Hastings is a town on the coast of East Sussex in England; it is also the administrative centre for the Borough of the same name. It includes originally separate settlements, as well as the inevitable growth of the town through the building of new estates.

In historical terms, Hastings can claim fame through its connection with the Norman conquest of England; and also because it became one of the medieval Cinque Ports. Hastings was, for centuries, an important fishing port; although much reduced, it has the largest beach-based fishing fleet in England. As with many other such places, the town became a watering place in the 1760s, and then, with the coming of the railway, a seaside resort. The Town is sometimes referred to as "the birthplace of television" since the pioneer of television, John Logie Baird, lived at 21 Linton Crescent from 1922 to 1924.

The attraction of Hastings as a tourist destination continues; although the numbers of hotels has decreased, it caters for wider tastes, being home to internationally-based cultural and sporting events, such as chess and running. It has set out to become "a modern European town" and seeks to attract commercial business in the many industrial sites round the borough.


There are differing views as to the etymology of the name Hastings. The main suggestion appears to be that it could be from the Old English Haestingas (a settlement of the family of a man called Hæsta who established a Jutish colony here in the fifth century; Marchant states that Hastings is the only non-Saxon settlement in Sussex.


Early history

There is evidence of prehistoric settlements at the site of the town: flint arrowheads and Bronze Age artefacts have been found; Iron Age forts have been excavated on both the East and West Hills suggests an early move to the safety of the valley in between, so that the settlement was already a port when the Romans arrived in Britain for the first time in 55 BC. At this time they began to exploit the iron (Wealden rocks provide a plentiful supply of the ore), and so the port was useful to them. One of the many local sites where the iron was worked at Beauport Park, to the north of the town, which employed up to one thousand men and is considered to have been the third largest in the Roman Empire.

With the departure of the Romans the town suffered setbacks. The Beauport site had been abandoned; and natural and man-made attacks began. The Sussex coast has always suffered from occasional violent storms; with the additional hazard of longshore drift (the eastward movement of shingle along the coast) the coastline has been frequently changing. The original Roman port could now well be under the sea.

Man-made attacks possibly included the Danish invaders who gave the town its name, with their harbour in the west of the borough. Bulverhythe, where its original site is conjectured, suggests that: -hythe or hithe means a port or small haven. A royal mint in Hastings was established in AD 928 during the reign of Athelstan.

Medieval Hastings

The start of the Norman Conquest was the Battle of Hastings, fought on 14 October 1066; although the battle itself took place eight miles to the north at Senlac Hill, and William had landed on the coast between Hastings and Eastbourne at a site now known as Norman's Bay. It is thought that the Norman encampment was on the town’s outskirts, where there was open ground; a new town was already being built in the valley to the east. That "New Burgh" was founded in 1069, and is mentioned in the Domesday Book as such. William defeated and killed Harold Godwinson, the last Saxon King of England, and destroyed his army; thus opening England to the Norman conquest.

William caused a castle to be built at Hastings probably using the earthworks of the existing Saxon castle.

Hastings was a shown as a borough by the time of the Domesday Book (1086); it had also given its name to the Rape of Hastings, one of the six administrative divisions of Sussex. As a borough, Hastings had a corporation consisting of a "bailiff, jurats, and commonalty". By a Charter of Elizabeth I in 1589 the bailiff was replaced by a mayor.

Hastings and the sea

By the end of the Saxon period, the port of Hastings had moved eastward near the present town centre in the Priory Stream valley, whose entrance was protected by the White Rock headland (since demolished). It was to be a short stay: Danish attacks and huge floods in 1011 and 1014 motivated the townspeople to relocate to the New Burgh.

In the Middle Ages Hastings became one of the Cinque Ports; Sandwich, Dover, and New Romney being the first, Hastings, and Hythe followed, all finally being joined by Rye and Winchelsea, at one point 42 towns were directly or indirectly affiliated to the group.

In the 13th century much of the town was washed away by the sea. During a naval campaign of 1339, and again in 1377, the town was raided and burnt by the French, and seems then to have gone into a decline. As a port, Hastings' days were finished.

It had suffered over the years from the lack of a natural harbour, and there have been attempts to create a sheltered harbour. Attempts were made to build a stone harbour during the reign of Elizabeth I, but the foundations were destroyed by the sea in terrible storms. The last harbour project began in 1896, but this also failed when structural problems and rising costs exhausted all the available funds. Today a fractured seawall is all that remains of what might have become a magnificent harbour. In 1897 the foundation stone was laid of a large concrete structure, but there was insufficient money to complete the work and the "Harbour arm" remains uncompleted. It was partially blown up to discourage possible use by German invasion forces during World War II. The fishing boats are still stored on and launched from the beach.

