This week, in his ongoing series, Ion Castro continues to look at storms and high seas, taking a look at how the Old Town fared.
He writes. Hastings and St Leonards’ magnificent seafront promenade stretches over three miles from Rock-a-Nore to West Marina Gardens and former Bathing Pool site at the western end of St Leonards.
Much of it was won from the sea in a process that had started at the end of the eighteenth century in what is now known as the ‘Old Town’ area of Hastings (there was no St.Leonards at that time) that was becoming popular with well-to-visitors.
Piecemeal extensions to the areas in front of newly built houses were constructed to increase their attractiveness to the visitors who would rent the properties ‘for the season’. It did, of course reduce the depth of the protective shingle between the waves and the promenade, often with catastrophic results.
According to J. Mainwaring Baines in his bible of local history, ‘Historic Hastings’ the odd sounding name ‘Rock-a-Nore’ is explained “In 1581 the enquiry into the chantry lands noted a shop or small building belonging to one William Creassye, ‘Iyinge to the Mayne Rocke against the north’, and this description became shortened into the present form and was officially so called in 1859”.
Shingle beaches, such as we have in Hastings, protect the shoreline by providing a buffer zone between the sea and the promenade but that sea with waves, wind and currents conspires to move the beach in an easterly direction, an action known as the longshore drift and, on this part of the coast this protection is removed when the shingle ends up at Dungeness.
The effect of this drift can be somewhat mitigated by the construction of groynes at right-angles to the drift so that shingle accumulates against them and protects the foreshore. Over time, this accumulation can be considerable but Hastings Corporation was reluctant to promote the protection of the fishermen’s beach because even then they were coveting the area for their own schemes and wanted the fishermen to move to Rye. In 1878 however their hand was forced when they had to construct the most easterly of the town’s groynes to protect the sewerage works and the date 1878 can still be seen in one granite brick used in its construction.
Severe storms in 1883 and 1884 caused widespread damage in the Old Town not just to the fishermen and in 1884, as a result of the public outcry the building of the big new groyne at Rock-a-Nore was agreed at a cost of £20,000. Work started in 1885 and was finished two years later with an opening ceremony on Aug 10 1887 and that groyne has played a key role in sea defences since then. Later, in 1896, the ill-fated harbour was started and its unintended consequence has been the massive shingle build-up against its western face that now tails back almost to Hastings Pier.
Further protective work was carried out in 1893 when Hastings Council agreed to build a concrete wall for 210 feet eastward along the bottom of the cliff from the end groyne at Rock-a-Nore, to prevent cliff erosion and parts of the wall are still visible. Five years later, in 1898 an extensive stone apron (which is still there) was built on the east side of No 1 groyne at Rock-a-Nore to limit the severe erosion by the sea.
Photographers were often on hand to record the events for posterity and included the well-known local photographic company Judges founded by Fred Judge in 1903 (Fred having arrived in Hastings from Yorkshire in 1902). He captured stunning images and reproduced them for sale as postcards, many with considerable production runs over decades becoming photographic classics instead of transient ‘news’ postcards that were produced, and usually dated, by other publishers. Another well-known firm, the French publisher ‘LL’ (Levi Fils NOT Louis Levy ) was also on hand in the first decade of the last century to capture seafront views and publish them as postcards.
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.
111 Hastings LL.
This unposted card, No 111 from ‘LL’ was photographed in the first decade of the last century and shows the lack of beach at Rock-a-Nore with the sea wall built to protect the base of the cliffs. After the second war concrete tank traps ripped up from Hastings seafront were dumped here gradually eroding away in the following seventy years. Note the ladder to reach the beach and the groyne that would eventually end up buried beneath the shingle.
Judge’s take on Rock-a-Nore, probably taken by the great Fred Judge himself this image, No 303, dates from around middle of the first decade of the 20th century and shows the sea wall built by the corporation with its ladder down to the beach. Fast forward a century and the end groyne has done its work and the shingle has now completely buried the middle groyne.
This view from Judges dates from around 1905 and was still available a quarter of a century later. The card was posted in 1931 to Paris
Captured by an unknown photographer this image shows the parade at the western end of George Street in front of the coastguard station, and shows the damage inflicted by a storm on 23rd March 1913. 20 years later Sidney Little’s new promenade would cover this area and Beach Terrace in the centre would be cleared. Notice displaced chunks of promenade and railings on the beach. The whole area is now covered with the seafront road, Pelham Car Park and Crazy Golf and is a considerable distance from the sea.
An image from the 1880’s showing the sea beating against the sea wall that appears to be constructed of timber and is very close to the buildings that are recognisable today. Note the East Hill lift hasn’t yet been built (1902) nor has the harbour (1896) and the nowadays the seafront road covers the site of the sea wall and the sea is now hundreds of yards away.
This uncredited ‘news’ card dated 22nd October 1911 illustrates the damage to the tresslework that joined the stonework of the harbour arm to the shore and was posted Oct 30 1911, a week after the event. The sender writes “The old harbour looks just about done for”. The wooden structure was originally intended to allow the free flow of the shingle eastward but, by the 1960’s, the buildup filled the gap between the harbour arm and the shore allowed the rest of the harbour arm to become a massive groyne against which even more shingle has built up.
Hastings Rough Sea East Cliff.
A dramatic image from an unknown photographer from the early 20th century before the beach has built up and the middle groyne is still visible.
This image shows the aftermath of a storm 110 years ago when the beach east of the lifeboat house was washed out and shows the attempts to stabilise the beach.
The ‘new’ lifeboat house on East Parade had been opened in 1882 on the site of the old Customs House that had been washed away in a gale in 1881‘owing to the defective character of its foundations’. The adjacent sea wall to the west had been extended 50 feet for the new building and the new lifeboat, the Charles Arkcoll, was christened by Charles Arkcoll jnr who paid for the new building and boat in memory of his father. The building was to last until demolished in 1959 to make way for road widening.
An image outside the Royal Albion pub in the early part of the 20th century shows the sea wall being repaired. Notice how far below the promenade the beach is. The sea front road now covers this area and the sea is a hundred yards away.
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