The America Ground was the name given to a triangular area roughly bordered by Robertson Street, Carlisle Parade, the Queens Hotel and Claremont. The western boundary of Hastings at the time of the squatters was largely considered to be the Priory Bridge, anything west of that was 'foreign'.
Initially, it was settled by the itinerant builders who were employed in the large scale construction works taking place around the town. Immediately prior to being cleared in 1850, the area was home to a number of squatters and consisted largely of Ropewalks. Post 1850, the land was transferred to the Crown, becoming the property of the Chief Commissioner for Woods and Forests, remaining in Crown possession to the current day.
Prior to becoming closed up by the accumulation of shingle after the great storm of 1287, the area was once part of the river mouth of the Priory Stream. It has been speculated that this was once the best natural harbour on the south coast.. The stream used to be navigable up to approximately the location of Hole Farm. The land was part of the property of the Augustinian Priory of the Holy Trinity, and the Priory Farm more recently. The Priory Stream still runs under the deep layer of shingle (albeit in a culvert). During excavations conducted in the Town Centre during the demolition of some buildings for road improvement works, remnants of what were possibly either the Priory Bridge or an ancient sluice gate were found.
Occupation by Itinerants
The rapid developments taking place around Pelham Crescent by the architect Joseph Kaye for the Earl of Chichester (commencing in 1820) and James Burton`s new town, St. Leonards, (commencing in 1828) meant that a large number of builders and other trades for the necessary construction work migrated into Hastings. It was reported that they; “took possession without leave, licence, or interference, and built houses, shanties, warehouses, and other erections, for which they paid no rent or consideration - a ‘No Mans Land` and independent of any law or order and, who when challenged hoisted the American Flag, very much a symbol of independence at that time".
At the peak of this occupation, almost 200 buildings with over 1000 inhabitants took over a space of nearly 8 acres on the foreshore, with the earliest known occupants of the America Ground recorded as being Thomas Page and John Prior in 1806. The two men were listed as resident in the remains of the sailing Brig Polymina, converted into two dwellings.
As the population grew, various trades appeared in the locality including a carpenter, a gardener and a miller together with Lodging houses, as well as limekilns, stonemasons, a sawing house, a tallow factory and a butcher with slaughter houses (one being recorded by John Banks as being in the centre of Robertson Street) and piggeries. It was even recorded that a gin palace, the Black Horse run by Daniel Thomas was established here, a beer-house called the Blacksmiths Arms run by William Woolgar, and a small school, the forerunner of Hastings Grammar School.
Some occupiers had signed leases or otherwise gained permission from Lord Chichester, who claimed the whole of the area as the landowner or Lord under a grant thereof in the reign of James the First. Other occupants had permission from the Corporation of Hastings, under a grant made to the Corporation under Queen Elizabeth.
A large number of the properties were found by a survey of the area in 1829 to be either in the ownership of Mr. Thomas James Breeds, Mr. Thomas Breeds, and Mr. Mark Boykett Breeds, or associated with them.
Perception of the America Ground
In general the occupants of the America Ground were considered to be little more than smugglers, thieves and vagabonds. Many of the shacks consisted of half-boats (vessels that had been destroyed by sawing in half at the Condemned Hole) up-ended.
Sheila Kaye-Smith described the area as having been “free to any beggars, gypsies or other undesirables ... a mock city of shacks, huts and tents.” Barry Funnell however represents that in his book, ‘The America Ground’ (ESCC Library), is that of a diverse, industrious, self-contained community. J. Manwaring Baines in Historic Hastings gives the following exchange between the, then Pierwarden, Charles Picknell and counsel during the hearing on the area;
"Witness: You were not thought respectable then, if you were not a smuggler"
"Counsel: That was true of other places besides America?"
"Witness: Oh, yes, they were all smugglers, Parsons and all."
"Vice Chancellor: Do you mean to say that the Parsons also went in for?"
"Witness: Oh, yes, they used to take a keg for Christmas sometimes, your Honour".
At some point in the early 1800s, bailiffs were sent into the area to search for and apprehend suspected felons. The occupiers of the ground rioted in protest and chased the officials back over the Priory Bridge. The inhabitants then raised the American flag, the Stars and Stripes, as a symbol of their independence, which they maintained to the end of their occupation of the land, aping events that had occurred during the American Revolution.