Hastings was now a small fishing village, but it was soon discovered that the new taxes on luxury goods could be made profitable by smuggling, and the town was ideally located for that. Near the castle ruins, on the West Hill, are "St Clement's Caves", partly natural, but mainly excavated by hand by the smugglers from the soft sandstone. Their trade was to come to an end with the period following the Napoleonic Wars, for the town became one of the most fashionable resorts in Britain, brought about by the so-called properties of seawater. Once this came about the expansion of the town took place, to the west, since there was little space left in the valley.

It was at this time that the elegant Pelham Crescent and Wellington Square were built: other building followed. In the Crescent is the classical style church of St Mary in the Castle (its name recalling the old chapel in the castle above) now in use as an arts centre. The building of the crescent and the church necessitated further cutting away of the castle hill cliffs. Once that move away from the old town had begun, it led to the further expansion along the coast, eventually linking up with the new St Leonards.

Like many coastal towns, the population of Hastings grew significantly as a result of the construction of railway links and the fashionable growth of seaside holidays during the Victorian era. In 1801 its population was a mere 3,175; by 1831 it had reached over ten thousand; by 1891 it was almost sixty thousand, and the 2001 census reported over 85,000 inhabitants.

In the 1930s the town underwent some rejuvenation. Seaside resorts were starting to go out of fashion: Hastings perhaps more than most. The town council set about a huge rebuilding project, among which the promenade was rebuilt; and an Olympic-size bathing pool was erected. The latter, regarded in its day as one of the best open-air swimming and diving complexes in Europe, closed some years ago. The area is still known by locals as "The Bathing Pool".


Hastings returned two Members of Parliament from the 14th century to 1885 since when it has returned one.

Hastings, it is thought, was a Saxon town before the arrival of the Normans: the Domesday Book refers to a new Borough: as a borough, Hastings had a corporation consisting of a "bailiff, jurats, and commonalty". Its importance was such that it also gave its name to one of the six Rapes or administrative districts of Sussex.

By a Charter of Elizabeth I in 1589 the bailiff was replaced by a mayor, by which time the town's importance was dwindling. In the Georgian era, patronage of such seaside places (such as nearby Brighton) gave it a new lease of life so that, when the time came with the reform of English local government in 1888, Hastings became a County Borough, responsible for all its local services, independent of the surrounding county, then Sussex (East); less than one hundred years later, by the in 1974, that status was abolished.

Hastings Borough Council is now in the second tier of local government, below East Sussex County Council. The Borough is divided into sixteen electoral wards as shown on the map, they are in four areas, as below. Some explanation of the ward names is also given:

Ward Notes including name origin
Castle ward Most central ward, including town centre and sea front
Braybrooke Braybrooke Terrace is north of the town centre
Silverhill ward Well-established area of Hastings
St Helens ward (part of Ore) Area north of town: included St Helens Wood
Old Hastings Ward includes Hastings Old Town
Ore ward One-time separate village: largest ward in borough.
Tressell ward (part of Ore) NNE of town centre; named after Robert Tressell
Baird ward NE of town centre; John Logie Baird
Central St Leonards ward Main part of St Leonards, including sea front
Gensing ward N of Central St Leonards ward; includes Gensing Gardens
Maze Hill ward Between Central and West wards; one-time maze in West St Leonards gardens
West St Leonards ward Large ward extending to the Borough boundary
Ashdown ward Northernmost ward: contains Ashdown House
Conquest ward Contains Conquest hospital
Hollington ward One time village
Wishing Tree ward Area named after an ancient tree

The most notable suburbs of Hastings are Ore, St Leonards on Sea, Silverhill, Bulverhythe, Hollington


Crime rates in Hastings (per 1000 population) 2006-2007
Offence Locally Nationally
Robbery 1.6 1.2
Theft of a motor vehicle 4.0 2.9
Theft from a motor vehicle 9.8 7.6
Sexual offences 2.1 0.9
Violence against a person 37.1 16.7
Burglary 6.6 4.3


Hastings is situated where the sandstone beds, at the heart of the Weald, known geologically as the Hastings Sands, meet the English Channel, forming tall cliffs to the east of the town. Hastings Old Town is in a sheltered valley between the East Hill and West Hill (on which the remains of the Castle stand). In Victorian times and later the town has spread westwards and northwards, and now forms a single urban centre with the more suburban area of St Leonards-on-Sea to the west. Roads from the Old Town valley lead towards the Victorian area of Clive Vale and the former village of Ore, from which "The Ridge", marking the effective boundary of Hastings, extends north-westwards towards Battle. Beyond Bulverhythe, the western end of Hastings is marked by low-lying land known as Glyne Gap, separating it from Bexhill-on-Sea.

