Hastings and St Leonard'sThe two seaside towns of Hastings and St Leonard's adjoin each other and form one of the towns in Sussex.
Everyone knows that Hastings is associated with the most famous battle in English history, even though the actual fighting took place a few miles to the north-west at Battle.
But for most of its history Hastings has been a fishing port with both its fisherman and the townsfolk learning to live with the dangers of the sea.
Several terrifying storms have ravaged Hastings over the centuries, causing massive damage and sweeping parts of the town and port into the English Channel.
Today, the Hastings fishing fleet is still alive and kicking, still catching fish and adding character to the sea front in Hastings.
Hastings historyIt's clear that Hastings has been a fairly important place right back to the beginning of human history in East Sussex.
Hastings has two iron age hill forts - one on Castle Hill, the other on East Hill.
An old Roman ironworks has been found which suggests that Hastings was a reasonably large settlement during the Roman occupation of Britain.
After the Romans left Hastings became the home of the Haestingas tribe and seemed to have a political identity of its own, quite separate from Kent and Sussex. The Mercian King Offa is known to have attacked the town in the 8th century.
Hastings was ravaged by Viking raiders right through until the early part of the 11th century too.
No-one has ever claimed that the people of Hastings have had things easy, what with the constant menace of the sea and invading armies forming an orderly queue to pillage and plunder.
After the Battle of HastingsAfter 1066 and the pivotal Battle of Hastings, the Count of Eu (er..who?) was given the responsibility of bringing Hastings to heel and he built the Hastings Castle, first out of wood, then of stone.
You can visit the impressive ruins of Hastings Castle today. The Castle has been given a tourist makeover and there is plenty of user friendly information about the life of the Castle and the people who built and defended it.
After the Norman Conquest a period of prosperity followed. Hastings was one of the Cinque Ports who enjoyed trading privileges which made them wealthy. Hastings was rich enough to contribute around 20 ships to the Cinque Ports Fleet when called upon.
This prosperity seemed too good to last and it didn't. In 1287 a huge storm cut off Hastings harbour's access to the sea and washed away part of the promontory on which the castle stood.
As a result the development of Hastings switched to the Bourne Valley, where Hastings Old Town started to take shape.
Hastings was a fishing village in Elizabethan times. The wooden harbour was washed away another inconvenient storm. The site of the Elizabethan harbour now lies under the Boating Lake in Hastings.
By the start of the 18th century decline had set in and in according to Daniel Defoe Hastings had little in it worth mentioning. A minor revival started in Georgian times, with some fine buildings being added to the many timber framed houses in the town.
Foremost among these are Old Hastings House and The Stables Theatre, originally purpose built as a stables, both of which were the work of local bigwig lawyer John Collier.
Another high quality local building is St Mary in the Castle – a late Georgian Church on an epic scale which was restored in 1997 and is now used as an arts centre. St Mary in the Castle includes a theatre, cinema and art gallery.
Hastings Pier, like many up and down the English coastline, is reaching the end of its natural life and has been declared unsafe. Hopefully funds, imagination and energy can be found to repair the pier and bring it back to life as a vibrant part of Hastings.
The Hasting Fishing FleetIn the middle of the 1850s the Hastings fishing fleet numbered nearly 100 boats. Today the fleet may not be quite so large, but there is still sizeable fishing activity along The Stade on Hastings' shingle beach.
Unlike the vast drift nets and "wall of death" type fishing methods employed by the large ocean going fishing boats, the Hastings fleet has won praise in recent years for its environmentally friendly fishing techniques. Hastings still has a thriving fishmarket - amazingly something of a rarity along the Sussex coast.
Hastings Country ParkOne of the great natural treasures of Hastings is its Country Park. This 660 acre site combines woodland and heathland with 5 miles of spectacular coastline. The Nature Reserve is designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest because of the rare plants within it. Hastings Country Park also contains many archaeological finds.
St Leonard's historySt Leonard's was originally a new town full of elegant seaside residences, promoted by architect James Burton and his son Decimus Burton.
The development of St Leonard's started in the 1820s but by 1875 Hastings had grown westwards to the point where Hastings and St Leonard's were formally united.
Other Hastings attractionsAs befits a town with such an interesting history, Hastings has more than its fair share of good museums.
Hastings Museum & Art Gallery has strong collections of china and fine art. Its centrepiece is the Durbar Hall, part of a former Indian Palace, which contains Indian themed exhibits.
The Old Town Hall Museum is set out as a walk back through Hastings history.
The Fishermen's Museum, next to the fish market, is a very popular attraction which does a good job of conjuring up the dangers and joys of Hastings long fishing tradition.
It is reckoned that over a thousand shipwrecks lie off the East Sussex and Kent coastline. Hastings Shipwreck and Coastal Heritage Centre, located in Rock a Nore Road, examines the story of some of these wrecks. Even better, it teaches you how to look for evidence yourself at low tide, as well as how to look for fossils and the remains of the sunken forest that lies south of Hastings.
Hastings also has a privately owned Flower Makers Museum, run by a company that specialises in providing flowers for the movies.
Hastings will always be bound to the story of its famous battle in 1066, the story of which was famously told in the Bayeux Tapestry. On the 900th anniversary of the battle, the town unveiled the Hastings Embroidery - a magnificent series of 27 panels of 27 square feet each. The Embroidery was stitched by the Royal School of Needlework and each panel depicts an iconic chapter of British History.
Unfortunately most of the Hastings Embroidery is hidden away for safekeeping.
There are plenty of other worthwhile and interesting attractions in Hastings:
- Underwater World is a marine exhibition where you can walk through an underwater tunnel to observe fish close up.
- The RNLI Lifeboat Station has a Visitor Centre which sheds more light on the brave and important work of generations of Hastings lifeboat men and the RNLI throughout the UK.
- Smugglers Adventure is a tour round a series of tunnels which tells you more about the long, lucrative and violent history of smuggling gangs in Sussex.
- On the West St Leonards sea front you can see a vivid light installation by Esther Rolinson. The work is called "Stream" and the dynamic movement of the light from column to column is inspired by the rolling movement of the sea.
© East Sussex.org 2008-10.
Sunday September 24