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Hastings castle.jpg
Hastings Castle, with pier and town centre behind
Grid reference: TQ8160109458
Location: 50°51’0"N, 0°34’12"E
Population: 86,900  (2001)
Post town: Hastings
Postcode: TN34-35
Dialling code: 01424
Local Government
Council: Hastings
Hastings and Rye
Website: Hastings Borough Council

Hastings is a town on the coast of Sussex. It has an estimated population of 86,900.[1]

Hastings is famed for giving its name to the great battle in which the Normans conquered England in 1066, which was fought some miles outside the town, but it was at Hastings that William the Bastard built his first castle in England.

In the Middle Ages, Hastings became one of the Cinque Ports. Hastings was, for centuries, an important fishing port; although nowadays much reduced, it still has the largest beach-based fishing fleet in England. The town became a watering place in the 1760s, and then, with the coming of the railway, a seaside resort.

The attraction of Hastings as a tourist destination continues; although the number of hotels has decreased, it caters for wider tastes, being home to internationally based cultural and sporting events, such as chess and running. It has set out to become "a modern European town" and seeks to attract commercial business in the many industrial sites round the borough.[2]


Early History

There is evidence of prehistoric settlements at the site of the town: flint arrowheads and Bronze Age artefacts have been found; Iron Age forts have been excavated on both the East and West Hills suggests an early move to the safety of the valley in between, so that the settlement was a port even befoe the days of the Romans. The Romans worked the Wealden iron; at Beauport Park, to the north of the town, up to a thousand men worked and it is considered to have been the third largest in the Roman Empire.[3] After the Romans retreated from Britain, Beauport was abandoned and the port may have been lost to coastal erosion and longshore drift. The original Roman port could now well be under the sea.[4]

Creation and growth of the town

The first mention of Hastings is found in the late 8th century in the form Hastingas meaning "Hæsta's people". Symeon of Durham records the victory of Offa in 771 over the Hestingorum gens, that is, "the people of the Hastings tribe", and the same tribe gave their name to Hastingleigh in Kent. The names Hæsingas and Hæstingaceaster are found in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, the latter in the entry for 1050. The town's importance is suggested by the inclusion of the Hæstingas in a list of fyrd levies along with Sussex, Surrey, Kent and Berkshire,[5] and by the later use of the suffix -ceaster ("city").

A royal mint in Hastings was established in 928 during the reign of King Athelstan.[6]

The Norman Conquest began here. William the Bastard, Duke of Normandy landed nearby, on the coast between Hastings and Eastbourne at a site now known as Norman's Bay. William caused a castle to be built at Hastings, probably using the earthworks of the existing English castle. The Battle of Hastings was fought on 14 October 1066; although the battle itself took place 8 miles to the north at Senlac Hill. All these events are pictured on the Bayeaux Tapestry; the words "AT HESTINGA above the scene of the castle-buuilding are the one perhaps inadvertent use of English in the tapestry's Latin text.

Hastings was shown as a borough by the time of the Domesday Book of 1086. It had also given its name to the Rape of Hastings, one of the six Rapes into which Sussex is divided. As a borough, Hastings had a corporation consisting of a "bailiff, jurats, and commonalty". By a Charter of Elizabeth I in 1589, the bailiff was replaced by a mayor.

Hastings and the sea

The Harbour arm and fishing boats
Hastings town centre and the Memorial from an old postcard
Hastings town centre in 2005

By the end of the Saxon period, the port of Hastings had moved eastward near the present town centre in the Priory Stream valley, whose entrance was protected by the White Rock headland (since demolished). It was to be a short stay: Danish attacks and huge floods in 1011 and 1014 motivated the townspeople to relocate to the New Burgh.

In the Middle Ages Hastings became one of the Cinque Ports; Sandwich, Dover, and New Romney were the first, Hastings, and Hythe followed, all finally being joined by Rye and Winchelsea. At one time, 42 towns were directly or indirectly affiliated to the group.

In the 13th century much of the town was washed away by the sea. During a naval campaign of 1339, and again in 1377, the town was raided and burnt by the French, and seems then to have gone into a decline. As a port, Hastings' days were finished.

