Brett Volume 1: Chapter XII - Hastings 1834

From Historical Hastings

Transcriber’s note

Chapter XII - Hastings 1834


Prolonged rough weather
Extraordinary catch of mackerel
Bursting of a reservoir
Earthquake shocks
Roads undermined
Sketch from the White Rock
Driven out of house and home
Wrecks at the Fishmarket
Work of the enlarged Corporation and the new Commissioners
Committal of fishermen for breaking open the gaol
Removal of the Meat Market
Another new groyne
The Market tariff
Two jurats fined
Corporation enquiry and detailed explanations
Mr. Shorter's resignation
Corporation reforms
Annual Regatta and exciting episodes
Fresh investigation of the Charities
Money recovered from the Chancery Court, entailing a loss of £45
Other lawsuits by the Corporation
The political situation
Meeting for a harbour and failure of the scheme
Smugglers sentenced to death
Fined for riding Skimmington
Appalling hailstorm
Serious poaching affair
Petitions against heriots, quit-rents, etc.
Notice to clear off the Priory ground property.

[ 110 ]

Terrific Storm and Tide - The White Rock

As noticed in the preceding chapter, under the heading of St. Leonards, the year of 1834 commenced and continued throughout the winter with a temperature unusually mild, but the weather for a considerable time was exceedingly rough. The fishermen were unable to follow their usual calling with any degree of regularity, and for the purpose of relieving their distress, the Rev. J. G. Foyster and his curate collected £200. On the 10th of Feb., however - two days before the catching of mackerel by hand at St. Leonards - a fishing-boat landed 9,000 such fish which sold for £113. This was quite an unexpected haul, the usual mackerel season at Hastings being between April and July.

The prolonged rough weather not only prevented the fishermen putting regularly to sea, but also damaged their property on shore. The high tides swept the beach away from under their rope-shops, and caused them trouble and expense in having to haul their boats to places of safety, and in some cases to remove their stores from danger. The White-rock road had been so broken into as to become quite impassable, and another, used as a substitute was in a condition not much better. The gales were mostly accompanied with heavy rains, one effect of which was on the 10th of January was the falling in of the reservoir above Mr. North's house, the noise of which was like that of thunder, and the vibration of which shook the houses at High Wickham, as though it had been the accompaniment of an earthquake. This last word reminds one that in the following April there was felt an earthquake shock at Chichester, Littlehampton and other parts of Sussex and which caused much alarm. The meteorological conditions of the year may be briefly described as effecting a mild, but stormy winter, a hot and thundery summer (productive of much corn and wheat) and a turbulent autumn.

The havoc caused by the several storms at St. Leonards has been described in its proper place but the St. Leonards people were sorely troubled in the matter, some of the inhabitants of Hastings had cause to be even more so. It had been noticed that the building of the South Colonnade on the “full” of the beach, and the raising of roads, parades and sea-walls along the whole frontage of St. Leonards, had had the effect of forcing the sea more than ever upon the lower and less-protected roads towards the old town, and even to the extent of undermining the White-rock promontory. This was especially the case on Saturday and Sunday, the 18th and 19th of October, when the property but recently erected at Stratford place (first known as Precursor place) and including Deudney and Fagg’s Brewery and Rock’s Coach Factory) were partially undermined, and great fears were entertained for their safety. Men, horses and carts were in pressing requisition, and by the prompt application of faggots, piles, stone and other materials during the intervals of ebb and flow, further danger was fortunately, but narrowly, averted. The houses in the Rope-walk were also greatly damaged and some of them wholly destroyed. Among the latter was a house belonging to Mr. Murdoch at the south-west corner of the so-called "" - a house which had formed a prominent object as seen from the top of the White-rock.

