Hastings – rich maritime and cultural connections
This cosmopolitan town is home to the largest beach-launched fishing fleet in Europe, the remains of the first castle in England to be built by William the Conqueror, a preserved Old Town and a strong local arts community. Hastings is also home to the Jerwood Gallery, a stunning new art gallery housing a collection of 20th and 21st century British art that has never before been seen by the public. It is located in the Stade area, in the middle of the fishing quarter.
Around the time of the Norman Conquest Hastings was a thriving fishing and trading centre and the original port lies deep below today’s town centre. In 1287 the Great Storm hit the southern coast of England and caused the cliff and half its castle to fall into the sea, ruining its harbour. The town then moved eastward. Hastings is a Cinque Port, and up until the 16th century, with other coastal towns provided the ships and men who guarded king and country from frequent and vicious attacks in return for special privileges. This unique confederation of South East England Channel ports was the original force behind England’s maritime power.
Hastings is really three towns in one joined by a level promenade; the Old Town to the east, the bustling contemporary shopping Town Centre in the middle and St Leonards to the west featuring the classical elegance of James Burton’s architecture and the fashionable Norman Road – recently named as the new ‘Portobello Road-on sea’ by The Times` and offering a great collection of antique shops and vintage galleries.
Today, nestling between the East and West Hills, the Old Town is a charming mix of half-timbered houses, narrow streets and passageways, locally known as ‘twittens’. Both the Shipwreck Museum and the Fishermens Museum vividly recall old seafaring days and famous local sunken ships. Next to the museums are the impressive tall black Net Huts, Hastings Fish Market offering fresh fish caught in an environmentally friendly way, fish stalls, seafood restaurants and cafes.
Deep in the West Hill you will see Hastings smuggling heritage come to life at Smugglers Adventure in St Clements Caves and below you will find Pelham Beach, a delightful blend of shingle and sand. At the top of the East Hill is Hastings Country Park, 660 acres of ancient woodland, grassland and heathland that stretch across five miles of exposed cliffs and rugged terrain. You can reach the country park by taking the East Hill Lift, the steepest funicular railway in Britain.