Elizabethan Harbour

From Historical Hastings

The Elizabethan harbour was constructed at a time when the Bourne Stream's natural estuary provided sufficient depth for large vessels to lay in the bay and unload at the wooden harbour arm. This was located below the west fort and was destroyed by a heavy storm late in 1656[1]. An attempt to raise funds for the reconstruction was undertaken, but all of the funds fell into private purses.[2] During the early-mid 1800s, the remains of the harbour could be seen at low tide and are still sometimes visible as a line of large piles of rock and three to four rows of timbers.[3]

Construction attempts and losses

There were two attempts to construct a pier in 1596(some sources date this to 1595, however this may be the date plans to construct the pier were discussed) and 1597, both of which were comprised of large rocks within a timber structure; both of these were destroyed by storms. A contemporaneous record[4] states:-

Memorandum that about the 2nd of March 1595 "the peere of Hasting was begonne to be reedified by certen Westerne men sent for of purpose from the Cobb (sic) of Lyme. And by them was built a highe woorke without thold pere, full south, all of huge rockes artificially pyled edglong one close by another of a great hight but without any tymber, yet to men's judgement unremoveable it grew to so huge a pile; but notwithstanding, the first wynter flow, overthrew it in a moment and dispersed the huge rockes lyke thin plankes. And so that cost was lost. But the next year after other woorkmen of better knowledge (as was thought) were called thence and by general consent the lyke pece of woorke was begon to be again built with the like huge rockes. And for more suerty, by advise of the master woorkman, it was thought best (because they judged the decay of the former was for want of some tymber) to lay the foundation of this new worke within the tymber woorke of thold peere and so to contynue with tymber braces and barres, crosse dogges, and such like up to the top. And this woorke was with singular industry and arte brought above the full and by All Holloutyde 1597 well nere finished, viz.:—xxx foote high and a foot long at least, bowtyfull to behold, huge, invincible, and unremoveable in the judgment of all the beholders, amounting to a great charge, wherunto the whole shire and divers beholders were contributaryes of benevolence, besides the Towne's great expenses. But behold when men were most secure and thought the woorke to be perpetuall, on All Saints' daie 1597 appeared the mighty force of God, who with the finger of his hand at one great and exceding high spring tyde with a south east wynd overthrew this huge woorke in lesse then an hower to the great terrour and abashment of all beholders, to the great discredit of the like woorke hereafter with the Contry and to the manifest undoing of the Towne which by reason therof was left greatly undetted. By theis presidentes let the posterity (for whome I record this) beware they never attempt to build them a pere with rockes only, without a mighty frame of tymber to be seled, and then belasted with rockes; alwayes remembring that about such woorke, tymber must not be spared."

There is, in the same source a reference to the pier requiring re​building​ in 1611: "1611, April 14.—Order for the pier to be repaired, it being in ruins." and "1611, August 7.—Order that inhabitants refusing to labour at the pier are to forfeit 12d.", this suggesting that the workforce at this time was conscripted from residents of the town. Again in 1621: "1621, July 29.—Orders concerning the re​building​ of the pier."

A further report dated to 1597, this time in the Hastings Corporation Records dating to Nov. 1st, 1597[5]:-

“This woorke was with singular industrie and arte brought above the full, and by all Hollantyde, 1597, were nere finished, viz, XXX foote high, and C foote at least long, bewtyful to behold, huge, invincible, and unremovable in the judgment of all the beholders, amounting to a great charge, whereunto the whole shire and div’s beholders were contributoryes of benevolence, besides the townes great expences. But behold when men were most secure, and thought the woorke to be perpetual, on All Saints’ daie, 1597, appeared the mighty force of God, who with the finger of His hand, at one great and exceeding high spring tyde, with a south-est wynd, overthrow this huge woorke in les than a hower to the great terror and adasmt of all_beholders, to the great discredit of the lyke woorke hereafter with the country, and to the manifest undoing of the town.”

Cole in his "The Antiquities of Hastings and the Battlefield" (second edition - 1884) describes the pier thus[6]:-

"The pier began in front of the Albion, curving round to the east, and continuing in a straight line for 200 feet - where a battery or fort projected into the sea, and then continued for another 100 feet. At the end, a jetty projected also into the sea, parallel to the fort."

Haven at Priory Meadow

By 1635, it would appear that plans to construct a workable harbour had shifted west to the Priory Stream estuary for in that year, a Dutch engineer, Henrich Cranhalls, was contracted to survey that area with a view to constructing a haven there to which his report stated that "a very good haven could be made"[4].


References & Notes

  1. 771-1699 – The Hastings Chronicle, accessdate: 24 January 2021
  2. A Guide to Hastings & St Leonards (Thomas Ross 1835) pg.58 Google Books
  3. A Guide to Hastings & St Leonards (Thomas Ross 1835) pg.59 Google Books
  4. a b Historical Manuscripts Commission. "The corporation of Hastings," in The Manuscripts of Rye and Hereford Corporations, Etc. Thirteenth Report, Appendix: Part IV, (London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1892), 354-364. British History Online, accessed November 27, 2020, http://www.british-history.ac.uk/hist-mss-comm/vol31/pt4/pp354-364.
  5. Internet Archive Abstracts of Papers read before the Brighton And Sussex Natural History Society 1874 pg. 431
  6. "The Antiquities of Hastings and the Battlefield" (Cole - 1884) pg.158