Residents in St Leonards have formed an action group to fight against plans to knock down historic workshops.
The 35 Tower Road Protest Group, set up by Vivienne Fox, William Third and John Humphries, said the units had been used since the 1860s and were part of the area’s Victorian heritage.
Developers want to build 14 flats on a triangle of land at the junction of St Peter’s Road, Cornfield Terrace and Tower Road.
The application came before Hastings Borough Council’s planning committee last month but was deferred to a later date.
At the meeting, Jake Chadwick, representing the developers, said the scheme represented an ‘exciting series of bespoke elements’ and would become a ‘positive and integrated’ part of the area.
More than 170 residents have signed a petition in protest and the council has received more than 40 letters of objection.
Mr Humphries said: “Developers are planning to demolish the workshops used since the mid-1860s. They will be replaced by a large block of flats, and will directly abut the long Victorian terrace of houses. Three businesses will lose their premises.
“While researching the history of this site, we have discovered evidence of a unique historical and social heritage with likely links to Robert Tressell and definite links to the Hastings Workhouse.
“Records show the site was known as ‘The St Peter’s Labour Yard’. From the 1860s onwards, labour yards came into existence and were either in the workhouse or on separate premises. Able-bodied unemployed applicants became semi-inmates of the workhouse, subject to workhouse rules, but lived in their own homes. These were opened and closed as needed.
“Hastings suffered years of deprivation during the years 1902-1910. There had been a building boom in the 1800s and many of the men were labourers or building workers. This all changed with the recession, with no work families were starving, cold and many homeless, their only food from the soup kitchen in six locations, including St Peter’s.”
It was during this recession the writer Robert Tressell, author of The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, was living in Hastings, having previously been employed by Adams and Jarrett and other local firms.
In 1907, he moved with his daughter to 241 London Road, no longer able to work due to ill health.
Mr Humphries added: “This address was less than 100 yards from the labour yard. From the rear window of his top-floor flat, Tressell would have looked out directly onto the labour yard.
“In his writing Tressell speaks of the ‘Rev Mr Bosher’, talking of ‘re-opening the Labour Yard’. With his strongly socialist outspoken views, and deep empathy for working men and their conditions at that time, there seems little doubt that he would have had an intimate knowledge of the yard and been acutely aware of the conditions of those who worked there, in fact, referring to it in his book.
“This historic yard which has been on our doorstep has taken on a new meaning. The quaint, mews-like buildings, in danger of being demolished, have a story to tell. They have been sadly neglected of late but are structurally sound with character providing employment still for hard-working people.
“Rather than destroying them and their social history, we would love to see them refurbished and providing affordable, much-needed, workshop space for their present occupants and maybe some of the gifted/artistic/young people of this town.”
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