This week, in his ongoing series, Ion Castro takes a look at the early days of Wellington Square.
He writes. Until two centuries ago Hastings was a small fishing port nestling in the Bourne Valley east of the castle with a reported a population of 3,318 according to the 1801 census rising to 4,080 a decade later and 5,768 in 1821.
Work in Hastings revolved around the sea - fishing, trade, smuggling etc.
With the successful outcome of the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 that ended the Napoleonic War, Hastings then enjoyed an influx of wealthy inhabitants from London who turned the town into a fashionable seaside resort and saw the start of many years of large-scale development. The Sussex Weekly Advertiser of 14 August 1815 reported: ‘On no former occasion have we had to record such an influx of company as hath this season poured into this fashionable watering place’.
An entrepreneur called Stell started a Circulating Library in 1788 and, under the pseudonym ‘An Inhabitant’ published Hastings’ first ever town guide in 1794; Three years later James Barry started a rival library in East Parade and bought out Stell. By 1812 Barry had collected subscriptions of about £1,300 (more than £85,000 today) to enable the extension of the Marine Parade from his library at the western end of George Street to the western end of Pelham Place, meanwhile the demand for property between 1815 and the mid-1820s, forced the town to expand out of the Bourne Valley and development followed this parade westward under the Castle Cliff and then spread into the east side of the Priory Valley.
Castle Street was built about 1816, partly on the site of an outlying portion of the Castle Cliff known as the Gun Garden and a year later work started on the building of the present Wellington Square, (briefly called Waterloo Square, and later Wellington Place) on land purchased from Edward Milward in 1815 by the Hastings Bank (set up in 1803) owned by Breeds, Farncombe, Breeds & Wenham.
The Breeds family were the predominant merchants in Hastings for most of the first half of the 19th century, owning a large range of businesses and The Hastings Bank, the second bank to be started in Hastings was based at 33 High Street and the banking partnership ended in 1819, but the Breeds brothers carried on running it until it closed by 1825. In 1819 the first occupants of Wellington Square included Mr. H. Farncomb, Mr. M. Breeds, Mr. Wenham, Mr. Thos. Farncomb, Mr. Lansdell, Mr. Bailey, and Mr. Hazeldon.
The Hastings Bank also owned the lime-kilns on the site and a rich deposit of brick-earth was discovered there and this spurred on building by supplying most of the bricks used in the construction of the Castle Hotel, opened by Mr Emary in 1818.
Initially only two sides of Wellington Square were built, the east and north sides and this was the first big development in the valley, catering for the well-to-do, and praised in the guidebooks for its fine views of the sea and surrounding countryside looking right across to Beachy Head. At No.4 Wellington Square lived a Mrs Camac, whose house boasted its own ballroom and who was recognised as the most active and prominent society hostess in the town.
To the west of the square were Meadow Cottages (now the bottom of Queens Road) and Blucher Buildings now Russell Street, originally named after Wellington’s Prussian ally at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 and renamed after the author of the 1832 Reform Bill, Lord John Russell, (1792 –1878), a supporter of civil liberty and would later serve two terms as Prime Minister.
Meadow Road was extended from Albert Road through Bedford Place to the Bedford Hotel (opposite the east end of South Terrace) but the Castle Cliffs formed a major obstacle to sea front building, and over the next few years they were substantially cut back to allow the Bourne Valley and the Priory Valley to be joined by one continuous development.
First to go were the rocks at Castle Street in about 1816 and a couple of years later the cliff at Pelham Place, at the other end of the obstruction, was cut back and during the summer of 1823 a large outcrop opposite today’s fountain was removed in a very difficult operation that cost at least three lives and included firing shots with a cannon, undermining with picks and shovels, and with horses and oxen hauling chains attached to the cliff.
This area had been sold by Edward Milward to Thomas Clarke for £2,110 (almost £240,000 today) in April that year and by 1828 James Landsell, a builder from Battle had constructed the fine mansions that he called Breeds Place after family that he had married into. The Duchess of Marlborough was his first tenant.
Ten lots of building land where Pelham Crescent is now were sold for £7,545 in 1824 (over £825,000 today) with the houses designed for the Earl of Chichester who owned the land by the architect Joseph Kaye.