Hastings had suffered over the years from the lack of a natural harbour, and there have been attempts to create a sheltered harbour. Attempts were made to build a stone harbour during the reign of Elizabeth I, but the foundations were destroyed by the sea in terrible storms. The last harbour project began in 1896, but this also failed when structural problems and rising costs exhausted all the available funds. Today a fractured seawall is all that remains of what might have become a magnificent harbour. In 1897 the foundation stone was laid of a large concrete structure, but there was insufficient money to complete the work and the "Harbour arm" remains uncompleted. It was partially blown up to discourage possible use by German invasion forces during Second World War. The fishing boats are still stored on and launched from the beach.

Hastings remained a small fishing town, but it was soon discovered that the new taxes on luxury goods could be made profitable by smuggling, and the town was ideally located for that.[7] Near the castle ruins, on the West Hill, are "St Clement's Caves", partly natural, but mainly excavated by hand by the smugglers from the soft sandstone. Their trade was to come to an end with the period following the Napoleonic Wars, for the town became one of the most fashionable resorts in Britain, brought about by the so-called properties of seawater. Once this came about the expansion of the town took place, to the west, since there was little space left in the valley.

The double decker promenade, built in the 1930s

It was at this time that the elegant Pelham Crescent and Wellington Square were built: other building followed. In the Crescent is the classical style church of St Mary in the Castle (its name recalling the old chapel in the castle above) now in use as an arts centre. The building of the crescent and the church necessitated further cutting away of the castle hill cliffs. Once that move away from the old town had begun, it led to the further expansion along the coast, eventually linking up with the new town of St Leonards-on-Sea.

Like many coastal towns, the population of Hastings grew significantly as a result of the construction of railway links and the fashionable growth of seaside holidays during the Victorian era. In 1801 its population was a mere 3,175; by 1831 it had reached over ten thousand; by 1891 it was almost sixty thousand, and the 2001 census reported over 85,000 inhabitants.

Between 1903 and 1919 Fred Judge FRPS photographed many of the town's events and disasters. These included storms, the first tram, visit of the Lord Mayor of London, Hastings Marathon Race and the pier fire of 1917. Many of these images were produced as picture postcards by the British Postcard manufacturer he founded now known as Judges Postcards.

In the 1930s the town underwent some rejuvenation. Seaside resorts were starting to go out of fashion: Hastings perhaps more than most. The town council set about a huge rebuilding project, among which the promenade was rebuilt; and an Olympic-size bathing pool was erected. The latter, regarded in its day as one of the best open-air swimming and diving complexes in Europe, closed some years ago. The area is still known by locals as "The Bathing Pool".[8]


The East Hill Cliff

Hastings is situated where the sandstone beds, at the heart of the Weald, known geologically as the Hastings Sands, meet the English Channel, forming tall cliffs to the east of the town. Hastings Old Town is in a sheltered valley between the East Hill and West Hill (on which the remains of the Castle stand). In Victorian times and later the town has spread westwards and northwards, and now forms a single urban centre with the more suburban area of St Leonards-on-Sea to the west. Roads from the Old Town valley lead towards the Victorian area of Clive Vale and the former village of Ore, from which "The Ridge", marking the effective boundary of Hastings, extends north-westwards towards Battle. Beyond Bulverhythe, the western end of Hastings is marked by low-lying land known as Glyne Gap, separating it from Bexhill-on-Sea.

The sandstone cliffs have been the subject of considerable erosion in relatively recent times: much of the Castle was lost to the sea before the present sea defences and promenade were built, and a number of cliff-top houses are in danger of disappearing around the nearby village of Fairlight.

The beach is mainly shingle, although wide areas of sand are uncovered at low tide. The town is generally built upon a series of low hills rising to 500 feet above sea level at "The Ridge" before falling back in the river valley further to the north.

There are three "Sites of Special Scientific Interest" within the borough; Marline Valley Woods, Combe Haven and Hastings Cliffs To Pett Beach. Marline Valley Woods lies within the Ashdown ward of Hastings; an ancient woodland of pedunculate oak-hornbeam which is uncommon nationally. Sussex Wildlife Trust own part of the site.[9] Combe Haven is another site of biological interest, with alluvial meadows, and the largest reed bed in the county, providing habitat for breeding birds. It is in the West St Leonards ward, stretching into the parish of Crowhurst.[10] The final SSSI, Hastings Cliffs to Pett Beach, is within the Ore ward of Hastings, extending into the neighbouring Fairlight and Pett parishes. The site runs along the coast and is of both biological and geological interest. The cliffs hold many fossils and the site has many habitats, including ancient woodland and shingle beaches.[11]