The sandstone cliffs have been the subject of considerable erosion in relatively recent times: much of the Castle was lost to the sea before the present sea defences and promenade were built, and a number of cliff-top houses are in danger of disappearing around the nearby village of Fairlight.

The beach is mainly shingle, although wide areas of sand are uncovered at low tide. The town is generally built upon a series of low hills rising to above sea level at "The Ridge" before falling back in the river valley further to the north.

The town also has a large Victorian park, Alexandra Park.

There are three Sites of Special Scientific Interest within the borough; Marline Valley Woods, Combe Haven and Hastings Cliffs To Pett Beach. Marline Valley Woods lies within the Ashdown ward of Hastings. It is an ancient woodland of pedunculate oak-bornbeam which is uncommon nationally. Sussex Wildlife trust own part of the site. Combe Haven is another site of biological interest, with alluvial meadows, and the largest reed bed in the county, providing habitat for breeding birds. It is in the West St Leonards ward, stretching into the parish of Crowhurst. The final SSSI, Hastings Cliffs to Pett Beach, is within the Ore ward of Hastings, extending into the neighbouring Fairlight and Pett parishes. The site runs along the coast and is of both biological and geological interest. The cliffs hold many fossils and has many habitats, including ancient woodland and shingle beaches.


Hastings suffers at a disadvantage insofar as growth is concerned because of its restricted situation, lying as it does with the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty to the north. Redevelopment of the area is partly hampered by the split administration of the combined Hastings and Bexhill economic region between Hastings and Rother district councils. There is little space for further large-scale housing and employment growth. Most of the jobs within the Borough are concentrated on health, public services, retail and education. 85% of the firms (in 2005) employed fewer than 10 people; as a consequence the unemployment rate was 3.3% (cf. East Sussex 1.7%); and almost one-third of the employable population had no skills at all in 2001.

This situation has now become the subject of parliamentary consideration, and regeneration of the Borough is now being considered at that level. From being the third tourist resort in the country 50 years ago, Hastings has still not been able to shake off its over-reliance on tourism. Urban regeneration was deemed essential: too many of the buildings once used as hotels are still unfit for modern use; many of them are now refugee accommodation. There is a lack of highly-skilled job opportunities, and education standards are low, although the new college may help to ameliorate that. In addition Hastings has the highest proportion of elderly people in the UK.


Until the development of tourism, fishing was Hastings' major industry. The beach launched fishing fleet, based at the Stade remains Europe's largest and has recently won accreditation for its sustainable methods. The fleet has been based on the same beach, below the cliffs at Hastings, for at least 400, possibly 600, years. Its longevity attributed to the prolific fishing ground of Rye Bay nearby.

Hastings fishing vessels are registered at Rye, and thus bear the letters "RX" (Rye,SusseX).

Near the Royal Victoria Hotel there is the "Conquerors Stone" where William of Normandy was supposed to have eaten his first breakfast in England.

On the beach near the Old Town are the so-called "net shops", said to be unique to Hastings, but similar buildings can be found in Whitby – these are wooden constructions, weatherboarded and tarred, of various shapes and sizes, used for storage. The buildings were built tall and narrow to avoid payment of ground tax. They were never used for net drying; this is a popular misconception: nets were dried on the beach or on the piece of land known as the Minnis. The net huts are covered with traditional "clinker" weather-boarding and most of them measure about 25 feet in height by 8 feet square.

During the past 150 years, many net huts have been destroyed by stormy seas, and in the 1950s some of them were demolished by the Hastings Council as part of a clearance scheme for development of the beach. About forty-five of these unique structures still survive and are regularly maintained.



There are two major roads in Hastings: the A21 trunk road to London; and the A259 coastal road. Both are beset with traffic problems: although the London road, which has to contend with difficult terrain, has had several sections of widening over the past decades there are still many delays. Long-term plans for a much improved A259 east–west route (including a Hastings bypass) were abandoned in the 1990s, but a new road to Bexhill-on-Sea is planned to relieve the congested coastal route. Hastings is also linked to Battle via the A2100, the original London road. The A28 road connects Hastings to Ashford, Canterbury and the Isle of Thanet. The A27 road starts nearby at Pevensey. The Ring road includes parts of most of the main roads.

