Hastings from the eyes of a reporter in 1875

This piece is quite long before you read it, but shows how the two towns of Hastings & St Leonards came but one since their building started (St Leonards) of 1813, and how the town/s grew with visitors in the period of 1875.




 The Pictorial World of to-day has devoted considerable space to a description of Hastings and St Leonards, and also contains some admirable views of the chief objects of interest in the town and immediate neighbourhood.  A few extracts will, perhaps, not prove uninteresting to our readers.


Fifty or sixty years ago Hastings was a little fishing town of two streets, with quaint looking houses, and no pretensions whatever to the dignity of a fashionable watering place; but somebody found out that being buried as the town is in a hollow or cleft between two great hills it was sheltered from the north and north-east winds.  Hence it became a resort for consumptives, and thither they flocked, and still flock, with considerable advantage, in the seasons when those dreaded winds do blow.  Then came lovers of the picturesque, who were charmed with the ruins of the old castle, which stands high upon the brow of a great cliff overlooking the sea and the town.  By and bye streets and squares and noble promenades sprang into being to meet the demands of fashion; and within the last five and thirty years St Leonards, with one of the noblest promenades in the Kingdom, has been added to the already great capabilities of the old town.  Indeed, although distinct in local government, Hastings and St Leonards are one, or, at any rate, highly favoured twin sisters of the best watering place family.


The old town retains many of its ancient characteristics and, with Conservative obstinacy, sticks to its fishing; St Leonards is a watering place a la mode, with palatial residences, promenades, crescents, and squares.  In the neighbourhood of George Street, Hastings, the male population are much given to “sou westers,” conceal nearly the whole of their persons in very large trousers, and appear to think coats a superfluity so long as braces can be found to cover the very small remaining portion of the body requiring attire.  In the neighbourhood of the Esplanade the male population affects that light and airy amateur nautical costume which bears about the same relation to the genuine article of George Street that the costume of a stage shepherd does to the dirty smock of the farmer’s sheep-boy.  The genuine article at George Street is of the fishing persuasion; the poetic article of the Esplanade is the seaside lounger; both are picturesque from different points of view.


The chief resort of visitors is of course the Esplanade, a fine broad thoroughfare facing the sea, and stretching away from the Marine Parade at Hastings to the Marina at St Leonards, nearly two miles and a half.  The whole length is traced on one side by stately mansions or handsome shops, reminding one forcibly of the Queens Road of Brighton.  Here, both in summer and winter, health seekers promenade, lounge, ride or drive as their humour suggests.  By a commendable stoke of enterprise on the part of the local powers that be,  pretty  structures of glass and iron are placed at various points along the whole line of the sea-wall, and these offer agreeable shelters from the winds, rest to the weary, and reliable information on that all important seaside topic, the weather, for on each structure are a barometer and a thermometer, with a precise record of which way the winds blew when the instruments were last examined by the local clerk of the weather.  Our artist has sketched one of these glass seats, in the dreary winter months, when the pale-faced invalids drag their weary limbs about the town when the black respirator is the prevalent and mournful sign of the destroyer.  Consumption, many a blessing must be recorded to the account of the individual, whoever he may be, who conceived the idea of thus tempering the winds to the shorn lamb.


It is the summer, however, when the breeze seems too fresh, and the waves cannot beat too wildly up the beach, that your health seekers – not necessarily an invalid now – truly enjoys the advantages of Hastings.  Then one climbs by tortuous ways or by steep steps from the old town up to the Castle Hill.  Here a splendid panorama of land and sea rewards the breathless climber for the exertion.  To the left is the town, a mass of irregular house tops forming a wedge in a cleft, and down by the shore a whole fleet of fishing boats drawn up high and dry upon the shingle.  To the right, one looks away to St Leonards and the busy thoroughfares of the new town of Hastings.  The Castle which was built shortly after the Conquest and knocked to pieces during the civil wars is now a mere outline of its former self.  As parts of the boundary walls stand almost on the verge of a nearly perpendicular cliff 250 feet high, and overlooks a gay crescent of curious villas.  Only portions of the walls remain, the interior space being cultivated as a flower garden.  The views on the land side are extensive, and suggests charming walks in search of the picturesque.


For some years Hastings wanted a pier; we might say this want extended over some centuries; for we read that in the reign of Queen Mary of evil memory pressed men were set to construct a pier of huge pieces of rock, but the sea objected one desperate winter, and overthrew the whole work.  In 1597 timber was tried, but on the very next All Saints day a great storm swept away the timber pier, the town then gave up the work in despair.

Modern engineering, however, is a match for the ocean, and three or four years ago the Lord Mayor of London assisted in opening the handsome structure of iron.  The chief ornament of the new pier is a lightly built and gracefully decorated saloon, where a capital string band gives daily and nightly concerts of the kind called frivolous and the kind called classical, thus suiting most musical tastes at some hour in the day or week.  In the season, vocal as well as instrumental concerts are in vogue, and the pier altogether competes closely with the Assembly Rooms in supplying the pleasures of the town.


One advantage of the town which deserves to be mentioned is the varied opportunities it offers to the visitor of taking his recreation in accordance with his means.  He can find the cost of content, or that palace of luxury which Mr John Bray, of St Leonards most courteous and considerate of seaside house agents, will only be too happy to suit to the princely means of the peer or plutocrat.  By-the-way, the little princesses of Prussia, the children of the Princess Royal, who were visitors to St Leonards this spring, fell in love with Mr Bray, and gave him a handsome souvenir in the shape of a diamond ring.  Who would not be a Mr John Bray to be loved by a princess?


