Fascinating history of overlooked Old Town back street is revealed

West Street Party SUS-180715-074458001
West Street Party SUS-180715-074458001

An enthusiastic group of local people have been working hard to put an Old Town back-street on the map.

West Street is a narrow road that runs between busy George Street and the seafront.

But it has a colourful history and many fascinating tales to tell.

Those behind the research will be launching the printed publication of The West Street Chronicle at a street party on Sunday 29th July from 2-5pm.

Lorna Crabbe said: “The road will be closed to traffic and we will be celebrating the project and the street with a range of activities, open studios, refreshments and games. It will feature live music from Thomas Truax. Everything is free and everyone is welcome.”

In October, 2017 the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) awarded a grant of £10,000 to the West Street Community Group to support a year-long project researching, sharing and celebrating the history of West Street in Hastings Old Town.

The group is made up of residents, business owners and artists based on the street who are working together with volunteers and enthusiasts to recapture the street’s forgotten history through research, interviews and running events with local people.

Lorna said: “The histories of West St have never been properly recorded, people have come and gone and have been long forgotten.

“Few accounts exist in official archives and West Street barely gets a mention in any local interest or historical books.

“It has a reputation as a narrow, dark, back street; linked with crime, smuggling and deprivation. Buildings were left derelict for years.

“Historically it often flooded after bad storms. Recent recollections relate to antisocial behaviour, plus blocked drains, discarded rubbish and fly tipping.

“Over the course of a year, we have searched for these lost histories, by digging into street directories, old records, newspaper archives and by speaking to a wide range of people with a personal connections to the street.

“Residents (since the early 1800s) have included fisherfolk, coxswains, boot makers, bell hangers, tea merchants, farriers, fruiterers, costumiers, a champion swimmer, musicians, artists, a political cartoonist and the president of the British Society of Trichologists.

“Local celebrity Biddy the Tubman was born at no. 14, his family based on the street for decades.

“The Ancient Order of Druids held a lodge at The Hastings Arms, while Oswald Mosley and the Blackshirts spoke at The Norfolk Hotel.

“Market Hall hosted talks by political groups, social activists and learned societies, fancy dress balls, tea parties for pauper children, many plays, flower shows and musical entertainments.

It was also a coroners court and an aquarium with an alligator and an octopus.

“Many of the houses were earmarked for demolition in the 1930s as part of the slum clearances though - unlike the condemned buildings all around the Bourne area they escaped.

“We have found desperate stories of infanticide, bankruptcy, removal to gaol, the workhouse and asylums. Tales of suicide, drownings and death in fires.

“Houses were smashed and left derelict for decades. People have recounted poltergeists and drunks collapsed in the drains.

“They remember the antiques shop with a human foetus in the window and the garage built especially to house Lord Tiverton’s Rolls Royce.”

If you have any stories, memories or information to add we would love to hear from you. Get in touch with Project Coordinator Lorna Crabbe at lornacrabbe@gmail.com or 07975 872075. Findings will be stored at the Hastings History House.