White Rock c1830.png

The annexed view, as sketched from nearly midway of the road leading over the White-rock to Bexhill, shows Murdock's two-dwelling cottage at the foot of the hill near to where is now No. 1 Carlisle parade, together with some of the Priory and Rope-walk property in its rear; also the Castle ruins and a portion of the East Hill in the distance. This house and others, as before stated, were washed down by the great tide of October, 1834, soon after which, the road was levelled, the picturesque cliff was cut back, a parade was formed, and houses were erected.

From one of the other houses which shared a similar fate to that of Murdock in 1834, a Mrs. Morris and her infant had to be taken out of a bedroom window and carried to a place of greater safety. The woman thus rescued lived many years after in St. Leonards to tell of her adventure.[a]

Driven out of house and home by a merciless sea, and further threatened to be driven away in the following year by Mr. Driver, of the Woods and Forests Board of Commissioners, some of the inhabitants made a virtue of necessity, and took up their abode at St. Leonards; thus prematurely removing the few sticks and stakes which they were enabled to save from the inundation. The dwelling-houses, work-shops, rope-walk, piggeries, etc., were not the only property which suffered by this storm, the wind having also done violence to Batty’s Royal Circus by splitting up a great portion of its canvas and tearing up poles. This circus was a parallelogram of large dimensions and situated on the Rock-fair ground (now Cambridge road) and it was here that Barry, the celebrated talking clown, revelled in his comicalities, for the delectation of [ 111 ]nightly throng. It is said of Tom Barry, even by competent critics of the present day who witnessed his performances at Hastings "Astleys," that no one has ever excelled him as a circus clown.

Another terrific gale and destructive sea - Breaking into the Gaol

There was another terrific gale on (I believe) the 18th of December, and this, like the October storms, caused a greater destruction at Hasting(sic) than it did at St. Leonards.

There in the Fishmarket two or more vessels had been lying ashore discharging their cargoes, and as the wind rose to a violent gale with a heavy sea, it was totally impossible to get them off, and it would have been certain destruction to ships and crews if such an attempt had been made. The only thing to be done was to attach strong hawsers to the vessels and haul them higher up the strand as the tide flowed in. Everything was prepared that could be thought of to effect this object, but the fierce hurricane had such an effect upon the spring tides as to make the huge waves irresistible. They beat against the sides of the vessels, tore away the ropes and chains, dashed up among the rigging, carried the masts by the board, and made complete wrecks of the Telemachus of Rye, and the Hull Packet, of Sunderland. There was a total eclipse of the moon at the time, and of such pitchy blackness was the night that although at a less exciting moment I could have walked through West street blind-folded, on that occasion I bruised myself by falling over doorsteps and scrapers. Getting at last into Commercial road, where hundreds of people were in danger of injury from capstan-bars and snapping hawsers, I became a sorry spectator of "Old Davy’s dreadful doings."

In a commercial sense the early part of the year was good for the tradesmen in general, the town being full of visitors who had the means to purchase luxuries as well as necessities. But in other ways there was a prevalence of discontent. The recent large increase of freemen, the extended franchise by means of the Reform Bill, and the numerous Commissioners under the newly acquired Act changed, as it were, the government of the town from an autocratic to a democratic body, and greater reforms, greater economy, greater intelligence, and greater improvements appeared to be looked for than could be accomplished. There was no locally printed newspaper at the time, but there were county journals which catered for Hastings, and in a January issue of one of these it was said that

Local management is in the hands of a parcel of old women. We speak as well of the Municipal body as of the Commissioners. Never was displayed so poor a spirit as in the management of the new market. Incapacity has rendered it worse than useless. They have established a fishmarket on the very spot from where they have been endeavouring to remove it. Recently a party connected with this interest attacked and broke open the gaol, and liberated those convicted of an offence against the local Act, and yet the parties go unpunished

Then, in the same month, after 9 fishermen had been committed to the assizes for breaking open the gaol and assaulting the Mayor, the same journal commiserates the offenders thus:-

Poor fellows! They are very hardly dealt with. They are prohibited selling fish on the stade as heretofore and the new Market is wholly unsuitable.

