Incorrect claims

THERE are many reasons to object to the link road, but the destruction of our 11th century history is not one of them (re: letter by Nick Austin last week).

At that time, all harbours were natural, mainly rivers, their estuaries and sheltered bays, and our coast has changed drastically in the last 950 years. Back then, Pevensey Castle was on a peninsula, with just one road out, to the north, and Pevensey Level was a large tidal bay, where the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles tell us an English fleet sheltered from a storm not long before William’s invasion fleet arrived. The Bayeux Tapestry shows the landing and says it was at ‘Pevensae’; since its making was influenced by Odo, William’s half-brother, who must have known because he took part in the invasion and so was there. The Tapestry must pre-date 1082, when Odo was imprisoned, and was probably made very soon after 1066.

The battle site is not in doubt either, since William ordered the abbey’s high altar to be on the spot where Harold fell. The monks planned to ignored this because the sloping ground nearby would make construction difficult. Wiliam, on hearing this, insisted on the correct location.

Mr Austin is also incorrect in saying that the council’s archaeological survey showed ‘no port could ever have been located’ where the modern town centre is. It merely found no definite signs of maritime activity, just a depth of silt that had built up in what had been a river estuary. 11th century warships had a draught of just 4 feet, and were simply run up onto the beach or river bank; like our fishing fleet today, they had no need of wharves.

The Liberty boundary (the area free from tolls, that Hastings enjoyed as a Cinque Port), which probably dates from 1052, crosses what is now Alexandra Park north of Dordrecht Way, a lot further inland than where the boundary goes around the back of the low-lying ground north of the small hill on which the Bull Inn sits. Bulverhythe must surely have been a secondary harbour, and located entirely within the Liberty boundary, to be toll-free.

There is also good evidence, from the Bayeux Tapestry and Anglo-Saxon sources, that William’s camp was on the West Hill, which can be described as ‘at the port of Hastings’, being next to the modern town centre. Finally, Domesday Book reveals two trails of devastation between Pevensey and Hastings, presumably where William’s footsoldiers marched / his cavalry and baggage train rode (they needed a harder surface for horses and carts) between the two places.

People who are interested in finding out more about the Hastings area around 1066 are welcome to attend my Hastings Week (October) talk on the subject at the History House.


Hon Secretary of Hastings Local History Group