In 1821, Abraham Purshouse Driver and Edward Driver, drew a plan of the area which is held at The Keep. The catalogue entry contains the following description;
"A Plan of the land between Cuckoo Hill and The priory on the west and the south end of All Saints Street on the east, that shown by 4 below and to the south of Castle Street showing buildings and other structures in detail; shows Rock Fair Green, The Priory Houses, The Castle Hotel (Thomas Farncombe), The New Parade, The Parade and The Battery; George Street, West Street, Hill Street, High Street, East Bourne Street, All Saints Street, Courthouse Street, Three Post Lane, Winders Lane, John Street, South Parade, Market House and the Fishmarket shown in outline, though apparently with great accuracy; Pelham Terrace and Pelham Place sketched in in pencil"
As a result of many legal proceedings being commenced by the squatters with regards to what were their percieved boundaries reaching higher courts than the local Court, the Government became aware of the situation with regards to the America Ground and resolved to settle matters once and for all. This resulted in, on the 5th November 1827, an inquisition being held at the George Hotel, Battle. into the America Ground to determine ownership. In addition to the squatters of the land, the Borough of Hastings, and the Crown, the adjacent landowners (the Cornwallis and Eversfield Estates) held themselves to be entitled to the land.
After the Battle Commission decreed that the land was the property of the Crown, notices were served on the occupants in May 1828 to prove their claims. Of course, proving of the claims was impossible, but a number of seven year long leases were granted to those who had buildings on the land.. In addition, the detailed plan of the land between Cuckoo Hill and The Priory was annotated to reflect leases.
Cousins gives names of a number of lessees of the land in his book as follows;
- Thomas James Breeds, Merchant, with Rope Walk ,Warehouses and Offices, besides a number of small houses
- Thomas Breeds, Merchant
- Mark Boykett Breeds, Merchant, Lime Kiln, Sawing House and Pit, Coal Warehouse, and other buildings
- Edward Picknell, Carpenter (the late Councillor "Ned" Picknell), House and Yard
- John Eaton, Carpenter
- Benj. Standen, Carpenter
- Thomas Thwaites, Rope and Tallow Warehouse
- Samuel Chester, Baker
- John Gallop, Ship-wright
- James Lansdell, of Battle, Builder;
- Daniel Thomas, Publican;
- William Wellerd, Butcher
- George Strickland, Corn Factor
- Thomas Page, Rope Maker
- John Prior, Brewer
- W. H. Honiss, Cabinet Maker
- James Brazier, Shoemaker
- William Breach, John Breach and Mark Breach, Fishermen (see A. M. Breach for some family history)
- Valentine Levett
- Stephen Milstead
- Joseph Naylor
- Wm. Strickland
- Jas Hyland
- Richard Starnes
- Wm. Russell
- Chas Neve
- Stanton Noakes
- Wm. Kirby
- Mrs. Fitzgerald
- Samuel Chester
- Sam. Sinden
- Geo. Savage
- Jno. Prendergast
- Thos.. Thorne
- Hy. Sinden
- Thos. Barden
- Jas. Murdoch
- Wm. Shaw,
- Robert Shepherd
- Chas. Chapman
- Edmund Chapman
- Geo. Lee
- 27 London Road - Edward Picknell
- 19 London Road - John Tyhurst
- Small House in East Street - Mr Tyhurst
- 33 / 35 Norman Road - Mr Milstead (occupied by Mr Wilson & Mr Gilham)
- 37 / 39 Norman Road - Mr Naylor
- 57 Norman Road - Mr William Weller (projecting windows, one of the smartest of the 'America' importations - removed to its present position from what was called 'The Mount' in White Rock Street near the site of the present "Bodega" in Robertson Street).
- 28/29/30 Shepherd Street - Mr William Weller
- Foresters Arms, Shepherd Street - Jemmy Hyland (formerly the Black Horse beer house and its adjoining property)
- 6 / 7 Shepherd Street - Mr Milstead (from where Holy Trinity Church now stands)
- 10 / 11 Shepherd Street - two larger houses, Mr Hammond of Bexhill
- 22 / 23 North Street - C Chapman
- 11 North Street - Mr Milstead
- 12 / 13 North Street - John Foord sen.