Falling of a reservoir - Destruction of a groyne - Giving up the Fish Market &c.

I, too, sympathised with the fishermen and their families, and as a draper's assistant at an establishment situated immediately between the new market and the place previously occupied by the fish-sellers, I can testify that both for convenience and for sanitation the covered and uncovered, but moveable states which the fisherfolk had used perhaps for centuries on the beach contiguous to the stade (thus named the Fish market) were preferable to those in the Commissioner's newly built premises in George street. It was claimed for the fishermen that they had a chartered right to the use of the stone-beach from which they were ejected, but if not that, they certainly had a possessory title, and there was an intention to memorialise the Commissioners on behalf of the fishermen's claim setting forth, also, that although the new Act gave powers to build a market or markets, there was not only no stipulation for a fishmarket, but an expressed exception from tolls or duties in the hawking and selling of fish. By the new arrangement, the stall-keepers would have to pay 1/6 a day for the use of the stall or table and an additional duty of 6d a bushel on their fish. This tax was regarded as an impost both by sellers and byers, inasmuch as it naturally caused the fish to be dearer than it would otherwise have been. True the new Act gave to the Commissioners power "with the consent of the Mayor, jurats and commonality, first obtained to order stalls and standings to be erected on [ 112 ]ground where the present fish-market is held," but that was a different thing to that which they had undertaken to do. As is often said, "All's well that ends well!" and in this case the Commissioners bethought them that "prudence was the better part of valour." For a time they were certainly in great pucker overt the matter, their anxiety being also increased by the falling in of the waterworks reservoir and the destruction of the stone groynes at the East Well. In this dilemma the Corporation generously aided them by allowing them to remove the fittings from the old meat-market under the Town Hall without the compensation that was offered, and also promised another £200 towards the construction of a new groyne. By the 8th of March, therefore, the meat-market was removed from High Street to George Street and the fishermen were greatly delighted that their places had been taken by the butchers.

On the 4th of June, the Commissioners resolved by 26 to 23 votes to construct the new groyne at the East Well, and the material to be timber. The minority favoured a groyne of substantial but ornamental stone, notwithstanding the total destruction of the previous one built of stone. A wag put it about that the Stony-hearts had lost and the Wooden-heads had won.

Whilst the Commissioners were commended for their energy in one direction, they were unfavourably criticised for their want of foresight in another. It was said that the state of the open Bourne was disgusting. Into it was thrown all sorts of rubbish which was not only disagreeable but might be dangerous. The Commissioners should not forget that although Hastings had hitherto escaped the dire effects of the cholera, that disease was unfortunately again in the country. This criticism was, however, rather premature, for the operation of covering the stream had already commenced, and one, at least, of the two pumps stipulated for by the Act for the free use of the poor had been set up. This soon became fully known through two of the jurats getting into trouble. Mr. Crouch was summoned and fined for using water from the said pump, to which he was not entitled, and on the same day, Mr. Williams was fined 30s. for selling peaches from his garden without paying the Market dues. This was he who, as John Williams jun., was made a jurat in 1830 and whose father in the present year, 1834, an entry in the Corporation minutes has reference thus:

Memorandum - that on this 12th day of February John Williams Esq., one of the jurats departed this life.

This elder John Williams was married to Elizabeth Freeman at Bexhill on Oct 16th 1778.

