HASTINGS Area Archaeological Research Group has for many years taken a keen interest in the historic site on East Hill popularly known as St Georges Churchyard.
Our collective researches have found no actual evidence for the former existence of a church or Christian burial ground, though there is much evidence against it.
We therefore look forward to the publication of the report which will no doubt follow, from the professional archaeologist appointed to supervise the clearance work being undertaken on this scheduled ancient monument. Perhaps this will dispel the tradition once and for all.
Our former president, and curator of Hastings Museum, the late John Manwaring Baines, accompanied by the borough engineer’s staff, carried out several trial trenches on the site in 1965 and his report (of which we have a copy) concluded ‘no traces of buildings or burials were discovered within the enclosur’.
He found sandstone bedrock at depths between 1 foot and 2 feet, so that the topsoil is very shallow, making burials impossible. The only finds were a few insignificant pieces of pottery.
Mr Baines also dug into the surrounding earthwork, and found it to consist of soil, with a few cobbles and small recent items which were probably thrown there by allotment holders, who no doubt enlarged the bank as a windbreak. Later, when the Parks Department dug into the outer face of the bank at the south-eastern end to instal a tool hut, our group examined the cut and found nothing to suggest the earthwork was ancient.
The enclosure did not form part of the main area of the East Hill which was sold by the Sayer family to Hastings Borough Council in 1886 ‘to be kept as public open space for all time’.
It belonged historically to All Saints Church, in which parish it lies, and was part of their glebe land which was let out to provide an income for the church. In about 1840 it was let out as allotments, and remained so until the 1960s.
When first cultivated an urn containing about 30 Roman coins was found.
In 1962 the borough council asked the rector to sell them the enclosure as an addition to the open space, and this was agreed.
In a report to the rector, Mr Baines in his other capacity as parish clerk of All Saints Church, traced the history of the site and in 1750 when John Collier purchased the East Hill he had to pay 10 shillings rent a year to the parson for a ‘piece of land called ye church yard’.
This need not imply that All Saints had ever owned a chapel on the spot, but simply that it was their land. If there was a church on this windswept hill, we have to ask where the people lived who attended it and paid for its upkeep.
Local inhabitants wisely kept to the shelter of the valley and were adequately served by All Saints and St Clements. There is no record of it in official returns of churches in 1291 and 1372, and St George became the patron saint of England, replacing St Edward the Confessor, in the 13th century during the last crusade.
Any church founded later than this would certainly be recorded in the archives of Chichester Cathedral.
The hill was known as St Georges Lands in several legal documents from 1540 onward, and the first use of the present name East Hill appears to be in 1792. The hill was part of the extensive manor of Rameslie which is shown in Domesday Book to belong to the French Abbey of Fecamp, and they also built and owned All Saints Church.
By 1400 the manor was removed from French ownership and was administered as part of the Manor of Brede. The parish church there is St Georges, and the best explanation of the local name for the hill is that tenants now having to pay their dues to Brede came to
associate it with the church there.
Editor and vice-chairman
Hastings Area Archaeological Research Group
Sedlescombe Road North