Turning the tide of Hastings pub closures

The Sussex writer Hilaire Belloc once said ‘When you have lost your inns then drown your empty selves, for you will have lost the last of England’.

Friday, 19th November 2021, 10:18 am

His sentiments very much looked like becoming reality in recent years as pub closures took on a domino effect and the death of the street corner local loomed large.

Across the country, pubs were closing at an alarming rate and Hastings was not shielded from the blast radius, with areas of the town decimated by disappearing pubs.

My great grandfather moved to Hastings after selling up his Sussex farms and bought a town house in the Elphinstone area. Family history records the men-folk of the family having to be dragged out of the Elphinstone Arms, three doors away from the family home, on a Sunday lunchtime. The imposing pub is now a block of flats. Gone too the Beaconsfield Arms, just round the corner, once popular with former servicemen, a wealth of social history erased.

Take my old stamping ground, the West Hill, four pubs within five minutes walk of each other. The Granville, at the foot of Whitefriars Road, was where my, now departed, dad attempted to explain to my broken-hearted 16 year old self, that there were ‘plenty more fish in the sea’ after breaking up with a girl. I was inconsolable but the beer helped. Now there isn’t a pub left on the West Hill.

Another area to be badly hit was Ore. Of a magnificent seven pubs in Ore only one currently remains - The Old King John. Gone are the Odd Fellows, The Clive Vale, Sussex Arms, Hare and Hounds, Millers Arms and Kings Head.

The social impact is hard to quantify. These are places where people gathered to celebrate births, wedding anniversaries, to raise a glass to the departed, or just chat about football and the state of the nation.

But take heart, there is a shift in these depressing patterns, an indication that, slowly, a corner is being turned, that we may be stemming the tide of closing pubs in Hastings.

There was a time, just a few years back, that when a pub closed its doors and the shutters went up, you could safely assume it had been lost forever. Not so these days. I was amazed to see the Albert, tucked away in a hidden corner of the town centre, boarded up and abandoned, rising unexpectedly from the ashes to be resurrected as a thriving pub offering locally brewed beers and establishing itself as the first totally vegan pub in Hastings.

It was the same with the Norman Arms in St Leonards, boarded up for more than a year and no-one expecting it to re-open again. It is now a venue pub The Piper. The closed Warriors Gate in nearby London Road, re-surfaced as the St Leonard.

The Jolly Fisherman in the Old Town had been closed as a pub for more than half a century and is now an excellent micropub operating under its original name.

And its not just former pubs that are blossoming back into life. In recent years we have seen new watering holes springing up that had previously been other businesses. The Twelve Hundred Postcards in Queens Road and most lately, Heist, in the Old Midland Bank, in Norman Road, which has an outlet for the local Three Legs Brewery.Just around the corner from Heist is Collected Fictions, a new bottle shop and bar.

It looks like the tide of closures may finally be turning. I’ll raise a glass to that.