If you are ever in Hastings take the time to visit the Old Town. We are among the many who get lured into the hub bub of the seafront. The crazy golf, trampolines, boating pool, cliff railway, miniature train, beach and fish and chip shops are hard to ignore but after countless visits over the years for the first time we explored some of the streets a stone’s throw from all front but more of that later. First of all I can’t mention Hastings without touching quickly on what everyone associates it with.
1066 – The Battle of Hastings
It’s one of those school history lesson dates that we all know. The King, Edward the Confessor, died childless early in 1066. What followed was a struggle for the throne. Harold Godwinson was crowned but the crown was threatened by his brother Tostig and possible invasions from William from Normandy and King Harold Hardrada from Norway.
Harold defeated Hardrada and Tostig at the Battle of Stamford Bridge in Yorkshire. Following the battle, Harold was resting his troops when he received word that William had planned an imminent invasion in the South of England. Harold had to speed march his troops over 270 miles south and they arrived to the south coast weak and unprepared. The battle was over in one day but I have read that, amazingly, both sides stopped for lunch. William’s troops must have had the higher carb lunch and he won the battle. Although sometimes disputed, Harold died when an arrow pierced his eye straight into his skull.
To be accurate, the battle didn’t actually take place in Hastings but on a hill around 7 miles inland from Hastings and the victor William, now know as William the Conqueror, built a large abbey on the site of the battle as a memorial to the dead and named it Battle Abbey. So in fact the battle took place at Battle.
There is a record of the battle on the Bayeux tapestry which includes the scene where Harold was shot in the eye. I was always a little freaked out as a child when we visited the Neptune Café for fish (although mine was probably a sausage) and chips to see a mural of this scene. Even though it always felt like a real treat have tea out, that part of the mural was like a magnet and I couldn’t not look at it. I couldn’t stomach my chips in that café and it usually ended up with a good telling off from my parents. We peered through the window of the café on our walk and the mural is still there and for the first time I saw the date 1966 on it. So it has been freaking young diners out for many a year and I am surprised it hasn’t been steamed off the wall by now or maybe it has a nice layer of grease protecting it!
Another thing I can’t leave out is about the unique Net Shops on the beach to the east of the Old Town. In the area know as the Stade there stand a series of about 50 very tall narrow black sheds. These were originally built on stilts so the sea would wash under them but with the build up of shingle the sea no longer reaches this far up the beach. The sheds were built in the early 1800s for fishermen to store their nets and other gear that would rot if left out in the elements. The common misunderstanding is that they were used to dry the nets but they would have been dried on the beach and then stored in the sheds. Limited space on the beach meant huts had to be built upwards but weirdly some of the sheds have cellars.
Wet fresh fish stalls run along the beach front and Hastings still has the largest beach launched fishing fleet in Europe.
Hastings seem to love a festival. Ranging from the UK’s biggest Mardi Gras festival, Hastings Fat Tuesday, Tulip Festival, Jack in the Green Festival, Scarecrow Festival. Seafood & Wine Festival, Jazz Festival and a Bonfire Procession.
My favourite two are the Mayday Run which I am sure my motorbiking parents were for forerunners of. The event attracts up to 40,000 motorbikes and the rides head from Locksbottom in Kent down to Hastings. It has been postponed to later in the year for 2021. My parents used to reek havoc on the boating lake with their motorbiking club mates after their own Mayday run back in the 50s. Should I be saying “Shame on them” or “Go rents!”
My other favourite festival is Pirate Weekend in July where thousands of “Pirates” descend on the town. Hastings currently holds the record for “the largest gathering of pirates in one place“. So put 16th to 18th July in your diary, grab your peg leg, parrot, eye patch and practice your, “Shiver me timbers, me hearties!” and head to Hastings Old Town.
Old Town Wanderings
Starting opposite the net shops at Winkle Island we read the history of the Winkle Club which is a charitable organisation set up by fishermen back in 1900 to support underprivileged families. It has some very famous members including the Queen and Sir Winston Churchill.
From here we headed away from the sea front up All Saint’s Street. It has some of the oldest surviving houses in Hastings which date back to 1450. A photographer’s and historian’s dream.
After admiring the houses, high pavements and pubs up the street we cut through Waterloo Passage to The Bourne then onto the High Street which was originally called Market Street. We loved the fact that the shops in this area had kept their original signage even though a lot of it did not relate to their current trade.
After a very tasty sausage roll from Judge’s Bakery we headed along the pedestrianised George Street back to the front and retraced our steps back along the seafront to St Leonards.
A lot of the promenade between Hastings and St Leonards has a lower path and upper promenade. On our walk home we ventured along Bottle Alley. This was built a part of the double deck promenade back in the 1930s. It is nearly 500 metres long and the walls are peppers with multi coloured glass embedded in the concrete. It was originally built to give a covered walk during bad weather and even had glazed shutters to keep the elements out but these are long gone.
In 2017, multi coloured lighting was installed every night between 7.30pm and 9.30pm there is a light show along the alley way.
I can’t believe that it took us so many years to discover the hidden gems on All Saint’s Street and the High Street. We must return when some of the pubs nestled down these streets are open. Maybe on Pirate Weekend we can spend some loot on a tot of rum each. Aaaarrrrgggghhhh, me Hearties!
07/03 – 14/03/2021