The ports of Hastings, Sandwich, Dover, Hythe and Romney started working together around 1050, in part due to a shared interest in the fisheries and cross-channel trade; in addition the Crown called on the services of the ports to provide men and boats for naval services from time to time.
Under Edward the Confessor's reign, the five ports were formally incorporated under the government of a Lord Warden, with a number of privileges and the Banner of St. Michael of Hastings was adopted as the Banner of the ports.
The Ports were re-confirmed by William, with all their former privileges, in the fourth year after the Conquest. Hastings was recorded as contributing 21 ships, out of a total of 57.
Between 1154 and 1158, Henry the second increased the privileges available to the ports permitting them to take part in many otherwise illegal practices such as smuggling/privateering etc. provided that they would provide a total of 57 vessels for a period of 15 days in any one year. By 1191, the ports had 'limbs' or outlying towns attached to them - those for Hastings being Winchelsea and Rye and they soon outgrew Hastings in terms of the number of vessels they could provide. The requirement for the Crown to utilise the 'licensed' pirates reduced during the 1300s, but additional privileges were granted with two further charters in 1260 and 1278. In June of 1339, the Ports burnt Bologne in retaliation for an attack on Portsmouth.
Some six years later, the shrinking of Hastings became apparent during the 1346 siege of Calais. During the whole of the year-long campaign, Hastings provided only five vessels and 96 men. In spite of this, the English were victorious.
The Cinque Ports had an exemption from tax and tolls, the right to self-government, permission to levy tolls, punish those who shed blood or flee justice, punish minor offences, detain and execute criminals both inside and outside the port's jurisdiction, and punish breaches of the peace; and possession of lost goods that remain unclaimed after a year, goods thrown overboard, and floating wreckage.
The considerable freedom given to the Cinque Ports, and the general turning of a blind eye to misbehaviour, led to smuggling, though common everywhere at this time becoming a fairly dominant industry within the ports.
Simon de Burley
Decline in importance of Hastings
Much of Hastings was washed away by the sea in the 13th century. During a naval campaign of 1339, and again in 1377, the town was raided and burnt by the French, and went into a decline during which it ceased to be a major port. By this time, Hastings had no natural sheltered harbour due in part to coastal drift and silting up of the various waterways. There were attempts to build a stone harbour during the reign of Elizabeth I, but the foundations were destroyed by the sea in storms.
By end of the reign of King Edward IV, Hastings was recorded as contributing 3¾ ships, Romney 3½, Sandwich 10½, Seaford 1¼, Pevensey 1¼, Folkestone half a ship, and Fordwich three-quarters.
In 1678, Samuel Jeake, the prominent Rye lawyer, in his book Charters of the Cinque Ports, said that the sea had ‘covered with its Waves the old Town and Port, as some say three miles, and left this Town and Port of Hasting only a Stade Place’.
References & Notes
- 771-1699 – The Hastings Chronicle, accessdate: 24 January 2021
- The Antiquities of Hastings and the Battlefield (Thomas Cole 1864) Pg. 32 Google Books - 1864 ESCC Library. A later edition is also available: ESCC Library - 1884
- The Antiquities of Hastings and the Battlefield (Thomas Cole 1864) Pg. 37 Google Books - 1864 ESCC Library. A later edition is also available: ESCC Library - 1884
- The Antiquities of Hastings and the Battlefield (Thomas Cole 1864) Pg. 59 Google Books - 1864 ESCC Library. A later edition is also available: ESCC Library - 1884