The town is served by Stagecoach buses on routes that serve the town; and also extend to Bexhill, Eastbourne and Dover. National Express Coaches run service 538 to London.


Hastings has four rail links, two to London, one to Brighton and one to Ashford. Of the London lines, the shorter is the former South Eastern Railway (SER) route to Charing Cross via Battle and Tunbridge Wells, which opened in 1852; and the longer is the former London, Brighton and South Coast Railway (LBSCR) route to Victoria via Bexhill, Eastbourne and Lewes. Trains to Brighton also use this line. The Marshlink Line via Rye to Ashford where a connection can be made with Eurostar services. The town currently has four railway stations: from west to east they are West St Leonards station St Leonards Warrior Square, Hastings, and Ore. West Marina station (on the LBSCR line) was very near West St Leonards (on the SER line) and was closed some years ago. A new station has been proposed at Glyne Gap, and a 'Bexhill to Ore express line' .

There have always been problems connected with the Tunbridge Wells-St Leonards section of the Charing Cross line. It was built in a hurry by the SER in an attempt to compete with the passenger traffic to Hastings of the LBSCR; and as a result corners were cut in its construction. Most of the section runs through the hilly Weald, necessitating seven tunnels. The contractors on the line, in an attempt to keep up with a strict timetable, saved time by putting in fewer layers of bricks than were required through the tunnels: in 1862 the Wadhurst tunnel collapsed, revealing the truth. Instead of reboring the tunnels, the extra layers were laid on the inner surfaces of all seven tunnels, narrowing the bore, and thereby ensuring that specially-constructed rolling stock was required from then on; electrification of the line was also delayed for many years.

There are two funicular railways, known locally as the West Hill and East Hill Lifts respectively.


The Saxon Shore Way , (a long distance footpath, 163 miles (262 km) in length from Gravesend, Kent traces the Kent and Sussex coast “as it was in Roman times” to Hastings, . The National Cycle Network route NCR2 links Dover to St Austell along the south coast, and passes through Hastings.

Historical transport systems


Hastings became part of the Turnpike road system in 1837, when James Burton was building his new town of St Leonards. The route of the road is that taken by the A21 today.


Hastings had a network of trams from 1905 to 1929. The trams ran as far as Bexhill, and were worked by overhead electric wires, except for the stretch along the seafront from Bo-Peep to the Memorial, which was initially worked by the Dolter stud contact system. The Dolter system was replaced by petrol electric trams in 1914, but overhead electrification was extended to this section in 1921. Trolleybuses rather than trams were used in the section that included the very narrow High Street, and the entire tram system was replaced by trolleybuses in 1928–1929.

Maidstone and District bought the Hastings Tramway Company in 1935, but the trolleybuses still carried the "Hastings Tramways" logo until shortly before they were replaced by diesel buses in 1959, following the failure of the "Save our trolleys" campaign.


The iconic landmarks, due to their being frequently used in the town's tourist publicity, are almost certainly the castle on its sandstone cliffs, and Hastings Pier. Little remains of the Castle apart from an arch of the chapel, some walls, and underground dungeons. The pier itself is closed due to its being considered in an unsafe condition. Violent storms during mid March 2008 have damaged the structure further.

In a similar vein, the old town of Hastings is certainly a landmark. Many of the buildings there today date from the time when the Georgians arrived here to "take the waters", although the two churches (see below) are very much older. An example of the houses is East Cliff House, designed and built between 1760 and 1762 by Edward Capell, the Shakespearean critic and official censor of plays, at a cost of £5,000. The house was constructed on the site of the old East Fort, with a gun platform that may have been adapted to form the front terrace of the building. The house was abandoned during the Second World War and, from then on, it deteriorated rapidly.

An important former landmark was "the Memorial", a clock tower commemorating Albert the Prince Consort which stood for many years at the traffic intersection at the town centre, but was demolished following an arson attack in the 1970s.

On the seafront at St Leonards is Marine Court a 1930s block of flats: it is said to represent an ocean liner.


The school founded by Rev William Parker in 1619 and that founded by James Saunders in 1709 were eventually amalgamated to form Hastings Grammar School, which later became the William Parker Sports College. It is now the only all-boys secondary school in East Sussex.

Religious buildings

The most important buildings from the late medieval period are the two churches in the Old Town, St Clement's (probably built after 1377) and All Saints (early 15th century).