The church in the centre of the Crescent was built at the expense of the Earl and was consecrated in 1828. The first incumbent was the Rev. William Wallinger who lived at Castledown House (now demolished) and its cemetery was alongside the commemorative Wallingers Walk that runs between Castle Hill Road and Castledown Avenue). By the mid 1820’s building work was nearly complete with rows of handsome lodging houses extending the length of the seafront from Marine Parade to Kentish Buildings almost up to the Priory Bridge where there had previously been nothing but open fields.
Opposite the Crescent were Beach Cottages which were to last, despite frequent damage during storms, until Sidney Little demolished them for promenade improvements in the 1930’s. Behind Beach Cottages was the Condemned Hole in which smuggling craft were placed and destroyed when taken by the Crown. On the beach between the west end of Pelham Crescent and Wellington Square were two shipyards, Thwaites and Winter by Pelham Crescent, and Ransom and Ridley opposite the east end of Wellington Square, these had been thriving businesses in the early years of the 19th century, building fishing boats, privateers, revenue cutters, coasting barges, colliers, schooners for the Mediterranean fruit trade, yachts and numerous other craft but the yards declined in the 1830s and the land they occupied became more and more valuable for its building and tourist potential. 1830 was not a good year for Boykett Breeds’ and much of his real estate in Wellington Square, Blucher Buildings and elsewhere was offered for sale by auction, with some of the properties still unfinished and some sites still undeveloped.
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 or contact him - firstname.lastname@example.org.
A contemporary sketch map from 1798, and one of the earliest maps of the area, today’s town centre does not exist and there are lime-kilns on the site of Wellington Square.
1830 Auction p1.
Boykett Breeds had financial problems in 1830 and had to dispose of some of his real estate, apart from property in the Old Town he was selling 12 ‘newly erected Dwelling Houses’ in Wellington Square, ten building plots and ‘several other houses’ in Bluchers Buildings (Russell Street) and ‘the noble mansion of Bohemia with the Land’ as well as other property elsewhere. Note the reference to ‘The Lime Kilns’
1830 Auction p4.
Second day of the auction with details of the lots that were available.
A lithograph of the Castle Hotel in the early part of the 19th Century, drawn by Rowe and published by him jointly with Wooll, a printseller in High Street. On the right, in the distance, can be seen Bohemia farmhouse, rebuilt in 1824 as the mansion Bohemia House (later called Summerfields). It had a large estate running south and was bought by Thomas and Boykett Breeds in late 1824 and sold to Wastel Brisco in 1831. Along with the Castle Hotel it succumbed to municipal vandalism and was demolished in the 1970’s.
A Thomas Ross lithograph, Hastings Castle ‘From the Revd Wm Wallinger’s Plantation’ and Wellington Square can be seen on the right behind the buildings on Castle Hill Road. Ross was a respected local historian and five times Mayor of Hastings, he produced his “Ross’s Hastings and St Leonards Guide” in 1835.
Hastings Castle 1785.
A Hooper engraving from 1785 and shows one of the earliest images of Hastings Castle, viewed from the White Rock before Hastings had expanded out of the Bourne Valley it shows the site of Wellington Square while it was still fields and the lime kilns had not yet been built. Note the windmill, it may be The White Mill, the smock windmill on the Ridge close to Winchelsea Road that burned down in 1900.
Hastings from the White Rocks.
A Westall print from before the White Rock Headland was cut away in 1834/5 Wellington Square can be seen below the castle
Memorandum of sale.
This memorandum refers to the auction result and sale of ‘No 3 Bluchers Buildings’ for £490 (nearly £53,000 today) to John Gregson.
Moss Map 1824.
Produced for W.G.Moss’ “History and Antiquities of the Town and Port of Hastings” in 1824. Wellington Square can be seen but Hastings hasn’t yet expanded over the Priory Stream. The Priory Bridge is marked as is the Castle Hotel and York Buildings.
Powell’s map 1817.
An extract from Powell’s map produced for his first guide in 1817 and was still used for later editions even though the town had expanded. Wellington Square is incomplete and marked as Wellington Place, ‘Bleucher Street’ is marked and the Priory Bridge is shown. Note ‘Donkey Stand’ and ‘Ship Yard’ amongst Beach Cottages.