The following is a record of other transactions of the Corporation during the year:-

Government enquiry into what constituted the Corporation

On the 29th of February, Mr. Bingley, one of the Commissioners for enquiring into the affairs of Corporations sat at the Town Hall, and in reply to his questions, the Town Clerk (Mr. Shorter) stated in substance that the Hastings Corporation had jurisdiction over 750 acres of land in the parish of Bexhill known as Pevensey Marsh, and also over the Hill of Grange in the parish of Bekesbourne, Kent; that over the latter the Kentish magistrates had concurrent jurisdiction with Hastings; that the body corporate consisted of a Mayor, 12 jurats, and an indefinite number of freemen; that the Mayor was elected annually by the commonalty out of jurats; that the jurats were elected annually by the Mayor and jurats, or a majority of them from the freemen, and for life, although they were re-sworn annually. At that time there were only ten jurats, including the Mayor. To the question why was the number not made up, Mr John. Smith offered the explanation that there were refusals by some of those who were chosen to perform the duties of the office, and he instanced the case of Mr. Foster, a tailor, who was made a jurat against his wish; but Mr. Smith affirmed that Foster had declared what he [Smith] had stated in his own hearing. Mr. Shorter continued — that the fine for not serving was £10, but no fines were ever inflicted.

Freemen claimed their right by birth in certain cases, and the eldest son of a freeman could claim at the age of 21. At that time there were 193 freemen (180 resident and 13 non-resident). Mr. Howard Elphinstone submitted that the holding of freehold property entitled, as also did scot and lot; and he brought forward several cases as proof, of which the Commissioner took note. Mr. Shorter further said that the fine to the Corporation on admission of a jurat was £2, for a freeman £2, and for a chamberlain £1. The fee to the Town-clerk was 10/6; for swearing, 3/-; and for stamp £8. For a freeman by birth the stamp-duty was £2. (The Mayor was chief magistrate and coroner, and had power to appoint a deputy. He presided at Quarter-sessions, and had no salary. Jurats were all magistrates, entitled to-sit at Quarter-sessions, and had no emoluments. It had béen usual to appoint a Town-Counsel, and the custom had been traced back to nearly the time of Elizabeth. He was not a corporate officer, and received ten guineas at each session. The Town-clerk was appointed by the Mayor, jurats and commonalty for one year, and so on. He was Clerk-of-the-peace at Quarter-sessions, Clerk to the Magistrates, and attended the Civil court. His salary was £12 9s. 2d., together with professional charges for extra business, and the usual fees at Quarter-sessions. His charges for recovering £119 from the Court of Chancery were £37. There were two chamberlains elected annually by the entire body to collect rents and keep accounts for £5 a year each. There were eight auditors, four of them chosen annually from the freemen by the Mayor and jurats, and the other four from the jurats by the freemen. They had neither salary nor emoluments. The Mace sergeant was chosen annually by the Mayor, but it was usual to continue the same person. He carried the mace and attended Corporation meetings; was a sworn constable, executed all processes in a, civil court, [ 113 ]of Mace-bearer. Two pier-wardens were appointed annually by freemen at a salary of £5, to collect dues on merchandise and from vessels landing on the stade. There were two Key-keepers elected annually by the commonalty, without salary or emoluments. A Bailiff and Common-crier was appointed annually by the freemen, with the exclusive right of crying and attending to the Bourne at a salary of £7 10s. 8d. A Street-driver, to walk the street and to pound all stray cattle, was appointed by freemen at £2 a year. A Measurer was appointed by the freemen, without salary or emoluments. The entire body made the bye-laws, and the Mayor, with six jurats and one freeman, constituted an Assembly. The court of Quarter-session had unlimited jurisdiction, was exclusive of county-maistrates, and did not try capital offences, but sent them to the Assizes. The Mayor and two jurats composed a court. The Petty-sessions were held fortnightly, and the Civil-court — which was re-established in 1822, on application to Court of King’s Bench - extended to all actions, real, personal or mixed; but the actions tried were inconsiderable. The Mayor and jurats were judges of their own court.

Executions cost about £6, and trials about £12. The county-rate amounted to £400 a year. Grand-juries were empanneled by the Town-clerk, with the Mayor’s approval, and were composed of 34 inhabitant householders. Petty-juries were empanneled by the Town-clerk, selected out of 300 names written on cards and drawn out of a box. The jurats appointed a school-master to Parker’s Charity, whose salary was £211, the master to find a room, and the school open to all the sons of the inhabitants. At that time there were 112 boys. The appointment for Saunders Charity was vested in the Corporation; the salary was variable, and the number of boys to be taught was 70. Two schoolmistresses were also appointed for this Charity.