Hastings has three museums: the Hastings Museum and Art Gallery; the Old Town Hall Museum; and the Fishermen's Museum. These are all open for the whole year. The Hastings Sea Life Centre is a popular visitor attraction, as is the Smugglers' Adventure in St Clement's Caves.

There are two places providing a theatrical venue: the White Rock Theatre the town's multipurpose venue; and the Stables Theatre, which shows mainly local productions and acts as an arts exhibition centre. Among other uses to which the main theatre is put is to host the annual Hastings Music Festival. There is a small Odeon cinema in Hastings, however there are plans to renovate an area known as the 'Priory Quarter' in the town centre; plans include large office spaces, retail units and a new large multi screen cinema. The town has its own independent cinema.

The Hastings International Chess Congress which started in 1882 attracts international players to Hastings. The Hastings Writers' Group claims to be one of the oldest in the country: it was established in 1947.

Hastings has long been known as a retreat for artists and painters. For example, the pre-Raphaelite painters including Dante Gabriel Rossetti (who married here in Hastings) and William Holman Hunt admired the town for its light and clear air .

Visitor attractions

The town has its fair share of "visitor attractions". These are mostly clustered around the Fishmarket, near the dropping-off place for the coaches, and include a miniature railway, fairground rides and amusement arcades; there are also many refreshment places in this area of the town. The nearby cliff railways take visitors further afield: to the Caves; and to Hastings Country Park, an area of 2.67 km² (6.9 miles²) of lightly wooded and open land extending from Hastings approximately 3 miles (5 km) along the cliff tops to Fairlight.

There is also a yearly carnival, and Old Town Week during August, a beer festival in Alexandra Park, and a Seafood and Wine Festival in the Old Town. During Hastings week held each year around 14 October the Hastings Bonfire Society stages a torchlight procession through the streets, with a beach bonfire and spectacular firework display. In 2007 the World Crazy Golf Championship was held at the Adventure Crazy Golf Course.


There are many organisations and venues catering for the sports enthusiast including angling, golf, lawn tennis, riding, rowing and swimming. The Summerfields Leisure Centre provides the largest venue. Another family pool (although outside the borough) with wave machine and water slide is situated at Glyne Gap, on the coast mid-way between Bexhill and Hastings.

The Hastings Half Marathon is becoming well-known around the country, being voted the best race of its kind three years running, and has become known as the unofficial "Great South Run". With numbers increasing every year, in 2007 the race had around 4,500 entries.

As for team sports, Hastings is home to one senior football club, Hastings United, who play in the Isthmian League Premier Division and use The Pilot Field as their home ground. There are also many other football clubs in Hastings that play in the East Sussex Football League, such as Hollington United and Hastings Rangers. The town's premier cricket venue is now Horntye Park Sports Complex, home of Hastings Priory. The previous venue, where Priory Meadow Shopping Centre now stands, saw the final game played in 1989.

Hastings is home to two major rugby clubs, Hastings & Bexhill R.F.C and Cinque Ports Rugby Club. Hastings & Bexhill play their home matches at William Parker Sports College and play in Division Four of the London Rugby Union League. Cinque Ports play in the Sussex Rugby Union League and play at The Grove School. Hastings' main hockey club is South Saxons, who play and train on the town's only AstroTurf surface at Horntye Park Sports Complex. The AstroTurf is also used for other sports such as football.

One of the athletics clubs in the Hastings & Rother Area is Hastings Athletics Club: it uses the running track at William Parker Sports College, the only running track in the area. A very popular sport in the town is bowls: there are plenty of greens in the town. The Hastings Open Bowls Tournament has been held annually in June since 1911 and attracts many entrants country-wide.

Noted residents


External links




  • Challis, Christopher Edgar; I Stewart, NJ Mayhew, GP Dyer, PP Gaspar (1993). A New History of the Royal Mint. Cambridge University Press.
  • Baines FSA, John Manwaring (1963). Historic Hastings. F J Parsons Ltd.
  • Peak, Steve (1985). Fishermen of Hastings: 200 Years of the Hastings Fishing Community. Newsbooks.
  • Marchant, Rex (1997). Hastings Past. Phillimore & Co Ltd.
  • Winn, Christopher I Never Knew That About England.
  • Down the Line to Hastings Brian Jewell, The Baton Press ISBN 0 85936 223 X
  • Robert J Harley, Hastings Tramways. Middleton Press 1993. ISBN 1 873793 18 9.
  • Nairn, Bryan, and Pevsner, Nikolaus, The Buildings of England: Sussex, Page 119. Penguin, 1965
  • Brooks, Ken Hastings: Then And Now.


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