The ‘Americans’ remained fiercely independent until almost the very end. During 1832 they marched to the Priory Meadow for a civic banquet in honour of the Reform Bill being passed, carrying their flag, which by now also bore the Union Flag and the Arms of Hastings. The flag was presented to the Borough as a gesture of reconciliation.
On the 13th of November 1834, the Woods and Forests Commissioners served notice that all buildings remaining on the ground after Michaelmas the following year, would be forfeit to the Crown.
A large number of the inhabitants evicted moved into St Leonards, some even going so far as to remove their houses piece-by-piece and rebuild them in Gensing Road, Norman Road, Shepherd Street, North Street and London Road to name a few locations; in total, some twenty eight buildings were eventually re-located.. It is additionally recorded that a Mr. and Mrs. Palmer relocated to St Mary's Terrace
A real estate developer called Patrick Francis Robertson leased the crown lands for 99 years at a rate of £500 per year. His name was later given to Robertson Street. Plans were drawn up by an architectural partnership, Reeks Humbert around 1850/1851 and construction of the aforementioned Robertson Street, Carlisle Parade and Robertson Terrace followed rapidly, utilising bricks that had been produced locally near Alexandra Park, the first occupant moving in some six months later. As an aside, the name Carlisle refers to Lord Carlisle, who was at the time Chief Commissioner of Woods and Forests.
On the 4th of July 1999, a tradition started where the American flag would be raised accompanied by a reading of the American Declaration of Independence. There have been minimal changes to the architecture of the area over the past 100 years, the only real development being infilling of a 'gap' site between Cambridge Road and Robertson Street
- Hastings of Bygone Days and the Present (Henry Cousins - 1911) pg.210 ISBN: 9789332862449 ESCC Library Google Books " Amazon
- Hastings of Bygone Days and the Present (Henry Cousins - 1911) pg.198 ISBN: 9789332862449 ESCC Library Google Books " Amazon
- Brett Manuscript Histories Volume 1
- Hastings of Bygone Days and the Present (Henry Cousins - 1911) pg.210 ISBN: 9789332862449 ESCC Library Google Books " Amazon
- 1066 Online
- Reminiscences of Smugglers and Smuggling:John Banks Google Books
- Nathan Dylan Goodwin: The America Ground #4 | nathandylangoodwin, accessdate: 4 November 2019
- Hastings of Bygone Days and the Present (Henry Cousins - 1911) pg.212 ISBN: 9789332862449 ESCC Library Google Books " Amazon
- Historic Hastings (J. Manwaring Baines) 2nd ed. pg 258 ISBN: 0948869003 ISBN: 9780948869006
- Samuel Duke (1814-1889)
- ‘Tamarisk Town’ Sheila Kaye-Smith 1919 (ISBN: 0559416156)
- Historic Hastings (J. Manwaring Baines) 2nd ed. pg 252 ISBN: 0948869003 ISBN: 9780948869006
- Hastings & St Leonards Observer 13 Jun 2014 (retrieved 2 Nov 2019)
- Plan of America Ground East Sussex County Council Archive The Keep AMS6575/3
- Brett Manuscript History of St Leonards and Hastings Vol. 2
- Hastings & St Leonards Observer 24 May 1924 pg. 9
- Sixth Report of the Commissioners of His Majesty's Woods, Forests and Land Revenue 5 June 1829 pg 10 Google Books
- Hastings of Bygone Days and the Present (Henry Cousins - 1911) pg.218 ISBN: 9789332862449 ESCC Library Google Books " Amazon
- Hastings & St Leonards Observer 27 December 1879 pg. 2
- Brett Manuscript Histories Vol. 2 Chap. 17
- Brett Manuscript Histories Vol. 1 Chapt. VII
- Brett Manuscript Histories Vol. 2 Chap. 13
- Hastings of Bygone Days and the Present (Henry Cousins - 1911) pg.219 ISBN: 9789332862449 ESCC Library Google Books " Amazon
- Brett Manuscript Histories Vol. III
- Hastings of Bygone Days and the Present (Henry Cousins - 1911) pg.220 ISBN: 9789332862449 ESCC Library Google Books " Amazon
- Hastings history at 1066online: The America Ground - Hastings history at 1066online, accessdate: 2 December 2019
Pages in category ‘America Ground’
The following 10 pages are in this category, out of 10 total.