Book preserves important social history of Hastings in the 1890’s

Pike 3
Pike 3

This week in his continuing series Ion Castro takes a look at how a Brighton based publisher’s ‘Blue Book’ built up a comprehensive and fascinating picture of the Hastings area including images relating to the unfinished harbour prohject and the inside of a luxury train carriage.

He writes: W.T.Pike & Co of 19 Grand Parade, Brighton, were better known as the publishers of ‘Pike’s Directories’ of Hastings and St Leonards, Brighton and Hove, Lewes and numerous other places, mainly in Sussex but they later expanded into Kent.

These directories with their trademark blue covers were often referred to as ‘The Blue Book’ and the Hastings and St.Leonards edition was produced more or less annually from 1877 until it became a casualty of the second World War after which it seems to have been absorbed by the better-known Kelly’s which, in the 1970’s, was itself to succumb to the competition of the free Post Office Telephone Directory.

Pike’s Views and Reviews was roughly equivalent to modern day A4 size, and had 64 pages and a card cover.

The information for Pike’s directories was usually collected by door-to-door canvassing and/or by leaving forms for residents to complete and in Hastings, at least, Pike had local offices, in 1872-74 in Warden Buildings, 1876-77 in Waldegrave Street, and in 1886-88 at 62 Queen’s Road.

Pike must have used the information obtained face-to-face to produce what we would nowadays call the “advertorial” content of which the publication is mostly composed and it’s difficult with some pages to know whether it is paid-for advertising or general information. As a source of insight into aspects of the social history of the late 1890’s it is probably unequalled.

The first 20 pages are of general interest, describing facilities in Hastings and nearby places worth visiting with most of the photographs having been taken by J H Blomfield & Co. Later on nearly two whole pages are devoted to Messrs. Blomfield and co’s photographic studios in Robertson Street, complete with illustrations of the reception room and studio.

By 1896 a harbour had been planned in the old town and its incomplete remains can still be seen today. Pike optimistically included a view of the harbour as it would appear when operational including the tunnel, shown on the right of the picture that would have carried the harbour railway around the back of Hastings to meet up with LBSC railway near Bulverhythe. As we know complications were encountered on the seabed and the harbour was never completed.

Colleges, schools and boarding houses are discussed and illustrated with three pages devoted to Highbury House School in Bohemia road where Bayeux Court is today. Manor House College on the West Hill also merits three pages and Arnold House preparatory school for boys in Holmesdale Gardens merit a page and a half as does Park Mansion, a girls’ school in Chapel Park Road – the large square building near to the station that collapsed a few years ago and has now been completely rebuilt. Details of other schools were also included.

Nearly half of the book is devoted to “general trade” with descriptions and in many cases pictures of the trades operating in Hastings at the time. John Bray & Sons, Estate agents, are noted having offices at White Rock, South Colonnade and St John’s Road and it is recorded that Mr John Bray was an alderman for the Borough. The firm is still in existence today.

Mr Dick Russell, riding and job master and livery stable keeper, was operating from St Andrews Mews, today known as St Andrews Market as well as Wellington Mews on the other side of Queens Road and Kings Road Mews in St Leonards. Dick moved with the times and a dozen or so years later was operating motor charabancs. At the top of Queens Road part of the building now occupied by the bathroom shop was used by Messrs. Jacob Elliott and sons, manufacturers of artificial stone and of ‘a new patents stone composition’. The whole of that block was a later addition to Queens Road and, to maintain the sequence is numbered 130a, 130b, 130c and 130d. Unfortunately there isn’t a picture but there is an illustration of number 130, the other side of Stonefield Road, a wine merchants at that time.

Businesses in St Leonards are also featured. GS Cruttenden’s dairy at 241 London Road is featured in a photograph and is a significant building. It was in the top flat over the shop, in late 1907 or early 1908 that Robert Tressell (as Robert Noonan) lived with his daughter Kathleen and whilst there probably wrote a large part of his book “The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists” the premises below had become cycle shop at that time.

Pictures here show one of Dick Russell’s carriages outside St Andrews Mews, now St Andrews Market, and Criterion Dining Rooms, opposite Priory Meadow.

Also shown is the interior of the corridor train operated by the new South Eastern Railway corridor train.

A picture taken in 1896 shows work in progress building the harbour. Narrow gauge railway trains were the “dumper trucks” of their day.

Other pictures show D Farroll’s shop, at 50 Queens Road, dressed for Christmas and a top hat shop sign at Havelock Road.

All illustrations throughout this series are from Ion’s own collection and there’s more local history on his website, Ion has a small number of reproductions of this guide, for sale at £12.99. They are A4 size, card cover. Tel (01424) 437468 or