Big Society


Hastings Borough Bonfire Society at the Old Town Carnival 2010

Throughout the year many annual events take place in Hastings, the largest of which being the May Day bank holiday weekend, which features a Jack-in-the-Green festival (revived since 1983),[12] and the Maydayrun, where tens of thousands of motorcyclists drive to Hastings. The yearly carnival during Old Town Week takes place every August, which includes a week of events around Hastings Old Town, including a Seaboot race, bike race, street party and pram race. In September there is a month long arts festival 'Coastal Currents' and a Seafood and Wine Festival. During Hastings week held each year around 14 October the Hastings Bonfire Society[13] stages a torchlight procession through the streets, with a beach bonfire and firework display.

Other smaller events include the Hastings Beer and Music Festival, held every July in Alexandra Park, the Hastings Musical Festival held every march in the White Rock Theatre and the Hastings International Chess Congress.

Theatre and cinema

There are two theatres in the town, the White Rock Theatre and the Stables Theatre. The White Rock theatre is venue of the yearly pantomime and throughout the year hosts comedy, dance and music acts. The Stables stages more local performances and acts as an arts exhibition centre. The Phoenix Arts Centre, based at William Parker Sports College also stage local plays as well as shows put on by the school.

There is a small four screen Odeon cinema in the town, located opposite the town hall, however there are plans to build a new multiplex cinema as part of the Priory Quarter development in the town centre. The town has an independent cinema called the Electric Palace located in the Old Town.

Museums and art galleries

Fishermen's Museum

There are four museums in Hastings; the Hastings Museum and Art Gallery, the Old Town Hall Museum, the Hastings Fishermen's Museum and the Shipwreck Heritage Centre. The first three mentioned are open for the whole year.

The Hastings Museum and Art gallery concentrates mostly on local history and contains exhibits on Grey Owl and John Logie Baird. It also features a Durbar Hall, donated by Lord Brassey. The hall contains displays on India and the Brassey Family. The Old Town Hall concentrates on the history of the Old Town. The Fishermen's Museum, housed in the former fishermen's church, is dedicated to the fishing industry and maritime history of Hastings. The shipwreck heritage centre displays artefacts from wrecks around the area.

The new Jerwood Gallery is being constructed in Stade area of the Old Town and planned to be fully open in 2011. The project is opposed by many locals, who felt that a new art gallery would be better off being located elsewhere in the town.

Parks and open spaces

There are many parks and open spaces located throughout the town, one of the most popular and largest being Alexandra Park opened in 1882 by the Prince and Princess of Wales. The park contains gardens, open spaces, woods, a bandstand, tennis courts and a cafe. Other open spaces include White Rock Gardens, West Marina Gardens, St Leonards Gardens, Gensing Gardens, Summerfields Woods, Linton Gardens, Hollington woods, Filsham Valley, Warrior Square, Castle Hill, St Helens Woods and Hastings Country Park.

Sights of the town

Marine Court
  • Hastings Castle: The castle was built in 1070 by the Normans, four years after the Norman invasion and replacing their earlier castle hastily built on the eve of battle. It stands on the West Hill, overlooking the town centre and is a Grade I listed building. Little remains of the castle apart from the arch left from the chapel, part of the walls and dungeons. Hastings Pier can be seen from any part of the seafront in the town, however it is currently closed following safety concerns from the council and then a serious fire burning down most of the buildings on the pier and causing further damage to the structure.

Many church buildings throughout the town are Grade II listed including:

  • Church in the Wood
  • Ebenezer Particular Baptist Chapel
  • Fishermen's Museum and
  • St Mary Magdalene's Church in St Leonards-on-Sea.

On the seafront at St Leonards is Marine Court, a 1937 block of flats in the Art Deco style that was originally called 'The Ship' due to its style being based on the ocean liner RMS Queen Mary. This block of flats can be seen up to 20 miles away on a clear day.

An important former landmark was "the Memorial", a clock tower commemorating Albert the Prince Consort which stood for many years at the traffic junction at the town centre, but was demolished following an arson attack in the 1970s.