The Commissioner having intimated that he had no further questions to ask, Mr. Howard Elphinstone protested on behalf of the principal inhabitants against the general inefficiency of the magistracy. They had not, he said, the least confidence in men who, while he acknowledged their private worth, were totally inadequate to perform the duties of magistrates from a general want of education and capacity, they being chosen from some of the small retail shop-keepers whose habits unfitted them for so responsible an office.

The enquiry thus concluding with Mr. Elphinstone's protest against the system of choosing magistrates is a reminder that even if occasionally a shopkeeper got lifted to the magistrates' bench who was not quite up to Mr. Elphinstone's standard of competency, the greater number, as could easily be proved, were chosen for their general intelligence and educational fitness. Among the latter were Physicians, legal practitioners, bankers, educationists and gentlemen of independent means. One of these was J. G. Shorter, sen. Esq., whose excellent pensmanship is before me, and who rose from a freeman to a jurat and from a jurat of 40 years to the position of eight times Mayor. In the year under review he having removed to his villa residence at Guesling tendered his resignation as a magistrate, thus making way, as he intimated, for someone with greater facilities for attending. He should, he said, continue to pray for the peace and prosperity of "Hasting."

A special meeting of magistrates was then held at which it was resolved

That this meeting learns, with extreme regret, that Mr. Shorter has entertained the idea contemplated in his letter, and, that feeling, as they do, the great value his services have always been to the Bench and to the town in general, they do most respectfully and most earnestly beg of him to reconsider his determination.

On receiving notice of the resolution, Mr. Shorter withdrew his resignation in compliance with the wish there expressed, but being then 72 years of age, and feeling his inability to undertake frequent journeys of several miles to the court, he again tendered his resignation, which was then accepted, and two other freemen (Dr. Wilmott and G. Scrivens, Esq.), were made jurats. Mr. Shorter joined the silent majority in the following year at the age of 73. The Shorters of Hastings have descended from a distinguished line of nobility, but their local genealogy I have traced back for about 200 years only.

To show that Hastings was not disposed to place any obstacle in the way of a contemplated Bill for the better management of Corporations, it was only a few weeks before the Town Clerk gave to Mr. Bingley the foregoing details, that the Corporation emphatically declined to co-operate with the Norwich Corporation to resist the inspection of records by the Commission appointed to enquire into the state of Municipal Corporations. Our own ruling body also set about some reforms themselves, among which was the resolution to elect the Mayor in future on the 4th Monday, instead of the 3rd Sunday after Easter; also to make the prisoner's dock more convenient and secure; and further that the election of Mayor and other officers in future take place at the Town Hall and not at other inconvenient places, any former decree or usage notwithstanding.

