WORK on a flood protection scheme has unearthed a 20 metre-long hand-built smugglers cave.
A team from Southern Water made the unusual discovery while digging trenches to lay new sewers in Collier Road and nearby Priory Road last week.
Work was immediately stopped and experts from Archaeology South-East were called in and confirmed the find was likely to be a smugglers’ tunnel built in the early 18th Century and used to smuggle goods such as tea, tobacco, alcohol, silk and sugar - usually to avoid paying duty.
And, as well as the tunnel, diggers also uncovered a cannon ball and a piece of pottery from the Middle Iron Age.
The work was being carried out for Southern Water by contractor 4Delivery, and the firm’s spokesman Paul Elsdon said: “The ground literally collapsed while we were digging on grass.
“At first we thought it was a natural void but we had a look down, and noticed a big hole that went off in both directions. It was a very interesting project to work on.”
And Southern Water’s senior project engineer, Gary Sayers, was equally excited. He said: “We always engage archaeologists when carrying out schemes like this to ensure any local heritage and historic interest is recorded and preserved.
“We were delighted to be able to work with Archaeology South-East on this investigation.”
At the request of Hastings Borough Council the entrance to the tunnel was blocked off, but the tunnel itself has been left open so archaeologists can access them to carry out further study.
Chris Killeen, from Archaeology South-East, said: “The tunnel has been interpreted as a previously unrecorded smugglers’ tunnel, which are reasonably common in Hastings, with several being found or mentioned in local folklore throughout the town.
“There is a large section of these tunnels open to the public at St Clement’s Caves, which are situated around 300 metres to the south of the site.”
A copy of the archaeological report is available for public consultation at the East Sussex County Council offices in Lewes.
The original work has now been completed without impacting on the find.