Hastings abounds in beautiful walks and drives; one can go to St Andrew’s Gardens, a delightful resort when one gets tired of the monotony of the sea.  Then there is the church in the wood at Hollington, a small parish in the north west of Hastings.  The church is charmingly situated in the centre of a wood, a quarter of a mile from any habitation, the neighbourhood is delightfully picturesque.  The show place of Hastings is decidedly Fairlight Downs, about two miles north of the town.  Here 600 feet above the level of the sea is a standpoint, luxurious in wild beauties, from which we looks upon a wide stretch of hill, dale, or away across the blue waters.  The adventurous traveller makes his way by paths cut from the rocks to the famous ‘Dripping Well,’ or the ‘Lovers Seat,’ a romantic spot overlooking the ocean, and where the very breezes from the sea seem to be sighing for love of those beauteous land.  To Battle, to view the famous Abbey, is another pleasant excursion.  Returning to the town, there are numerous objects of interest other than those presented in the ordinary routine of a delightful seaside lounge.  If one wants to see a novel sight he must get up early and see the fish sold in the new fish-market.  The market is at the end of George Street, near the shore, and the fish is sold by what is called Dutch auction.   The auctioneer offers his goods first at a high figure and gradually decreases the price, and then the first buyer who cries “Snap” gets the fish.  If the visitor is of antiquarian tastes he may visit the two old churches.  If he is artistic he can examine the handsome gothic clock tower which was raised by public subscription in memory of Prince Albert, of which standing at the junction of Robertson Street and Havelock Road, is an ornament to the town.  Another structure of minor importance, of which we give a view, is the Boundary, which marks the distinction between Hastings and St Leonards.


While Hastings possesses many attraction in common with other southern watering places, it has charms which are peculiarly its own.  Its natural situation is in every sense beautiful.  The sea paves the very foundation of the fine mansions which stretch in one almost unbroken line for some two miles, and it has a splendid background of rural scenery.  A few minutes’ walk in almost any direction from the sea brings the visitor to rustic hills and lanes, to grass and trees.  The “old town” as the most easternmost portion of Hastings is still called, nestles closely between two hills, one of which protects the residents of the valley from the north and north-east winds that this portion of the borough used at one time to be specially recommended by medical men as a residence for patients suffering from pulmonary affections.  It is however, it is very generally accepted belief that a residence more westward in the town is equally beneficial to the weak chested persons.  So far, indeed, as Hastings as a sanatorium is concerned, some of the inhabitants are ready to vouch for the most marvellous cures having been performed in cases of consumption and other diseases.  That there is some truth in the statements can scarcely admit of doubt.  Hastings is said by local medical authorities to be cooler in summer and warmer in winter than most other English watering places; and if this be so it is certainly a most desirable residence for those who dread the extremes of heat and cold.  With these and many other advantages, then, it is no wonder that the town has risen, as it were, under the magician’s wand.  In twenty years it has more than doubled its population; and the price in which land is bought and sold, and the rapidity with which houses and constantly being erected and find tenants, would seem to indicate that its past progress is likely to sink into insignificance before the realisation of the future.  While Hastings owes much of its natural situation, it is almost not a little indebted to the men to whom its local government has been entrusted during the past few years.  The admirable system of drainage which was completed in 1869 evinces their zeal for the interests, sanitary and commercial, of their town.  A fine open salubrious place in Hastings with fine houses, and fine shops, a splendid pier artistically laid out, and well tendered public gardens.  Save for its two ancient churches, and its historical castle within its crumbling walls of which ladies now play croquet, it is modern from beginning to end.  Of the classic it has little left but its undying name.  The western part of Hastings or that portion of the town which is generally known as St Leonards is in a special degree modern.  In looking at the fine range which St Leonards now boasts along its sea line, and its goodly mansions which rise in its rear, it is difficult to believe that the first stone of this portion of the borough was not laid until 1831.  At the present time Hastings, with its Belgravia, as St Leonards is sometimes termed, is enjoying the favour of the presence of a large number of visitors, as the crowded state of the pier nightly testifies.  The town is however in something of a chrysalis state.  It is just emerging from its “middle class” season.  All however, in good time.  It obtains a fair share of the goods of this world, and does not grumble: it never does badly, and is always buoyed up with the hope of doing better still.


There are two ways of getting by rail to this pleasant seaside resort – by the South Eastern or the South Coast Line.  The latter passes through Lewes, the county town of Sussex, giving travellers by this route a good  view of this ancient town and its castle; while a few miles farther on, between the Berwick and Polegate Stations, is the Wilmington Giant, a most remarkable figure, about 230 feet long, which is traced on the side of the Downs.  After passing through Polegate the railway runs along the seashore through the Pevensey Level, passing close to the ruins of Pevensey Castle.  This is a most pleasant ride, with Pevensey Bay on one side, and a fine view inland across the Level on the other.


Hastings, which has several privileges granted by Royal Charters, is a borough governed by a mayor and corporation.  The present mayor, whose portrait we give, is a Mr George Archibald Thorpe, a gentleman who has by his strength of character, industry in commerce, and ready participation in that concerns the welfare of the town, won the regard of his fellow townsmen.  He was elected to the office of Mayor last November, and he is the first Conservative who has held the mayoralty for 21 years.  He was one of the founders of the Hastings branch of the Young Men’s Christian Association, and was for eighteen years its treasurer; he also actively supports the various religious and charitable institutions of the borough.  He has recently become chairman of the board of directors of a company to promote the construction of baths and an aquarium, and he has been a warm supporter of public improvements.  In recognition of his services he has been recently nominated to the Lord Chancellor for an appointment to the magistracy.  Mr. Thorpe married Emma, the daughter of the late Mr. Francis Horman, merchant, of Wormwood Street Finchley, by whom he has a large family, eight of whom still survive.  Mr. Thorpe has recently purchased a small estate called Croftlands, at Ore, a pleasant suburb of Hastings.


This article was taken from a local newspaper dated September 1875.