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Architecture of the America Ground

Architecture of the America Ground and White Rock area of Hastings

Historic Hastings has a well-documented past reaching back to as far as the 8th century.

What we know today as the ‘America Ground’ and the White Rock area of Hastings was established relatively recently in the early 1800s and was developed substantially with the arrival of rail travel to the town in 1851, when Hastings became an increasingly popular seaside destination.

With increasing popularity came bigger investment, resulting in a wealth of attractive and often characterful buildings popping up, most of which can still be seen today.

This area has recently enjoyed another wave of popularity alongside the rejuvenation of several of these 19th century structures, including the Source Park (formerly White Rock Baths) Hastings Pier and The Observer Building.

As part of the Destination America Ground and White Rock Hastings project, we have put together a list of some of the most interesting pieces of architecture in the area, along with this map to guide you around them on foot during your visit to Hastings.

With thanks to Lorna from The Printworks, Catherine and Laurence from the White Rock Hotel who contributed to this article and with credit to two fascinating and comprehensive reference resources which we recommend spending some time reading if you’re interested in Hastings history:

Brassey Institute (now Hastings Library) and The Printworks - Grade II listed.

The Printworks and Brassey Institute were a double-build by architect Walter Liberty Vernon, commissioned by FJ Parsons and Thomas Brassey in 1876.

A complete copy of a Venetian gothic building in Piazza San Marco, Venice -  Parsons and Brassey (from opposing political parties) wanted a showstopper building, a dual purpose single build.

The Brassey Institute (the half of the building which is now the library) was built to house Brassey’s collection, much of which can now be found at Hastings Museum. The building was given to the people of Hastings in 1887.

The other half housed part of Parsons’s printing empire until The Observer Building was carved out of the cliffs in 1924. The empire expanded with the build of (what is now) Rock House and the adjoining properties, until it was closed in 1985.

The Printworks cellar (underneath Gotham Alley) still leads into the Observer Building today.

The Observer Building

Designed by prolific Hastings architect, Henry Ward, The Observer Building was built in 1924 for FJ Parsons and served as the Observer Newspaper offices and printworks for many years.

The building was left to dereliction for over 30 years and has had many successful planning applications but no permanent refurbishment.

However, plans to redevelop the building are underway and the impressive facade can be enjoyed in the meantime.

Palace Court

Palace Court was built in 1885 by Arthur Wells as a hotel and later converted to luxury seafront apartments by the Spiers and Ponds Group, replacing a brewery and the Seaside Hotel.

Built to profit from the popularity of the new Hastings Pier close by, the sky-scraping Hotel boasted superb views, luxury accommodation, drinking and dining.

The hotel was used as Barracks in WW1 and was reportedly one of the first buildings on the south coast to be lit by electricity.

It was later known as Palace Chambers and most recently Palace Court.

The building was famously used as the set for vampire movie Byzantium, by Oscar winning director Neil Jordan.

Hastings Pier

Originally a classic Victorian pleasure pier designed by Eugenius Birch and built in 1872, with art deco features added later - Hastings pier enjoyed a heyday in the 1930s and earned its place in UK music history in the 1960s as a popular venue for many global stars. Hastings Pier has stood through wars, suffered major storm damage and has been devastated by fire in two different millennia!

Rebuilt in 2016, its most recent incarnation is a stripped back wooden structure that won the RIBA Stirling Prize in 2017.

The pier marks the seafront boundary between Hastings and St Leonards, read more about enjoying Hastings Pier here.

Holy Trinity Church

The church was built in 1857 by noted Victorian architect, Samuel Sanders Teulon. It is an example of Gothic Revival architecture of the Middle Pointed or Decorated period (1812-72). The site allocated for the building of the Church was oddly shaped and called for all Teulon’s ingenuity and skill. Read more about how this striking building was built in such an unusual space here:

Source Park (formerly White Rock baths)

Built 1876-79 on land reclaimed from the sea, the baths initially featured a men’s pool, with a women’s pool opening a year later. Turkish baths were added in 1882.

The baths have seen many changes since then:

  • Operated as a cinema from 1913 - 1915
  • Reopened in the 1930s after falling to near dereliction in the 1920s
  • Operated as an ice rink in the 1970s-90s
  • Reopened as the World’s largest underground BMX and skatepark in 2016, watch the trailer for the documentary about this huge transformation here (contains some strong language).

Visit Lost Lidos for some amazing historic photographs of the baths

White Rock Theatre

This site on which the theatre sits was originally home to Hastings Infirmary, opened 1842. This was replaced by the bigger East Sussex Hospital in 1887 which was eventually demolished and replaced by the White Rock Pavilion in 1927, designed by C Cowles-Voysey and HS Morgan. The pavilion was built for the Hastings Municipal Orchestra and underwent further re-modifications in 1937 and 1985 when it was renamed the White Rock Theatre.

The seating capacity used to be 1066 (after the Battle of Hastings) but in early 2019 the capacity and layout was increased to allow more flexibility to the venue.

White Rock Hotel

The White Rock Hotel was likely opened at the turn of the 20th century and was named the Yelton Hotel until 2005 (the family name of its original owner Mr F.J. Notley, spelt backwards).The hotel comprises of several terraced houses which have been converted over the years.

Read more here:

Bottle Alley

Bottle Alley is the 480 metre lower deck of Hastings Promenade that runs between the Pier and Warrior Square. Named after the countless multicoloured pieces of glass bottles embedded in the concrete, Bottle Alley was built in the 1930’s by the town’s borough engineer Sidney Little who became known as the ‘Concrete King’ of the South Coast. He loved concrete and also designed the baths at White Rock, now The Source Park and West Marina, as well as the sea defences.

Formerly opened in 1934 the design of Bottle Alley was intended to allow visitors to walk along the top during good weather and underneath when it rained; specifically so that residents and visitors could make the most of the wonderful, fresh sea air.

During 2016 extensive concrete repairs and full redecoration were carried out. A colourful LED lighting system was introduced in 2017.

Visiting the America Ground and White Rock area of Hastings

There is an interactive online guide here (or here for mobile users) to help you plan your trip to the America Ground and White Rock area of Hastings.

If you’re looking for more activities of this kind - we recommend checking out the Hastings Heritage Trail, an interactive walking tour comprising of 10 places of interest with a focus on design.