspector and proved to be just malicious complaints. Caple ne Ferne went on to provided a wonderful wedding venue for a great many local brides.

1995 saw the outbreak of BSE (Mad Cows Disease) which saw many French groups cancel their bookings, whilst those who did travel insisted that no beef was served, only chicken and lamb. This increased the operating costs and with lost revenue put the School Journey Centre side of the business under much financial pressure. [1]

Residential Language School

The centre was re-named CnF Centre for English Studies, and at the time was the only residential language school in this part of East Sussex. Offering schools and colleges all over Europe 116 beds and 5 classrooms housed in the annexe (a large Victorian semi-detached property on Pevensey Road). The annexe was joined to the main house by a heated, carpeted and furnished covered walkway which was often used to tell bedtime stories by candlelight.

During the mid 90’s more markets opened up including Russia and the Moscow State Technological University (Stankin University as it was then known), whose environmental students were seeking intensive technical English courses in order to be better prepared post Glasnost. This solved the winter income problems and by 1997 back to back groups of 25 students and leaders were staying for six week courses, continuing throughout the winter until April.

CnF bought a 45 seater coach to transport these students to and from the airports and take them on technical visits.

In August 1997 the Russian economy collapsed and the final payments for the groups currently in residence did not get paid, along with the loss of the winter trade. After all the preparation and investment, Stankin’s students would not be coming. It was another disaster and some employees had to be laid off again.

Despite the setbacks, the language centre was back on its feet by 2001 with a projection of being the most successful year to date. Unfortunately this was never to be as the outbreak of the foot and mouth disease not only devastated UK farming but also greatly affected the tourism industry. CnF became one of its victims and lost 70% of its bookings within six weeks. The business, that had looked so promising two months earlier, was now insolvent and unable to trade. A class action was made against the government but no compensation was forthcoming and CnF was no more.

Preparations were made to sell the ​building​ and a local architect drew up plans to convert into self-contained apartments with a new build on the car park and where the huge greenhouses used to be. Planning permission for this was refused, creating a forced sale situation. [1]

Asylum Seekers

Caple ne Ferne was sold to Mike Holland from Bromley, who had also purchased the Adelphi Hotel in Warrior Square. He subsequently won the contract to accommodate many of the asylum seekers from the Sangatte camp in Calais when it closed in 2002. The ​building​ was ideal with it's walled gardens that could be easily secured and could offer 116 beds, multiple toilet and shower facilities, dining and recreation halls, a full size commercial kitchen and 5 classrooms to teach English.[1]


In 2004 Caple-ne-Ferne was leased to Narconon, a scientology drug rehabilitation organisation. Narconon were featured at least twice on BBC Watchdog because their drug rehabilitation methods (saunas and vitamins basically) were said to be expensive failures. Narconon left in 2009 and Narconon UK looks to have been wound up.

The owners tried to sell the property (all three parts) until 2013 when the ​building​ became grade 2 listed. This is most likely what prompted the owners to split the property back into three, separating the Pevensey Road annexe from the Victorian and 1920s parts.[1]

2019 Refurbishment

In 2019, the firm of Scarlet Gowing was commissioned to restore the property, this included work on the gardens which had been neglected for a number of decades[2].


References & Notes

  1. a b c d e f 1066 Online
  2. Scarlett Gowing Interiors: Caple Ne Ferne | Scarlett Gowing Interiors, accessdate: 8 September 2021