£184 Legal (but dishonest) costs in recovering £134 from the Chancery Court

The altered day for chosing(sic) the Mayor for this year was the 21st of April, and the person elected was Mr. William Scrivens. The choice was made by the votes of 8 jurats and about 40 freemen. Mr. J. G. Shorter, jun. was re-elected Town Clerk and Mr. Robt. Ranking was appointed Deputy Mayor. One of Mr. Ranking's sons (he with whom I several times stood at Wickham's slaughterhouse, witnessing the killing of sheep and[ 114 ]cattle) was, later in the year, one of the gentlemen-owers in the Black Joke galley who were thrown into a rough sea by the upsetting of their boat during the regatta. It so happens that at the time when this portion of my local history is being re-arranged (Feb. 1897) a letter in the Observer meets my eyes, in which Mayor Gant, while referring to the late Robert Ranking as Mayor in 1836 (Deputy-Mayor it should be), says "Some of your readers will be sorry to learn that his younger surviving son by his first wife, Surgeon-General James Lancaster Ranking (my friend and schoolfellow) died last week at Leamington in his 83rd year." It has been shewn that in 1833, the Corporation, acting on the recommendation of the committee which they appointed to investigate afresh the affairs of the Charities, applied for and obtained the balance of £139. 9s of the Saunders's Charity which has been lying in the Court of Chancery. Of this sum, the Town Clerk's bill of £39 for recovering the money was ordered to be paid; also the £44 9s 9d that was due to Mr. North, the remainder being applied to the building of a new school. It afterwards happened that the Vice-Chancellor ordered the money thus recovered to be refunded, and the Corporation believing that the demand was as unfair as it was imperative, gave instructions at their June assembly to consult with Messrs. Knight and Ching (Corporation Counsel) for their opinion as to the expediency of appealing against the Vice-Chancellor's order. This opinion being in favour of submission, the Corporation at their June meeting gave an order for the re-payment of the said £139 9s. This was a sore subject, not only with the Corporation, but with the townspeople generally, who spoke with no uncertain sound as to what they considered an unrighteous extraction. The matter remained in abeyance until 1849-50, when an effort was made to get the money back again, and when after much evasive and vexatious formality (to be described in its proper place) the Corporation received the money, less the cost, they found they had lost £45 by the transaction.

The many costly suits since then in which the Corporation have been engaged show how likely are municipal bodies to be fleeced by going to law.

The reader need not be surprised that after this experience in 1834 the Corporation endeavoured to improve the financial position in other ways, although even in that, they were not always successful.

There was a small piece of stone beach waste in front of the Royal Oak Hotel and adjoining premises that Messrs. Bryant and Jennings wanted to purchase, but the money demanded for the same (£40) was held to be too exorbitant, that the applicants declined to purchase; hence the deviation from a straight line still existent at Caroline Place[b]

The Corporation entered an action against George Prior, he having refused to pay the £20 demanded of him from building on the waste beach at Beach Cottages. I have no record of how the suit terminated, but I find that an order was given for Prior to be proceeded against for £20 1s. 10d. costs in the said action. Similar proceedings were to be taken against Messrs. Payne and Harvey, the defendants re Parkers Charity, for the whole amount of costs in a recent action against them. I have also no details of this suit, but as Mr. Harvey was a tenant of the Fortune of War inn at the time, and Mr. Payne, a pastry-cook had an ice-house adjoining, described many years after, as a discovered "tub hole" it is presumable that the action was for encroachments.

Further Transactions of the Corporation

It was further ordered at the June meeting that as the Watch house at Mercer's Bank was about to be given up, the building to be let by tender; also that if any further expenses be incurred by the [ 115 ]tenant, that he be charged an additional £10 a year. At the same time an order was given for Mr. Clement to remove his shelter for shutters on a triangular piece of ground near the thoroughfare leading from the West Street elevation of the new Market to the beach, in consequence of Mr. Stickles being about to erect a dwelling thereat. As Mr. Clement purchased the said piece of ground for £30 in 1829, he was probably reimbursed for giving it up. The Corporation further ordered that William Giles, an orphan (cousin of mine and afterwards a respected organist), be apprenticed to W. H. Honiss, a cabinet maker, from the fund for such purpose in Saunders's (sic) Charity. At the same time, George Evans, a club-footed youth was apprenticed to cordwainer David Delves.

The reference to Mr. Clement as having to give up his purchased piece of ground is a reminder that he attended a Castle vestry meeting in April when Mr. John Savery was appointed surgeon to the parish at £12 per annum; also when the meeting resolved to concur with the other parishes for establishing a house for the reception of poor travellers and vagrants, the parish to contribute 3-16ths of the expense. At the same time, Mr. Longley was elected an assistant overseer to relieve all paupers, go all journeys, keep the a/cs and perform all other duties except collecting rates at a yearly salary of £12 10s. Mr. Clement, though a draper by trade was otherwise a pushing man of business and he engaged to take down the Coastguard station in the Rope Walk and to erect a more suitable one on the Cuckoo Hill, and this (the present) erection is noteworthy because the ruins of St. Michaels Church (what was there before) were removed to make way for the foundation of the new building.

