A Vision of Britain - The Vision of Britain site has masses of statistical data about almost everywhere in Britain. But there are also links to other sites, that have contemporary accounts and detailed histories of development. This link is to the excerpt on Hastings from the 1870-72 Imperial Gazeteer of England and Wales by John Marius Wilson. It gives a pretty comprehensive history and a picture of the town at the time our ancestors were there.
1066 online - This great site about things Sussex related, has a page with links to more pages, about Hastings and St. Leonards.
Bernard Cornwell on Hastings author Bernard Cornwell has a page on his website about Hastings - its mostly history, but much more comprehensive than my little effort here. Hastings features in some of his novels.
What Hastings is most famous for, is, of course, the Battle of Hastings. But also, as we know, this did not actually take place in Hastings, but in Battle, which is inland a few miles. William the Conqueror may have camped here before proceeding to battle, but even this is not sure. And today, as I found on my recent trip to England, Hastings has a somewhat downmarket reputation. Heaven knows why though, as the old parts of the town, climbing up the cliffs on either side of the centre, are very picturesque.
It is a very ancient settlement dating back to pre-Roman times and seems to have its name from the Saxon language. It’s position with respect to the sea has changed over time. Originally it was where the sea once was, then was swept away. Then there used to be a harbour but this was also destroyed in a major storm in Elizabethan times, and now has no harbour as such, though it did have a pier (burnt down in 2010). But fishing is still a major thing here and it is one of the rare fishing ports where the boats are launched from the beach - you can see them all lined up ready to go in the beautiful picture above. The tall thin buildings just behind the beach are for storing and drying the nets. At right are two different views of the fishing scene - the most dramatic being the painting by Turner which looks back at Hastings and its two cliffs (East and West). The modern photographs below are two that I took last year (2010) and show how the fishing port area is gradually being cleaned up and, I suppose, prettified, for the tourists. You can still buy very fresh fish there though.
Fishing wasn’t the only seafaring occupation though - it is said that smuggling was rife, and some of the caves in the cliffs were used as hiding places.
As you can see from the Turner painting Hastings is situated between two cliffs, one of which has the inevitable castle on top. It was possibly there before William the Conqueror but he most likely added to it. The two pictures at left show the view from above - then and now as it were. The main streets wind their way up between the two cliffs and are intersected by numerous little alleys and passageways. The two, then and now pictures below are of All Saints Street on the left, off which runs East Hill Passage where our grandfather was born. and High St. on the right (which runs parallel to All Saints St. The whole of the old town is very picturesque and pretty much intact, and as you can see from my photograph - taken in June - pretty much devoid of tourists - though I’m sure they would love some more. There don’t seem to be that many people there in the nineteenth century either.
The fishing port declined, in spite of Hastings’ status as one of the Cinque Ports, but in the nineteenth century it briefly gained popularity as a health resort. It was at this time that the pier and the posher part of Hastings - St. Leonards was built to the west of the town. Elegant villas and hotels were built and beautiful public gardens like the ones in the photograph at left, were laid out. The well-off came for the increasingly fashionable seaside holiday but as you can see from the old postcard below, the sea could be very stormy and the weather doesn’t look that great in the photograph either. Nevertheless it was popular for a while, though I gather that it now has a rather lower profile - well Hastings itself does anyway.