Other than the fishing harbour situated on The Stade, Hastings almost certainly had a natural harbour at some point. There is quite a degree of conjecture as to where this was situated; at the mouth of the Bourne Stream, the Priory Stream or further west at (the confluence of the Hollington Stream and the River Asten). The valleys carved out by these numerous waterways have been silted up over the centuries and the eastward drift of the shingle banks making up the Beach have ensured the closure of the waterways to navigation.
Record exists of the Priory Stream being navigable at least as far as Hole Farm and Step Meadow is identified as a possible site where William made his camp prior to the Battle of Hastings, implying his vessels were moored nearby. Yeakell and Gardner’s Map of 1783 shows a brook running down the valley to the west of the Castle Hill at Hastings, flowing into the sea near to the site of the Queen’s Hotel, off which was a pond on the site of the Central Cricket Ground, and two lagoons behind the beach, east and west of the brook. The Ordnance survey of 1823 still shows the pond at the Cricket Field, but the two lagoons had disappeared and the eastern lagoon was by then covered with houses.
During the height of the Cinque Ports and around the time of the Battle of Hastings, there are recorded visits of presumably large vessels; the Royal Ship was moored at Hastings whilst Henry the 1st was on the throne
Elizabethan Harbour Construction Attempts
In the late 1890s, £50,000 was set aside to construct a harbour around The Stade area of the beach. A novel form of concrete was poured, giving a homogenous foundation and a monolithic concrete arm took shape A wooden trestle bridge completed the western arm and the groyne to the eastern side of The Stade was extended to effectively 'enclose' the harbour. The western arm was completed by the installation of a narrow-gauge railway to facilitate unloading of vessels. Storms in 1911/12 destroyed the bridge and the eastern arm was subsequently demolished.
References & Notes
- Internet Archive: Sussex archaeological collections relating to the history and antiquities of the county pg. 10
- The Antiquities of Hastings and the Battlefield (Thomas Cole 1864) Pg. 47 Google Books - 1864 ESCC Library. A later edition is also available: ESCC Library - 1884
- Harbour Arm
- Hastings and St. Leonards Observer: Early views of Hastings harbour captured in time - Hastings and St. Leonards Observer, accessdate: 2 December 2019