Getting back once more to the transactions of the Corporation, they applied the Saunders' Charity in apprenticing William Stapley, the son of a coachman to cordwainer H. Willias. They also distributed Lasher's Charity of £3. 10s. among John Phillips, aged 80; Stephen White, 79; Thos. Swaine, 79; Richard Adams, 68; Wm. Bumstead, 69; Edward Haste 68; and John Sidley 64. Also the use of the Town Hall on Saturda afternoons was granted to the Savings Bank for 6d. a year.

It should be interesting to the townspeople to compare the Corporation accounts of 1834 with those of 1897, if only to show how enormously the items have expanded with the growth of the borough within that period. The appended a/cs are those of the earlier date.[c] [ 116 ]

Movement for a Harbour - Another "Skimmington" - Destructive Hailstorm

As regards politics during the week that would be ending on the 2nd of April the electors were excited by Mr. Warre's announcement that Lord Althorpe had offered him a Lordship of the Treasury, but after a canvas which did not appear sufficiently satisfactory, he wrote to Mr. Elphinstone, an opposing candidate, to the effect that he did not intend to vacate his seat. The Radicals however signed a requisition for him to do so, with which he did not comply.

In anticipation of a clearance of the Priory Ground this year, and it having been stated that Mr. Burton had obtained Parliamentary powers for constructing a pier at St. Leonards, a requisition was made to the Mayor to call a meeting to consider the propriety of getting permission to form a harbour at the soon-to-be vacated ground. It was urged that in 1806 Mr. Rennie was employed to inspect the spot; that he did so, and produced a plan, with an estimated expense of £500,000; and that it was rejected as being on too large a scale. The Mayor's meeting was held, but thinly attended, and there being no prospect of getting the necessary money for a survey, the meeting soon broke up with merely a resolution for certain persons to inspect and report.

At the Spring Assizes, three men - Page, Chatfield and Marchant were found guilty of unlawfully assembling with firearms for the purpose of running contraband goods and were sentenced to death; but the sentence was afterwards commuted to transportation for life. They were convicted chiefly on the evidence of a Preventiveman named Sullivan, although by other witnesses it was shown that no-one was wounded and that no shots were fired from the smuggler's boat. Some time after the trial, the witness Sullivan was himself indicted for stealing silk handkerchiefs from Mr. Bell's shop in All Saints street. He was convicted, and while in prison he was detected in an attempt to escape by means of a blanket cut into strips.

In a case of Waters against Wingfield, the defendant was fined 30s. for engaging in a Skimmington, the authorities being desirous of putting down a custom that was more honoured in the breach than in the observance. It had been a common practice at Hastings to mimic the quarrels of married people, as already described in the case of riding-master Stevens and his amazonian wife. In the present case, a nearly worn-out nag, as usual, was made use of, and also, as was the custom, a pair of panniers filled with brewers grains, being placed on its back, two imps of mischief - one dressed as a woman - mounted their Pegasus, and, sitting dos-a-dos, in padded clothes belaboured each other with bellows, skimmer or other utensils. At the same time, they recited some of the words uttered during the quarrel, while they threw the grains over each other.

The Skimmington appears to have been a survival or revival of a pageant burlesque common enough in earlier times, but which of late years had fallen so much into general disuse that Hastings was perhaps one of the very few places where even the semblance of the original mummery was still observed. The custom was satirically described by Butter in his Hudibras as long ago as the 17th century.

It has been shewn that the year was one in which cyclonic gales and destructive tides were numerous, and it should be added that the 14th of June was memorable for its terrific hailstorm. The damage at Hastings, though considerable was slight in comparison with that which was wrought in the more western parts of the county. At Brighton the smallest of the hailstones were said to be as large as marbles or bullets and one was picked up at Firle which was 12¼ inches in circumference.

