Hastings Old Town Torn Apart 1850-1963

Hastings Old Town BookThis being the second book in my local history publications came to fruition only a few years back when I was persuaded to write all about the demolition of Hastings Old Town.

The story had to start way back in 1850 when a certain Mr Edward Cresy was appointed by the Government and the local Council to report back on the general living conditions within the Boroughs of Hastings & St Leonards.  The book mainly concentrates on the Old Town, but St Leonards wasn’t left out all together.

Mr Cresy was certainly thorough in his nigh on 60 page report, he covered everything from broken windows to missing roof slates, dampness, wall mould and so on, and the details were to the extreme.

The report was published and handed to the council which took nearly 3 days to decipher and digest alls its contents before council.

The report was laughed at by many as the estimated costs to cover all the remedial works was massive to say the least and as the council had little to no money, what were they to do?

Old Town Aerial

Old Town Aerial

The story in the book goes into precise detail of what was expected of the council in works to be carried out immediately, but if they were to try and make a start……….where do they start?

Slowly but surely over a long period of time the council drew money from the Government to make a start of some of the more important jobs, but even the simplest became an impossibility in many cases.

It soon came to light when the report was read over several times that it was flawed with mistakes, and the council soon found out for themselves when starting some of the minor works to how deep these flaws were.

The Bourne - 1890

The Bourne – Circa 1890

Demolition was started all over the Old Town in small amounts but with no particular area concentrated on, rubble from demolished buildings lay where it fell more or less making the place looking as if war had just broken out on the Old Town alone!

This spasmodic demolition went on for years with sites cleared and nothing built in their place, gaping great holes appeared everywhere. The council found it cheap enough to demolish places but when it came to finding new accommodation for those displaced this was yet another major question indeed.

The council had an idea to try and solve the traffic problems within the Old Town, where the High Street was not capable of handling two way traffic of the future, neither was All Saints Street, so they came up with a scheme that would solve all their problems whilst the Old Town was being destroyed, and that was to build a major coast road right through the middle of the Old Town, completely tearing the heart from the community.

This was a plan that what was to cause eruption on the part of the residents as so many more houses and cottages were to go to make way for this road. This scheme was not put into place until a new Borough Engineer was sought.

It just so happened that in 1924 the present Engineer decided enough was enough and promptly left the council for a position far away.  By 1925 a new Borough Engineer had been appointed, now things were about to change! As all this chaos not only in the Old Town but all over the borough was about to change.

Sidney Little

Sidney Little

New developments were built at both ends of the towns to rehouse those that had been displaced of their property, and the massive clear up had now started in earnest, the Engineer was of course none other than our Mr Sidney Little.

Mr Little had at first opposed this road making scheme through the Old Town and came up with several different versions of his own which would have left the Old Town more or less intact for the future. Many a scheme was placed before the council for consideration, but alas no matter to hard he tried the council were not convinced, and more or less demanded that he followed the original plan of a road through the heart of the Old Town.

Chaos or no chaos this programme to rid the Old Town alone of shambled old properties took 113 years to complete, and still today builders work away in the Old Town demolishing old buildings and replacing with modern out of character things!! Luckily, many properties are now covered with Grade 1 or Grade 2 listing, making it very difficult to alter inside or out.

The book covers more or less every project Mr Little carried out and are detailed to the full, but once you get into the book it becomes an almost impossibility to put down so I am told, don’t just take my word for it, try it!

Many Council reports are listed along with public comments too, but all in all I think that you might just enjoy it, as many have returned a comment; and I quote from just one person, ‘such good reading it is hard to put the book down’, and many more of the same.

This is especially interesting to those that had or still have families in the Old Town.


Copies are available from ‘Waterstones’ Hastings Priory Meadow or direct from the publishers richpenbooks@aol.com