Fascinating history of the fishermen’s museum

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Hastings Fishermen’s Museum is set in the former Fishermen’s Church of St Nicholas on Rock-a-Nore Road; the church, built on the beach in 1854, had seating for 290.

By 1880, after initial opposition this “mission church” had become popular and remained so until WWII, when it was requisitioned by the military for use as a store, and post-war by traders for the same purpose.

The church was leased by Hastings Borough Council to the Old Hastings Preservation Society; 1956 and they opened as a museum that year.

Hastings Fishermen’s Museum is one of the biggest attractions in the town; over 140,000 visitors pass through its door every year to see the many photographs, paintings and historic objects and to climb aboard the Enterprise RX 278 housed in the Museum.

It is the last of the clinker built sailing luggers, which were the standard boat in the Hastings fishing fleet until WWI.

The church-museum is listed at Grade II by English Heritage for its architectural and historical importance.

Although un-consecrated, it is still used today for religious events; baptisms, harvest festivals and carol concerts.

The museum becomes involved in almost all of Hastings important festivals and Hastings Old Town Carnival Week, (26th July-3rd August) is no exception.

The museum is mounting several photographic exhibitions during this period, with a journey through the archives, featuring Hasting Harbour Arm, Hastings Lifeboat and Crew, The Valiant at Sea, and Wonders of the Deep. This last covers one of the bygone beach entertainments that used materials to hand; a pass-the-hat-round money earner for fishermen and other locals.

Before Hastings evolved into one of pebbles, artists known as sand-scratchers drew pictures in the damp sand left by the retreating tide.

They used metal forks instead of brushes and built trenches around their completed designs, to protect them from water.

Biddy the fisherman did gymnastic tricks aboard a half tub in the high tide. (Biddy’s tub is on display in the museum.)

But perhaps the most unusual show was “Wonders of the Deep”, believed to have started in the 1920s/30s.

A fish cart, loaded with various species from their latest catch, would be displayed by fishermen for the amusement of holiday makers.

These, mainly accustomed to seeing fish that was prepared and cut into anonymous fillets and steaks by their fishmonger, were amazed and sometimes pleasurably horrified to see the source of their fish dinners as it looked when it came from the sea. With a touch of seaman’s humour, skate were displayed, upended and turned backwards with cigarette butts stuck between their exposed lips.

The fisherman/narrator, often the locally famous “Oxo” Richardson, would describe these as: “the only boys in the sea aged under sixteen that are allowed to smoke.” Learn about this and more in Carnival week at Hastings Fishermen’s Museum Rock-a-Nore Road. It is open every day, except Christmas Day, from 10.00 am to 5.00 pm Tel:01424 461446 Entrance is free but donations welcome. Wheelchair accessible.