Saturday 4 August 2018

Hastings diaries : Exploring the Old Town

Whenever we come to to Hastings to visit the grandparents, the Madhouse kids always want to enjoy the seaside fun of the amusement arcades and fairground rides. The Old Town offers so much more though, and just a short walk will uncover dozens of interesting finds. We started off at Winkle Island.

The Winkle Club is a local charity that was set up in 1900 by Hastings fishermen, to help underprivileged Old Town families. Each member has a winkle shell, that they must produce if challenged to "winkle up". Failure to do so results in a fine, which is added to the charity box. There have been some notable members, past and present, including the Queen, the Queen Mum and Winston Churchill.

Just across the road is George Street, which offers lots of interesting metal sculptures of sea creatures.

There is also a giant chessboard but look out for the octopus if you play !

A new sculpture had been added to the collection since our last visit - a sailor's hat, in memory of a local character called Ron Everett, who used to dress up as Popeye and go gurning on carnival floats to raise money for the Winkle Club, until his death last year. Heading back to Winkle Island but on the opposite side of the road, we wandered past this, which I was always told is a World War II mine that washed up. (A German submarine was washed up on the beach during the First World War so it's quite probable.)

This brings us to the Fish Market, where you can buy freshly caught local fish, shellfish, jellied eels (yuck !) and prawns, sold by the pint.

From here, you can explore the narrow alleyways between the houses, known locally as twittens, which will eventually lead you up on to the East Hill. If you're feeling lazy, you can take the East Hill Lift instead. It's quite pricey though, so we stayed down below.

Hastings Old Town is famous for its tall, black net huts, which were used for storing the fishermen's nets after they'd dried them on the beach.

Hastings fishing fleet is also unique because the boats are pulled up on to the shingle beach rather than going into a harbour. These ones are next to the Fishermen's Museum but just on the other side of the miniature railway (behind the fence in the photo), you can see the current fleet.

RX designates a boat registered in Rye/Hastings and this one, the Edward and Mary, carries a Dunkirk 1940 plaque, which shows that it was one of the Little Ships involved in Operation Dynamo and the evacuation of allied troops from the beaches of Dunkirk.

There are several curiosities to discover in this area. On the left, the old Harbour Light, damaged in a storm and now replaced by solar light, and Half Sovereign Cottage, made from half a boat. This is a modern creation (dating back to 1999) displayed outside the Fishermen's Museum, but it represents one of the seedier elements of local history : smuggling. Boats suspected of smuggling were "sawn asunder midship" and the remains were often converted into cottages.

You can peer inside one of the net huts to see how things would have looked, and also visit the free Fishermen's Museum, housed in the old Fishermen's Church, where you can clamber onto a fishing boat. There is also a Blue Reef aquarium next door and the Lifeboat Station (back towards Winkle Island, behind the amusements) which is open for visits with the lifeboat on display. (Entry is free but they appreciate donations.)

Sophie was pleased to discover the Instagram-friendly coloured walls, perfect as selfie backdrops !

We wandered back to Winkle Island (again !) and this time turned up All Saints' Street, which is home to many half-timbered houses dating back to 1450 - the oldest surviving houses in the town.

On the corner, next to the stern-looking lions, is a little plaque reminding us that Pulpit Gate was here - one of three gates in the town wall built in 1400 to protect against raiding Frenchmen arriving by sea.

The whole street is jam packed with well-preserved, quaint, olde-worlde houses and pubs.

The Piece of Cheese Cottage always used to intrigue me when I was a child. It's now a self-catering holiday cottage and painting this small, wedge-shaped building yellow was a stroke of genius ! It's said to be the only three-cornered cottage in England.

From intriguing door plaques to inviting alleyways, you could spend hours roaming around exploring.

Further along is Shovells, a 15th century house, reputed to be the home of the mother of Admiral Cloudesley Shovell and used as a workhouse in the 17-1800's.

Every few paces, there's something new to discover or take photos of, so you'll need plenty of time to wander.

This house looks less well-preserved than the others, but I imagine this is how the houses really used to look in days gone by, when the owners weren't trying to appeal to tourists and Instagrammers.

At the top of the road is All Saints Church (where we had our UK wedding) and the old Market Cross.

I'd never noticed this plaque on the wall of the churchyard before : "In July 1643 during the Civil War, Colonel Morley entered Hastings with a troop of Parliamentary Horse. All Saints Church was occupied by his troops and the town's guns were surrendered."

Just opposite is the Cyril and Lilian Bishop, now known as The Ghost of Dunkirk, recently rescued and renovated as a labour of love by some local residents, including the aptly named Dee Day White.

This old Hastings Lifeboat is another of the Little Ships from Operation Dynamo. I love all the links between my old and new hometowns ! This is where we stopped and headed for home, but crossing over and heading down High Street back to the seafront is another great place to explore, with oodles of quirky second-hand shops to rummage in.

Country Kids linky


  1. Hastings looks like a lovely place to explore. Particularly like the Instagram friendly backdrops! :)

  2. Looks great! love the sculptures

  3. Wonderful photos! Those metal sculptures are stunning.

  4. So much history! It must have been fun to grow up in such a place. I will have to make a visit to Hastings some day soon. Thank you for sharing.

  5. A fascinating place to explore, great to learn history of the town and country as you travel across. Love the metal sculptures, the octopus is particularly impressive. The half-boat cottage looks amazing, I wonder what it's like inside. Sophie found perfect backdrops for her selfies.

    1. It's only when you move away and come back for visits that you really appreciate it all - it's so easy to take your home town for granted :)

  6. It is so lovely you have a base in both France and England. The photos of the old town in Hastings are so pretty, we are up that way in a couple of weeks, I may have to explore! #CountryKids

  7. Those old buildings are fab, and gosh they have lasted well. Wonder if the new houses being built will still be stanfing in a 10 years let alone nearly 600. Love the cheese building, makes you wonder who back then decided it was a good idea.
    Laughed at the selfie walls.
    You often pop into my thoughts on how you are coping, must have been hard to come back to somewhere you always went as a family of 5. #countrykids

    1. Things were definitely built to last in the past, it's a shame it's not the same now ! It does seem strange but it's all about making new memories and showing that life goes on :) xxx

  8. What a lovely place to explore! It looks like there were tons of things to see and discover. Your photos are beautiful. #CountryKids


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