Nostalgia: How a Hastings parish church sprang from farmland

The Railway Bridge 1898: The original caption reads 'Built to replace the old brick tunnel which was taken down in 1898. The three-horse omnibus to Mount Pleasant Road is seen in the picture' The St. Andrew's Archway, described by some as 'a hideous hole' stood at the bottom of Queen's Road, until it was replaced in 1898 with the present lofty viaduct carrying the railway over the road. The original archway or tunnel was built of bricks made from clay taken from the brick-fields on the site of the present Alexandra Park and some of the ponds in the park were originally clay pits ' in those days bricks were usually made from local brick-earth in temporary kilns as close to point of use as possible.
The Railway Bridge 1898: The original caption reads 'Built to replace the old brick tunnel which was taken down in 1898. The three-horse omnibus to Mount Pleasant Road is seen in the picture' The St. Andrew's Archway, described by some as 'a hideous hole' stood at the bottom of Queen's Road, until it was replaced in 1898 with the present lofty viaduct carrying the railway over the road. The original archway or tunnel was built of bricks made from clay taken from the brick-fields on the site of the present Alexandra Park and some of the ponds in the park were originally clay pits ' in those days bricks were usually made from local brick-earth in temporary kilns as close to point of use as possible.

This week, in his continuing series Ion Castro takes a look at the history of the Church and Parish of Christ Church Blacklands in Hastings from 1878 – 1928.

He writes: The Reverend James Morgan D.D became vicar of Christ Church, Blacklands in 1927, replacing George Ruthven Thornton, M.A., vicar since 1921, who had left to become Archdeacon of Stanley, Falkland Islands.

The Vicarage before additions were made :The Vicarage at 28 Laton Road had been completed in 1882, but 30 years later was still without a bathroom and proper sanitation, although, at its original completion, it had been described as 'a very elegant and commodious residence and a great ornament to the fast-increasing neighbourhood.' Plans were made to add a drawing room, additional bedrooms and other accommodation, and a new wing was duly added.

The Vicarage before additions were made :The Vicarage at 28 Laton Road had been completed in 1882, but 30 years later was still without a bathroom and proper sanitation, although, at its original completion, it had been described as 'a very elegant and commodious residence and a great ornament to the fast-increasing neighbourhood.' Plans were made to add a drawing room, additional bedrooms and other accommodation, and a new wing was duly added.

The following year, 1928, he published a small hardback booklet of 44 pages to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the building of the church and, as would be expected, included details of the many generous benefactors in those early days. But the content is much wider, it describes the church in the geographical context of the area 150 years ago.

The period 1928 - 1878 would have been within the living memory of many local residents and parishioners and they would have been able to contribute their recollections.

This area, originally known as the Blacklands Farm Estate, adjoined the Kite’s Nest Farm, Ore Valley Fields and the large wooded area known as St Helen’s Park. It was almost entirely rural land owned by the Frewen family who had started selling off plots for development in the 1870’s. The original church building was paid for entirely by Charles Frewen who died 16 months after the church was opened leaving the building unfinished for some years. The north side was without heating or lighting and building of the church tower hadn’t started until June 1889 but the vicarage was completed in 1882.

Hastings was expanding, its population of had risen rapidly from 14,016 in 1851, through 25,929 in 1861, 37,842 in 1871 to 49,755 in 1881 (90,000+ today) and farm land was given over to housing to accommodate this increase.

The Church, previous to the building of the tower: The Church and Parish continued to grow. Lord Brassey laid the Foundation Stone of the tower in 1889 and the construction of the Tower, with new entrances and porches provided seating for a further 150 worshippers.

The Church, previous to the building of the tower: The Church and Parish continued to grow. Lord Brassey laid the Foundation Stone of the tower in 1889 and the construction of the Tower, with new entrances and porches provided seating for a further 150 worshippers.

In 1878 the Church appears to have been little more than a mission hall half buried in earth and the road by the Church was an unlit, narrow lane leading to a farm, just wide enough for one cart and there were only three houses in Laton Road, St. Helen’s Road ended about where No. 22 now stands and it used to be considered quite a long walk into the country to reach local historian and five times Mayor, Alderman Ross’ home, nos 70 and 71. They had been built on part of the land belonging to the old Blacklands Farm which had been was situated near the junction of Baldslow, Elphinstone, and St. James’s Roads and gained the name ‘Ross’s Folly’.

Ross went on to be one of the first Churchwardens of the Church. Other residents of Laton Road included Hastings Observer proprietor F.J.Parsons and his family and Robertson Street Jeweller Ebenezer Dobell.

Nearby, part of what is now the Park, close to the railway bridge the area formerly consisted of allotments and gardens, and higher up was Newgate’s Wood. At one time the small portion near the Queen’s Road entrance was known as Shirley’s Pond, and consisted of a private garden and a small lake, forming part of the residence of a Mr. Shirley, a retired Hastings tradesman. It was later bought by Hastings Corporation and developed as public gardens then known as St. Andrew’s Gardens. In 1882 the gardens were enlarged and opened by the Prince and Princess of Wales, and renamed, in consequence, Alexandra Park after the Princess of Wales.

The portion of St. Helen’s Road, known in 1928 as St.Helen’s Terrace was a market garden referred to as ‘Golding’s Gardens’, and opposite, now the Park, was a row of pig-styes. In 1878 there had been a pond near the site of the former Langham Hotel and a brook ran across the road in the dip near the junction of Fearon Road with stepping-stones to cross it. The part of Elphinstone Road from the corner of Laton Road to Fearon Road was known as Pond Bay Hill. A high walled-in garden, with an ornamental pond occupied the site of Mount Pleasant Church which itself was demolished to make way for Hughenden Court.

St.Andrews Spa: In the 1870's, there was a spa on the site of the house at the junction of St. Helens Road with St. Helen's Park Road, known in 1928 as 'Spa Grange'; it had been discovered by Alderman Ross and had been known as 'St. Andrew's Spa Chalybeate and Lixiviate Spring'.  With its pump room in St. Helen's Road, the water was described as 'one of the strongest, best composed, and pleasantest flavoured iron waters in the United Kingdom'.  The spa was administered by a well-proportioned old lady whose home-made peppermints gave great delight to the younger folk. In the event, the Spa did not prove to be a financial success, and it was eventually closed down and a house was built on the site. The name 'The Spa' however lived on as a bus stop for another hundred years.

St.Andrews Spa: In the 1870's, there was a spa on the site of the house at the junction of St. Helens Road with St. Helen's Park Road, known in 1928 as 'Spa Grange'; it had been discovered by Alderman Ross and had been known as 'St. Andrew's Spa Chalybeate and Lixiviate Spring'. With its pump room in St. Helen's Road, the water was described as 'one of the strongest, best composed, and pleasantest flavoured iron waters in the United Kingdom'. The spa was administered by a well-proportioned old lady whose home-made peppermints gave great delight to the younger folk. In the event, the Spa did not prove to be a financial success, and it was eventually closed down and a house was built on the site. The name 'The Spa' however lived on as a bus stop for another hundred years.

Until 1882 Queen’s Road was known as St. Andrew’s Road and there was a rubbish tip near the railway bridge. A farm house and cow sheds would have been seen to the right of Elphinstone Lane. Local road names reflect local connections, the Frewen family provided a name for Laton Road, (the contemporary survivor of the family being Colonel Frewen Laton). Elphinstone Road (formerly ‘Lane’) after General Sir Howard Elphinstone who purchased Ore Place. The Rev. Dr. Fearon was Rector of Ore and lived at ‘Oakdene’ the old Ore Rectory and his name is perpetuated in ‘Fearon Road’.

All illustrations throughout this series are from Ion Castro’s own collection and an A5 card-cover reprint of this featured book can be obtained for £5 (+£1p&p) from Ion (Tel: 01424 437468) and he can make available copies of many of the historic images used throughout the series. There’s more local history on Ion’s website, www.historichastings.co.uk,

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Old Cottage Near Kites Nest: Kite's Nest Farm stood at the top of St. Helen's Park Road and the site is now occupied by a bungalow. The Kite's Nest Hotel stood at the junction of St. Helen's Park Road and Downs Road but, by 1928, it was known as 'St. Helen's Hotel'. Higher up Downs Road were hop gardens. On the left of the Hotel was Starve Crow Wood through which St. Helen's Park Road later continued.

Old Cottage Near Kites Nest: Kite's Nest Farm stood at the top of St. Helen's Park Road and the site is now occupied by a bungalow. The Kite's Nest Hotel stood at the junction of St. Helen's Park Road and Downs Road but, by 1928, it was known as 'St. Helen's Hotel'. Higher up Downs Road were hop gardens. On the left of the Hotel was Starve Crow Wood through which St. Helen's Park Road later continued.

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Kites Nest Hop Gardens, Downs Road: A rural scene now replaced with housing.

Kites Nest Hop Gardens, Downs Road: A rural scene now replaced with housing.

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Christ Church from the West (1927): Very little different today but notice the traction poles that supported the tramway overhead wires, the tram route via Mount Pleasant could not cope with Elphinstone Road so ran via Laton Road and St Helens Park Road.

Christ Church from the West (1927): Very little different today but notice the traction poles that supported the tramway overhead wires, the tram route via Mount Pleasant could not cope with Elphinstone Road so ran via Laton Road and St Helens Park Road.