This week, in his ongoing series, Ion Castro takes a look at the imposing Palace Hotel and Bars on the seafront.
He writes: The ‘Palace’ the huge building that dominates the seafront between Robertson Street and the pier is a familiar sight but what else is known about this imposing landmark?
It’s known that Hastings was expanding because census returns show the growth of population from a humble 3,318 at the beginning of the nineteenth century trebling to 9500 in 1841 and, with the coming of the railways the surging to over 60,000 by 1901, and of course the town had to expand on all sides to accommodate this increase.
The area of interest here, White Rock, was beyond Hastings’ western boundary which had been the Priory Stream (culverted in 1838).
On the western side of the stream the ‘America Ground’, having been cleared, lay derelict and constrained by the headland known as ‘The White Rock’ and much further west, from 1828, building of James Burton’s new town of St Leonards had started and communication between the two towns by road became more and more important but was restricted by the ‘White Rock’ that stood, not on the site of the present White Rock Theatre as commonly imagined but further to the east of the present White Rock Place, formerly known as Stratford Place.
At low tide it was possible to pass round the headland along the beach, but at other times the only route was a narrow roadway passing over it through a slight gap known as the ‘Hollow Way’ and in 1834 gunpowder was used to remove the obstruction and flatten the seafront but development had already been under way with the building of Deudney’s White Rock Brewery in 1831 and next to it, in 1833, the Seaside Hotel which, by 1881 was known as the Seaside and Pier Family Hotel, from 1885 forms part of the Palace Hotel part of which had replaced the brewery.
Meanwhile the development of the seafront had continued westward to meet and absorb its neighbour St.Leonards.
In the early part of the last century the Palace Hotel came under the control of Spiers & Pond, the world’s first large catering firm that had been formed in Melbourne, Australia, in 1858 but relocated to Britain in 1863 when they capitalised on the poor state of railway catering so that by 1873 Spiers & Pond had refreshment rooms at over 100 railway stations on nine different railway lines and the railway bars.
To give some idea of the scale of their operation they sold 8,000 gallons of sherry each week and it was estimated that the company could feed 200,000 to 300,000 people every day. By 1960 Spiers & Pond had been acquired by Express Dairy.
All illustrations throughout this series are from Ion Castro’s own collection and he can make available copies of many of the historic images used in this series.
There’s more local history on Ion’s website, www.historichastings.co.uk
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