St. Georges Graveyard

From Historical Hastings

In the book "The History, Antiquities and Topography of the County of Sussex (1835)", Horsfield makes note of the fact that the hill was once known as 'St Georges Hill'[1]

John E. Ray claimed that the feature was the burial ground of the Manor of Brede, which owned much property in Hastings, since Brede church is dedicated to St George.[2]

Although Cousins cites a reference to Ross having seen a map in Chichester Cathedral showing a tower in the vicinity of this feature[3], no one since has located such a map or feature. An additional claim is that the rector of All Saints Church levelled the last surviving remains around 1770[4]

The area itself is quite prominent due to the hedgerows and there are also a number of granite boundary markers.


Based upon his recall of the map, Ross obtained permission from Countess Waldegrave who at the time owned the to excavate in 1865 and discovered what he believed to be the foundations of a building; "The building appears to have stood east and west, if I may judge by a wall opened up by me for about one hundred feet which terminated at the western end in an angular bend towards the cliff. I cut trenches across the Hill within the wall, and came upon a cist or coffin of Caen stone.....Also several bodies, very perfect, on layers of charcoal and some iron rivets and large headed nails...I am sorry to say I was disappointed not having found anything to throw light upon the probable date of the wall,etc"[5]" It is patently clear that here, Ross made no mention of a church.

Cole gives a more detailed description of the internments, possibly quoting directly from Ross; "The bodies lay on charcoal 2 inches in thickness, and by the right side of each were what appeared to be iron rivets having a head at each end, about the size of a half-penny with the remains of wood attached. Each body had besides five or six large headed nails roughly made. Under each skull was an oyster-shell, in the hollow of which the skull rested. Three of them differed in the mode of sepulchre : the head resting on a hollow boulder from the seashore."[6][7]. The location of these finds, quite close to the cliff-edge, if not actually at the edge would suggest that the hill extended considerably further to the south than at present, and Cole in a meeting of the philosophical society held on the 14th of of November, 1866 expressed an opinion that this, was indeed so[8].

Dawson referred to this dig in his 'History of Hastings Castle' and suggested that there may be a graveyard situated there[3] although much of Dawson's work now has to be viewed with a critical eye.

Current thinking

Current thinking is that the feature Ross took to be a church tower could possibly have been a windmill although Cole suggests a pharos or Roman light tower utilised for navigation.[3] Baines casts cold water on the Roman origin of the round feature, stating it most definitively was the base of an ancient windmill.[2]

The rectangular enclosure commonly referred to as 'St Georges Graveyard' was most likely allotments or an earlier smallholding, Baines reporting that sandstone rock is found at depths between one to three feet below the ground level - making it improbable that burials took place there.[2]

It is, of course possible that there was a small Roman fort in the vicinity but as of yet no conclusive evidence has been found pointing to one. Baines in his notes held at the museum goes further and suggests that the naming arises from the area of hillside being once called 'St George's Hill'; Brede Manor at one time having quite large land-holdings in the area and the church at Brede is dedicated to St. George.


References & Notes

  1. The History, Antiquities and Topography of the County of Sussex (Thomas Walker Horsfield 1835) vol 1 pg.452 ISBN: 0903967200 ESCC Library
  2. a b c Historic Hastings, J. Manwaring Baines pg. 1 ISBN: 0948869003 ISBN: 9780948869006 Amazon
  3. a b c Hastings of Bygone Days and the Present (Henry Cousins - 1911) pg.18 ISBN: 9789332862449 ESCC Library Google Books " Amazon
  4. Osborne's Visitor's Guide to Hastings and St Leonards c1854 3rd ed. Pg. 28 Google Books
  5. Sussex Archaological Collection vol IX p. 366
  6. The Antiquities of Hastings and the Battlefield (Thomas Cole 1864) Pg. 19 Google Books - 1864 ESCC Library. A later edition is also available: ESCC Library - 1884
  7. Extract from a Paper by Mr. Ross, read Aug. 20, 1866, before the Congress of the British Archaeological Association at Hastings
  8. British Newspaper Archive Hastings & St. Leonards Observer 20 November 1866 Pg. 0002