Over the hill? Come to Bexhill, where life begins at 100

It's been named the borough with the highest concentration of centenarians. Liam O'Brien grows old (for a day) in 'God's waiting room'

There's a saying in Bexhill-on-Sea that people retire there to live out their last days and then forget what they came for. It's a town of Zimmer frames and walking sticks, of stamp societies and country dances, and an analysis of last year's census showed that the East Sussex haven for the elderly has the highest proportion of people aged over 100 in England and Wales.

In Bexhill's borough of Rother, 66 people in a population of 90,558 are centenarians, compared with only 18 in 254,096 in East London's Tower Hamlets. More than 17,000 of Rother's citizens are in their nineties. But far from being pleased that living in Bexhill appears to guarantee a good innings, its residents have questioned whether its centuries-old reputation for longevity has turned the town into a shell of its former self.

"It's so boring here that I have to go to Hastings all the time. It's God's waiting room," says Leofwin Edwards, 32. He's making his way into "Music's Not Dead", an aptly-titled shop selling records by trendy bands such as The XX and The Vaccines – but it's an anomaly. In quick succession along one of the main shopping streets are the premises "Second Spin", "Past & Present", "Second Chance", and "Second Time Around". Outside one of the nightclubs (or "dances", as the Mayor, Joanne Gadd, calls them) a mobility scooter is parked.

But not everyone is in despair. "I like it in Bexhill," says Emma Royston, 24. "There's no crime really and you never get any bother." The few offences that do come to the attention of police tend to be of the curious, prankish kind. Last week's local paper reported that a red beach flag had been set alight and run back up its mast, while nails were hammered into trees in the cemetery.

But generally, the elderly here live a charmed life. "There's a lot for them to do. When you're older you need to keep your mind active," says Ms Gadd, who makes sure that when residents turn 100 they receive not only a card from the Queen, but a bouquet of flowers (for the women) or a bottle of whisky (for the men).

Two of Bexhill-on-Sea's centenarians live in Eridge Park Care Home. Molly Allardyce still has her 100th birthday balloons floating in the lounge after a celebration earlier this month. In her room are "dozens and dozens" of cards, "flowers galore, and presents". Molly says she always loved being outdoors, and going on rambles in the countryside. "I just sort of arrived at 100, it's just something that happens" she says.

Her older friend Beryl Adcock, who was born in Suffolk on 17 January 1912, is bright and confident. "I still enjoy life, and catch up with what's going on in the newspapers," she says. "I still like to see what's happening."

Like Molly, she loved playing badminton and golf. "I've never been out on a drinking spree but I enjoy a small glass of sherry," she adds.

It's tempting to assume the Bexhill's high centenarian population is purely down to the number of people who retire there, but the idea that the town is a self-sustaining elixir goes back almost 200 years. In 1819, there was a celebratory dinner in honour of George III's 81st birthday. The average age of the men at the meal was 81, while the waiters' mean age was 71.

In the 1880s, hoteliers began trading on the town's health-giving image, and tourists flocked in. Some made money in other ways. "There was a natural spring of iron-rich water, and a landowner erected a fountain," says Bexhill Museum curator Julian Porter. People could then scoop the water into an iron cup for a drink that would allegedly prolong their life. The waters were even bottled and sold in London. "But it didn't last long," he adds. "Because it tasted awful, it was essentially rust."

But in the 1970s schools and hotels gave way to retirement homes. Pensioners were never likely to spend as much as the merchants whose children were sent to Bexhill's boarding schools and so the infrastructure and economy has suffered.

"The perception of Bexhill being a place where people live a long time sometimes doesn't help the town – it's seen as somewhere for old people when in fact there are plenty of young families," says Julian Porter.

Others have been less kind. The infamous Crap Towns book, published in 2003, spoke of Bexhill-on-Sea's "essence of death" robbing the town of any animation. But watching the elderly residents gaze out over the marina, it's clear that many are having the time of their lives.

Old England: the senior sites

Bexhill: 66 out of 90,588 people are centenarians (0.073 per cent). The town is well known for its abundance of fossils. In 2009 the world's oldest spider's web was found there.

Worthing: 64 out of 104,640 are centenarians (0.061) A relatively large seaside town which is also host to the greatest number of Stone Age flint mines in Britain.

Eastbourne: 54 out of 99,412 are centenarians (0.05). Its unusually balmy climate probably explains this high number of retirees.

West Somerset: 18 out of 34,675 are centenarians (0.052) This district also boasts the oldest average age in the UK (52), as well as a bountiful number of Grade 1-listed buildings.

Torbay: 65 out of 130,959 are cen- tenarians (0.05). A fragment of bone found here may be the earliest ex- ample of a modern human in Europe.

West Dorset: 48 out of 99,264 are centenarians (0.048). No visit here is complete without a stroll along the fossil-filled Jurassic Coast.

East Devon: 61 out of 132,457 are centenarians (0.046). A third of the area's population are over 60.

Bournemouth: 84 out of 183,491 are centenarians (0.046). Narrowly missed out on city status as part of the jubilee celebrations this year, but still has the reputation as the "happiest" place in the UK.

Isles of Scilly: One out of 2,203 is a centenarian (0.045). Despite its elderly demographic, the Isles are always in bloom – the warm air and rare frosts means daffodils are a central agricultural export.

Malvern Hills: 32 out of 74,631 are centenarians (0.043). Home to many holy wells – could the water be the secret to a longer life?

News
Emma Watson has become the latest target of the 4Chan nude hacking scandal
peopleThreats follows actress' speech on feminism and equality at the UN
News
Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
Sport
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
football
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
tech
Life and Style
Alan Turing, who was convicted of gross indecency in 1952, was granted a royal pardon last year
life
Life and Style
life
Arts and Entertainment
Tennis player Andy Murray's mum Judy has been paired with Anton du Beke for Strictly Come Dancing. 'I'm absolutely delighted,' she said.
tvJudy Murray 'struggling' to let Anton Du Beke take control on Strictly
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
Sport
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
rugby
Arts and Entertainment
Worldwide ticket sales for The Lion King musical surpassed $6.2bn ($3.8bn) this summer
tvMusical is biggest grossing show or film in history
Voices
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
Arts and Entertainment
Salmond told a Scottish television chat show in 2001that he would also sit in front of a mirror and say things like,
tvCelebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
News
i100
Life and Style
food + drink
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Analyst/ Project Manager - Financial Services

£60000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client in the Financial...

Welsh Medium Teacher

£85 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chester: Job Opportunity for Secondary ...

Primary Tutors needed in Chester

Negotiable: Randstad Education Chester: Primary Tutoring in Cheshire West &amp...

IT Teacher

£85 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chester: Job Opportunity for Secondary ...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits