Category:America Ground

From Historical Hastings Wiki

Summary[edit | edit source]

The America Ground was the name given to a triangular area roughly bordered by Robertson Street, Carlisle Parade, the Queens Hotel and Claremont.[1] 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'.[2]

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.

Plan of the Crown Land (RIBA)

Pre-settlement[edit | edit source]

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.[3]. The stream used to be navigable up to approximately the location of Hole Farm[4]. 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[edit | edit source]

Extensive construction around Pelham Crescent by the architect Joseph Kaye for the Earl of Chichester (started 1820) and James Burton`s new St. Leonards, (started 1828) resulted in a large workforce for the necessary construction work migrating to the town, who it was reported “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.[5]

At its peak, the approximately 8 acres of foreshore was occupied by almost 200 buildings with over 1000 inhabitants, with the earliest recorded inhabitants of the America Ground being Thomas Page and John Prior in 1806. They were listed as resident in an old Hulk, now in two tenements; the remains of the Brig named Polymina.[5]

As the population grew, various trades appeared in the locality including a gardener, carpenter, miller together with Lodging houses, as well as limekilns, stonemasons, a tallow factory, a sawing house and a butchers with slaughter houses and piggeries. There was even a gin palace, the Black Horse run by Daniel Thomas[6], and a small school – the forerunner of Hastings Grammar School.

A few of the occupiers had signed leases or gained permission from Lord Chichester, who claimed the whole of the area as owner or Lord under a grant thereof in the reign of James the First. Others had sanction from the Corporation of Hastings, under a grant made to the Corporation under Queen Elizabeth.[7]

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.[7]

Perception of the America Ground[edit | edit source]

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.[8][9]

Sheila Kaye-Smith in her 1919 book ‘Tamarisk Town’ (ISBN: 0559416156) described the area as having been “free to any beggars, gypsies or other undesirables ... a mock city of shacks, huts and tents.”[5] Barry Funnel 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;[10]
"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, Hastings Corporation sent in bailiffs to apprehend suspected felons. The occupiers of the ground rioted in protest and chased the officials back over the Priory Bridge. The inhabitants 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.[11]

Inquiry[edit | edit source]

On the 5th November 1827, an inquisition was held at the George Hotel, Battle. into the America Ground to determine ownership. In addition to the squatters of the land and the Crown, the adjacent landowners (the Cornwallis and Eversfield Estates) held themselves to be entitled to the land.[12]

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[7] leases were granted to those who had buildings on the land.[12]. In addition, a detailed plan of the land between Cuckoo Hill and The Priory was drawn up.[13]

Lessees[edit | edit source]

Cousins gives names of a number of lessees of the land in his book[14] 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)


The following names appear in St. Leonardensis's column as having moved from the America Ground to St Leonards[15];

  • 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

Eviction[edit | edit source]

On the 13th of November 1834, the Woods and Forests Commissioners gave notice that all buildings remaining on the ground after Michaelmas the following year, woud be confiscated.[12]

Many of the evicted inhabitants moved to St Leonards, even going as far as removing their houses piece-by-piece and rebuilding them in Gensing Road, Norman Road, Shepherd Street, North Street and London Road among a few other locations; in total, some twenty eight buildings were re-located.[12][11]

The high ground was claimed by Lord Cornwallis as being the boundary of his land, leaving the triangular parcel of ground now in Crown ownership.[16]

The 'America Ground' then remained unused for some 15 years[12] other than the Rock Fair (July 26-27th) and the occasional cricket match, and became known as the `Derelict’ or `Waste Lands`.[5]

Development[edit | edit source]

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 and would give rise to the aforementioned Robertson Street, Carlisle Parade and Robertson Terrace.[5] As an aside, the name Carlisle refers to Lord Carlisle, who was at the time Chief Commissioner of Woods and Forests.[17]



References[edit | edit source]

  1. Hastings of Bygone Days and the Present (Henry Cousins - 1911) pg.210 ISBN: 9789332862449 ESCC Library Google Books
  2. Hastings of Bygone Days and the Present (Henry Cousins - 1911) pg.198 ISBN: 9789332862449 ESCC Library Google Books
  3. H2G2
  4. Hastings of Bygone Days and the Present (Henry Cousins - 1911) pg.210 ISBN: 9789332862449 ESCC Library Google Books
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 1066 Online
  6. Nathan Dylan Goodwin: The America Ground #4 | nathandylangoodwin, accessdate: 4 November 2019
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Hastings of Bygone Days and the Present (Henry Cousins - 1911) pg.212 ISBN: 9789332862449 ESCC Library Google Books
  8. Historic Hastings (J. Manwaring Baines) 2nd ed. pg 258 ISBN: 0948869003 ISBN: 9780948869006
  9. Obituary for Samuel Duke
  10. Historic Hastings (J. Manwaring Baines) 2nd ed. pg 252 ISBN: 0948869003 ISBN: 9780948869006
  11. 11.0 11.1 Hastings & St Leonards Observer 13 Jun 2014 (retrieved 2 Nov 2019)
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 12.4 Hastings & St Leonards Observer 24 May 1924 pg. 9
  13. 6615 The Keep AMS 6615
  14. Hastings of Bygone Days and the Present (Henry Cousins - 1911) pg.218 ISBN: 9789332862449 ESCC Library Google Books
  15. Hastings & St Leonards Observer 27 December 1879 pg. 2
  16. Hastings of Bygone Days and the Present (Henry Cousins - 1911) pg.219 ISBN: 9789332862449 ESCC Library Google Books
  17. Hastings of Bygone Days and the Present (Henry Cousins - 1911) pg.220 ISBN: 9789332862449 ESCC Library Google Books

Pages in category ‘America Ground’

The following 6 pages are in this category, out of 6 total.