Newspaper dynasty illustrates the town

Parons 2 SUS-150526-101102001
Parons 2 SUS-150526-101102001

This week Ion Castro takes a look at Parsons New Illustrated Guide to Hastings and St Leonards and Environs

We have seen the youthful FJ Parsons’ first guide, published in 1864 when he was aged 20 and operating from an office and print works in the Central Arcade under the Music Hall, (now better known as Yates’ Wine Bar between Havelock Road and Robertson Street) but another dozen years was to pass before a completely new edition was to appear in 1876.

Parsons’s New Illustrated Guide to Hastings and St Leonards and Environs was a hard back publication roughly equivalent to modern A5 size and cost of one shilling, (5p today). A new edition would then appear almost every year until 1894,

These editions bore no publication date but the content was regularly updated and would bear reference to contemporary events which now helps with identifying editions. In the years that they didn’t appear under the Parsons Banner, such as 1880 identical volumes would appear badged by other local publishers such as Whittaker & Williams of the Royal Victoria Library and Woodley in 1894.

The map Parsons used was from his own plates and was regularly updated and would appear in other productions. The panorama had also appeared elsewhere including the Hastings Observer special editions celebrating Royal visits etc.

Henry Cousins, in his book Hastings of Bygone Days and the Present published in 1911 and updated in 1920 (to be featured later) notes “many editions of this excellent guide were published between 1876 and 1894 it is full of interesting matter and illustrated with wood engravings” Cousins and Parsons had been partners.

The format of the guide was a listing of local amenities and a variety of tours that could be undertaken both locally and further afield. Churches seemed to feature quite heavily and there were advertisements for local businesses.

Pictured here is the Gaiety Theatre and Opera House which had recently opened and, externally above ground floor level is little changed.

Also shown is the Hastings and St Leonards Observer office in Claremont, with (from 1881) the free public library next door built in Venetian Gothic style easily identifiable today. It had been redeveloped by Parsons from his existing print works by 1878 using the same architect (Walter Liberty Vernon) that Lord Brassey was using for his School of Art next door. Parsons building included an engravers room so that all the illustrations were produced in-house and both buildings are still there.

Morrisons filling station now occupies the site where St Andrew’s Parish Church stood. The interior had been lavishly decorated by Robert Tressell and a fragment of his work in this church can be seen in the Hastings Museum

Close examination of the panorama reveals fascinating insights into long gone features of the town.

All illustrations throughout this series are from Ion’s own collection and there is more local history on his website, Ion has a small number of reproductions of this guide, for sale at £12.99. They are A5 size, hardcover and stitched as in the original and are complete with map and panorama. Tel (01424) 437468 or

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