The most important buildings from the late mediæval period are the two churches in the Old Town, St Clement's (probably built after 1377) and All Saints (early 15th century).[14]

The former Ebenezer Particular Baptist Chapel in the Old Town dates from 1817 and is Grade II listed.[15]

Hastings on film

Hastings has featured or provided a set for films such as:

  • Is Anybody There? (2007)
  • Foyle's War
  • The Final Curtain (2000)
  • Some Voices (2000)
  • Last of the Blonde Bombshells (1999)
  • Grey Owl (1999)
  • I Want You (1998)

Outside links


  1. "Neighbourhood Statistics". Office for National Statistics. http://neighbourhood.statistics.gov.uk/dissemination/LeadAreaSearch.do?a=7&r=1&i=1001&m=0&s=1309271698515&enc=1&areaSearchText=Hastings&areaSearchType=13&extendedList=false&searchAreas=. Retrieved 29 June 2011. 
  2. "Hastings Borough Council". Competitive Hastings. http://www.hastings.gov.uk/business/competitive_hastings.aspx. Retrieved 2009-02-10. 
  3. "Beauport Park". History and the Arts. BBC/Open University. http://www.open2.net/historyandthearts/history/locations_beauport_park.html. Retrieved 2008-03-31. 
  4. Marchant, Rex (19-06-1905–1 October 1997). Hastings Past. Phillimore & Co Ltd. ISBN 1 86077 046 0. 
  5. Anglo-Saxon Chronicle  (1011 Chronicle) (Parker) besuðan Temese ealle Centinges 7 Suðseaxe 7 Hæstingas 7 Suðrige 7 Bearrocscire 7 Hamtunscire 7 micel on Wiltunscire
  6. Challis, Christopher Edgar; I Stewart, NJ Mayhew, GP Dyer, PP Gaspar (1993). "The English and Norman Mints, c. 600–1158". A New History of the Royal Mint. Cambridge University Press. pp. 40. ISBN 9780521240260. 
  7. "Hastings Museum". Smuggling on the Sussex Coast. http://www.hmag.org.uk/LocalHistory/. Retrieved 2009-02-10. 
  8. Seaside History: the Bathing Pool at Hastings and St Leonards
  9. "Natural England – SSSI (Marline Valley Woods)". English Nature. http://www.english-nature.org.uk/special/sssi/sssi_details.cfm?sssi_id=1003006. Retrieved 2008-10-06. 
  10. "Natural England – SSSI (Combe Haven)". English Nature. http://www.english-nature.org.uk/special/sssi/sssi_details.cfm?sssi_id=1001853. Retrieved 2008-10-07. 
  11. "Natural England – SSSI (Hastings to Pett Cliffs)". English Nature. http://www.english-nature.org.uk/special/sssi/sssi_details.cfm?sssi_id=1002885. Retrieved 2008-10-05. 
  12. Hastings Traditional Jack-in-the-Green
  13. Hastings Boroughs Bonfire Society
  14. Nairn, Ian, and Pevsner, Nikolaus, The Buildings of England: Sussex, Page 119. Penguin, 1965
  15. National Heritage List 1043527: Ebenezer Particular Baptist Chapel, Ebenezer Road, Hastings


  • Challis, Christopher Edgar; I Stewart, NJ Mayhew, GP Dyer, PP Gaspar (1993). "The English and Norman Mints, c. 600–1158". A New History of the Royal Mint. Cambridge University Press. pp. 40. ISBN 9780521240260. 
  • Baines FSA, John Manwaring (1963). Historic Hastings. F J Parsons Ltd. 
  • Peak, Steve (1985). Fishermen of Hastings: 200 Years of the Hastings Fishing Community. Newsbooks. ISBN 0-95107-060-6. 
  • Marchant, Rex (1997). Hastings Past. Phillimore & Co Ltd. ISBN 1-86077-046-0. 
  • Winn, Christopher. I Never Knew That About England. 
  • Down the Line to Hastings Brian Jewell, The Baton Press ISBN 0 85936 223 X
  • Robert J Harley, Hastings Tramways. Middleton Press 1993. ISBN 1 873793 18 9.
  • Nairn, Ian, and Pevsner, Nikolaus, The Buildings of England: Sussex, Page 119. Penguin, 1965
  • Brooks, Ken. Hastings: Then And Now. 
The Cinque Ports
Cinque Ports Antient Towns Limbs

Hastings  • New Romney  • Hythe  • Dover  • Sandwich

Rye  • Winchelsea

Lydd  • Folkestone  • Faversham  • Margate  • Deal  • Ramsgate  • Brightlingsea  • Tenterden