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Hastings Old and New - Henry Cousins

From Historical Hastings

On the 15th of March, 1898, Henry Cousins gave a lecture on the above named subject at the Mount Pleasant Congregational Church Hall. The text of the lecture is below, although the images referred to have not yet been located[1].

Mr Cousins said that in arranging the lecture it was believed that a pleasant and interesting evening might be spent in taking a peep into the past and comparing the scenes depicted with those of the present day. The change wrought during this century had been so great and the growth of the town so vast that one could readily imagine the astonishment of the older inhabitants when they reflected upon the time when St. Leonards had no existence and Hastings was confined to the valley, nestled between the East and West Hills, with High Street and All Saints Street as the principal thoroughfares, intersected by The Bourne and providing the chief water supply to the inhabitants.

First, the writers of the lecture wished to express their very hearty thanks to the many kind friends who had readily lent valuable and rare old prints and pictures of Hastings and neighbourhood, which had enabled them to present what they thought was a unique collection of local views of old Hastings, and such as had never been exhibited before at one sitting. They proposed to show some views of Hastings as it was then, some scenes familiar to them all; thus enabling those present the better to appreciate the changes wrought by the march of progress, resulting in the ​building​ up of the second largest fashionable seaside resort in the United Kingdom, numbering 75,000 as against 3,000 in 1800.

Moss, in his "History and Antiquities of the Town and Port of Hastings", says "Hastings has claims to peculiar notice as the scene of the memorable conflict which changed the destinies, as it were, of the nation by annihilating the Saxon dynasty, and substituting that of the Norman in its stead." The same authority states that the antiquity of Hastings is traced by various historians to a very remote period. To the Romans, it was known as Anderida, and called by the Saxons Hastings. In the reign of Offa, A.D. 792, it appeared by existing documents to have been a place of some importance, and to have advanced progressively through several centuries until in 924 it had a mint established during the reign of Athelstan. Passing to the following Century, 1066, the last of the Saxon kings, Harold, was found assembling his warriors to repel the Norman invaders. And they might well feel proud that never since that period had a foreign foe succeeded in planting his foot on English soil. Views were here shown of relics that remained linking the past with the present including Hastings Castle, Battle Abbey, map of Hastings, 1746; the old Fairlight Church (the registers date back to 1300. Standing on an eminence it was for centuries a prominent mark for the mariner. It fell into decay, and was demolished in 1845 to make room for the present edifice, erected principally by the munificence of the late Earl Waldegrave and Mr W D Lucas-Shadwell, the father of the present M.P. for Hastings. Another relic of the past was William the Conqueror's Stone, a slab of stone which might be seen on entering the South Lodge of St. Leonards Public Gardens with the bones of some animal's head upon it, whether the remains of a meal partaken of by His Majesty they were not told; and local lover of antiquities was contemplating the origin of the anatomical specimen. Of the Dripping Well a poet had written -

It is sweet to rove through the wild woodgrove,
When the heart is dull and sad;
It is sweet to feel the melody steal
O'er the soul and make it glad;
And every sound in the glen around
Is sweet as a gentle dream;
But the best of all is the waterfall,
And the dripping of the stream -
Drip! Drip! Drip!

The water still falls on the mossy lip of the old grey stones in the stream. Proceeding, the lecturer showed a view of the Lover's Seat, and gave an ouline of the tragedy connected therewith. Covehurst Cottage, formerly a most hermit-like place that nestled under the cliffs between Ecclesbourne and Fairlight Glens, was inhabited till 1830, when it was destroyed by the inroads of the sea. The spot was said to have been closely connected with many smuggling scenes common to the locality. Old St Helen's Church, Ore, was next described. It is situate in a secluded spot just of Ore Lane, leading from the Elphinstone Road to the Cemetery and close to Ore Place. It is now in ruins, and there was no record of its foundation, but its registers date back to 1538. According to Horsfield's "Sussex", Ore Place was built by John O' Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, and afterwards converted into a religious house. The church was enlarged in 1821, and the last service performed in 1870, when, after the service, a number of children were baptised, and the choir was augmented by a number of old Hastingeers, all good musicians - the present local historian, Mr. T B Brett, Alexander, James and Benjamin Giles (uncle of the late William Giles, organist of All Saints), and Mrs Hermitage, nee Dina Giles, grandmother of the present Messrs. Hermitage Bros, being amongst them. The series of views following showed old Hastings. The entrance to the town, where stood the market cross, at the top of High Street, the gallows, the whipping post, the stocks and the pound. The coaches, with their passengers and the mails, used to leave the Swan Hotel and the Crown daily for London, the journey occupying the whole day, as against the hour and forty minutes of the present time. The Minnis Rock, the origin of which was shrouded in obscurity was next shown, and an old mansion, top of High Street, 1610, until its demolition the property of the Sayer-Milward family, and All Saints Church before its restoration. It dated from the early part of the 14th century, the noted Titus Oates becoming the rector at the restoration. After a career of infamy he was sentenced for perjury to imprisonment for life, and died in utter destitution in 1705. Old Humphrey, the well known writer of children's books, lies buried in the churchyard. This spot might be said to be the cradle of Hastings.

Near by flowed the Bourne River, which emptied itself into the sea at a place then called Fish Street, the river being crossed by three bridges, the pavement in Bourne Street being several feet abot the stream, and the gardens of All Saints Street on one side and High Street on the other ran down to its banks. Views followed of Sir Cloudesly Shovell's house, All Saints Street, present time; old house, Bourne Street, 1636; view in East Bourne Street; the Old Curiosity Shop, Bourne Street; Pelham House, High Street, once occupied by Edward Pelham, who was M.P. for Hastings in 1597. The house is "labelled" 1610; old houses, Swan Lane; the old Swan Hotel, formerly the principal hostelry and it its assmbly rooms the elite of the visitors held fashionable assemblies and balls. It was the starting place for the coaches for London, Dover, Brighton, &c., before railways were thought of. The old premises which were pulled down a few years ago, occupied an acre of ground. The Old Town Hall, High Street ws built in 1700, and was replaced by the present one in the early part of this century. On the parapet of the present ​building​ is a stone which was dug from the ruins of Pevensy Castle, and is supposed by antiquarians to have been thrown in the time of the Roman Invasion from a "catapulta". The Town Wall and Gateway - the wall originally extended from the Castle Cliff across the hollow, in which the town was built, to the East Cliff, and parts of the wall were now visible at the mouth of the Bourne and in George Street. The gates were named New Gate, Sea Gate, Drawbridge Gate and Water Gate. A gateway of massive proportions was discovered during some drainage work carried out in 1856. The Old Battery marked the western limit of the town a century ago. It was erected in 1760 at the eastern end of what is now Marine Parade, and about the same time land was granted for the ​building​ of Government House and Magazine, for at the beginning of the century Hastings wore a military aspect. A body of 12,000 men were quartered in the neighbourhood, of whom the great Duke of Wellington had command in 1806.

References & Notes