Christmas 1836

From Historical Hastings

The Hastings & St Leonards Observer of the 27th of December, 1913 relates the following tale of a heavy snowfall over the Christmas Period in 1836[1]:-

"I cannot remember the exact date[Notes 1], but old men and women of Sussex have a vivid collection of that old fashioned Christmas Day. For several days all the stage coaches and mail coaches were prevented from making their journey to London."

"Letters of consequence, after much difficulty, were conveyed for several days by men on horseback. So great was the fall of snow on that Christmas Day that several persons lost their lives, some of them at Lewes, by snow that fell upon their cottages driven over the cliff.) More than one poor fellow was found in Sussex dead, covered by the snow."

"At that time I was one of the choirboys of St. Mary’s Church, and after the morning service I spent the remainder of the day at No. 1, Prior's Cottages, adjoining the Pelham Arms, kept at that time by Mr. Richard Chandler, called by most Hastings people at that time “Old Dick.” I was the guest of my grandfather and grandmother, both of them then alive. My grandfather was well known by all Hastings and St. Leonards people as ‘Old Joe Prior,’ a famous smuggler, who had been twice a prisoner, during the previous War with France, in a French prison. Snow began to fall upon Christmas Eve, and continued to fall all Christmas Day. It was rather a cold day, hardly any wind, so that those who were keeping the feast indoors had no idea how great was the fall. My home was not more than a quarter of a mile from my grandfather's, so that no one in his house knew what a dangerous journey was before me when I left the safe shelter of their home. I was a fairly strong boy at the time, and fearless too, as regards fear from encountering a walk in the snow. I had not, however, gone many steps from safety, before I found myself in difficulties. Ransom and Ridley’s Shipyard adjoined my) grandfather's. I managed to get safely round that yard, and past the Castle Hotel; towards the lower part of Wellington-square, the snow was up to the middle the whole way."

"At that time the Baptist Chapel, now in Wellington-square, was not built, but there was a deep hole where the Chapel now is. I could not see the hole, and when I got beside it, struggling to get along the lower part of Wellington-square, I walked over the edge of the hole, and found myself buried under the snow. I was tired, in fact, exhausted, by the exertion, and felt inclined to lie still and sleep, but I remembered that to sleep might cause death, and I managed to get out and got through the Square. Then I had to cross a field called Hart's Field, that then divided Stonefield Cottages from the back of Wellington-square. How I did manage to get home was a wonder to all who knew of it the next day. My father started to fetch me, but got only a few yards from the house, as he said ‘it was impossible for any one to walk through the snow,' and that my grandfather would keep me till the morning. God helped me, and gave me strength to get through, for which I was_thankful."

"The day after Christmas Day, Hastings could have no vehicular traffic. When the snow was cast off the footways it was so high in the streets that people walking on either side could not see those walking on the other. It was several weeks before ali the snow could be carted from all the streets into the sea."

"Those who wish for an old fashioned Christmas, I think, would not like such a one as that. It will scarcely be credited, but it is true, that some of the snow that fell on that Christmas Day remained in Hastings till the first week in May following. I saw some in a field facing the north, on Mr. Porter's farm, laying in a little wood, then called a ‘shaw.’ It was a hollow place, in which, as a boy, I often gathered blackberries."

"I have oftentimes, not long since, read accounts of that famous snow storm in the uth of England in books and magazines, but I have never before told in print my cause to remember that Christmas Day. I remember more wet dull Christmas Days during the 89 I have enjoyed than white ones, and I can truely say that now, to me, a mild day, though not an old fashioned one, is a Christmas Day that I like."

References & Notes

  1. The Lewes avalanche permits us to date this to 1836 - Transcriber.