On Lord Gage's estate 4000 squares of glass were smashed, whilst at Lewes and Brighton [ 117 ]nearly all the windows were broken. Such a storm before that one was never remembered, and as the day had not been unusually warm, it was quite unexpected.

Regatta disappointments and mishaps - Poaching Conflict &c.

On an average of a series of years, the meteorological conditions of June are mostly those of an enjoyable character, as are also those of September, but in the year now in question they appear to have been somewhat exceptional. The regatta was to have taken place on the 5th of September, but the wind was so strong and the sea so rough hat only the sailing boats could be started. This was a disappointment to many of the visitors who were just then very numerous. Some of them, however, attended a sumptuous dinner at the new Market Hall, presided over by F. North, Esq.

The regatta was resumed some 8 or 10 days later, but even then the weather was so unfavourable that the gentlemen crew (Mr. Ranking, Mr. Randall and others) were all thrown into the water by the upsetting of their galley, the Black Joke, which both by its colour and its action on that occasions was pronounced to have ben worthy of its name. Even the racing craft of those days were very different to the frail shifts of the present time which have to be floated before they are manned, without which the aquatic sports must have again been postponed. The great attraction, however, was centered in the two new political galleys - the Radical Elphinstone and the Tory John Bull. The first had been built by James Phillips from wood that had grown on Mr. Elphinstone's estate at Ore and had been fortunate when competing with other boats, whilst the latter, built by George Tutt, and paid for by subscription, was specially intended as a rival. This was their first mutual trial, and such was the interest evoked that the parade and the hill were literally covered with sightseers. The crew of the John Bull may be said to have taken the bull by the horns, for they rounded the first buoy considerably ahead; from which station the Elphinstone seemed to have but little chance, her arrival at the winning post being 1½ minutes in the rear of her antagonist. The result was hailed by the Conservatives with unbridled enthusiasm.

A week later, the Annual Races were held, as usual, on the Filsham-valley course. Mr. North being one of the stewards; and when another week had passed, Joseph Planta, Esq., the Conservative candidate, gave an elegant dejeuner at Fairlight place to 150 of the principal residents. The town band was engaged and the festivities were kept up till late in the evening.

Amongst the more serious events of the year was that of the 20th of October, when a man named Walker, fatally stabbed a young man named Clase with a stable prong.

Another serious occurrence was a poaching conflict on the night of the 14th of November. It was on the Crowhurst estate of Sir Charles Lamb's, when, after both parties had been much injured the game-keepers succeeded in capturing four of the poachers.

In the early part of the year, a petition to Parliament was presented by landholders and farmers of Hastings, Crowhurst, Northiam, Ewhurst and other places against heriots, quit-rents, fines, suits and service and other conditions of tenure which had their origin in barbaric ages, and which were being continued to the annoyances both of rich landowners and small farmers. Only a few weeks before, on the erroneously reported death of Mr. Brisco of Hastings, one of the beadles of several manors who had been on the alert seized two of the best oxen at Coghurst, but on driving them into Hastings, was surprised and terrified to find that the owner of the beasts was still alive.

On the 13th of November, notice was received from Mr. Driver of the Woods and Forests Commissioners, to remove the whole of the buildings on the Priory Ground before Michaelmas in 1835, such inhabitants as complied with the order not to be charged with rent for the intervening period, but all property formed on the ground after that date to be confiscated. The ground-rent paid to the Crown at that time amounted to about £1,400 a year.

  1. A search has been carried out of census data relating to both of these families, but no matches have yet been found - Editor
  2. The damage caused to the front-line by enemy action during WW2 and subsequent demolitions/rebuilding has since removed that deviation - Editor
  3. The accounts referred to do not appear within the scanned manuscripts held at the library - Editor