Hastings of Bygone days and the Present

From Historical Hastings

A Guidebook written by Henry Cousins ISBN: 9789332862449 Download PDF version

The below is a corrected version of the OCR text provided by Google Books. The corrections are ongoing, so please bear with the editors of this page as they work through and proofread the text, inserting illustrations at the same time.

[ 1 ]


The public appreciation of the first edition of "Hastings of Bygone Days and the Present" which rendered necessary the announcement "Out of Print," in 1919, was naturally gratifying to the Author and Compiler, who spent three years in its production. Insistant applications for the work were made to the publishers, who decided that a second edition, corrected and revised, was called for. The work was sent to all parts of the world where natives of Hastings had settled, while the encomiums of the Press on the first edition were most flattering and encouraging.

I desire to tender my thanks and appreciation for their kindly help to Mr. J. A. Ray, F.S.A., in revising the chapters on "Ancient Hastings"; to my friend Mr. James Castello, for his revision of the List of Old Guide Books of Hastings (of which he possesses a unique collection); to Mr. Thomas Parkin, M.A., F.R.H.S., for allowing me " the run of " and loans from his valuable local collections and library of books and views of the town; to my old friend Mr. Alfred Bryant of Enfield, an old Hastinger (now nearing his ninetieth year), for his help in the compilation of the Chronological Table of Events, from his notes collected and preserved through his long life; and to others who in any way have rendered their help.


[ 3 ]

The Author

Cousins Portrait.png
[ 4 ]


Of Bygone Days and the Present.

Profusely Illustrated by Views reproduced from Original and Rare Old Prints, Engravings, Oil Paintings, Water Colours, Photos, etc., specially for this Work, side by side with views of the present day.


Lecturer on Hastings "Past and Present."


HASTINGS. Published by F. J. Parsons, Ltd., Observer Office, Claremont,


[Copyright.] [ 5 ] [ 6 ]


Many descriptive Guides to Hastings (by which it must be understood to include St. Leonards) have been published at intervals since Mr. Stell issued his first known Guide from his library in Cobourg Place, written by himself under the nom de plume of "By an Inhabitant," in 1794,[1] when the Old Town was already attracting visitors from London and elsewhere to enjoy the sea breezes, and the recuperative properties of the salubrious air of its hills and valleys. This was followed by Barry's Guide, 1797, and Powell's, 1819, both of which passed through several editions, and Stockdale's, 1817. All these early Guides contained a few illustrations and maps of the locality. It was not until Mr. W. G. Moss published his excellent Guide in 1824 (the letterpress of which Mr. Dawson, in his exhaustive and learned work on Hastings Castle, recently published, informs us was written by Mr. Herbert, the Librarian of the Guildhall Library) that any extensive effort was made by way of illustrations of any number or merit. Mr. Moss was a draughtsman to his Royal Highness the Duke of Cambridge, and the series of excellent engravings from his original drawings with which his History of Hastings is embellished is a proof of the admirable work of that period. This was followed by many others of a later date, by Ross, 1835 - then in 1855 was issued that carefully compiled and interesting handbook on "Hastings Past and Present," by Miss Mary Matilda Howard, an authoress of repute, and published by Diplock; and in 1867 the late Mr. T. H. Cole published his "Antiquities of Hastings," with maps and plans of the Castle, the Battlefield, &c, bestowing the utmost care and great research in its preparation.

While Moss's and Cole's works are frequently quoted by modern antiquarians, no attempt of a comprehensive character has been made of giving a pictorial History of the town prior to and since its rise from a small place of about 3,000 inhabitants in 1800, to the second largest fashionable health resort on the Sussex Coast, with its three miles of magnificent Sea Promenade.

It was not until the writer had compiled his popular Lecture entitled "Hastings Past and Present," which has been delivered in collaboration with Mr. C. W. Banks on twenty occasions during the past twelve years, that a work of this kind had suggested itself, but during this period it was frequently urged that a reproduction of pictures illustrating Old Hastings and its rise to its present position, with descriptive letterpress in book form, would [ 7 ]be appreciated by hundreds of Hastingers in all parts of the world, to remind them of their native place in bygone times and by those who are still amongst us. This was made possible by the valuable assistance of the Publishers, with the cordial help and encouragement received from the leading Members of the Museum Committee and others possessing rare pictures of Old Hastings, and who placed their collections at the disposal of the writer for the purpose of reproduction in this work, and further by the aid of photography and the modern methods of reproduction and printing which rendered this possible.

In the belief that the History of Ancient Hastings has been sufficiently treated by early writers and is at the disposal in the Public Library of those wishing to consult them, this work is more particularly confined to the period from its rise to eminence, which commenced in the latter half of the 18th century.

The writer desires to tender his grateful thanks to and appreciation for the encouragement received from Mr. W. V. Crake, B.A., Mr. Thomas Parkin, M.A., F.R.Hist.S., Mr. M. Sullivan, A.R.C.A., Mr. W. Ruskin Butterfield (Curator of the Museum), the Hastings Corporation and Committee of the Museum, the Rev. W.Sayer-Milward, Mr. Charles Lane Sayer, London (the Editor of the "Collier Letters")[2], the Rev. H. C. B. Foyster, Mr. W. Brown, Mr. James Foster, Mr. Philip Cole, Mr. A. F. Wood, Mr. J. E. Savery (London), Mr. Geo. J. Wood, Dr. G. Vickerman Hewland, Mr. John Bray, Mr. Philip Tree, F.R.I.B.A., Councillor Joseph Adams, J. P., C.C. (Mayor of Rye), Mr. Edw. A. Notcutt, Mr. Chas, Dawson, F.S.A., F.G.S. (author of "The History of Hastings Castle"), Mr. Wm. Carless, M.A., J.P., Mr. J. R. Mitchell, Mr. Arthur Watson, Mr. A. R. Perrv, Mr. Fred. G. Langham, M.A., LL.B., Mr. Alfred Blackman,'J.P., Mr. J. E. Ray, Mr. Alfred Bryant (Enfield), Mr. A. G. Fidler (Enfield), Miss Clark, and others who have kindly placed their collections of Views at his disposal, or offered to assist in any way. My special thanks are due to Mr. C. Lane-Sayer for revising the proof of my extracts from the "Collier Letters" ;to Mr. Chas. Dawson for revising the proof of my chapter on "Roman, Saxon and Norman Hastings" ; to the Hon. Robert Marsham-Townshend, for revising my proof on "Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell" ; to Mr. T. Parkin, M.A., for revising the article on "Cricket," and his ready help in many other ways, and to the Controller of His Majesty's Stationery Office for his permission to use the Plan and Official Report on the Derelict Lands of Hastings, known as America Ground. HENRY COUSINS [ 8 ]



"St. Leonards,
"February 5th 1902.

"Dear Mr. Cousins,

" Carrying my memory back as I do to the Hastings of 80 years ago, I can but congratulate you on the success of your efforts to produce an entertainment as instructive as it is amusing. I was one among your crowded audience at Silverhill (accompanied by Mr. William Ransom and Mr. Fredk. Tree, senior, old Hastingers), and was pleased to find by the frequent plaudits how much the illustrated lecture was enjoyed; and also to see with my own eyes how truthfully the views of the Old Town and its neighbourhood were thrown upon the screen. It is, I know, thought by some persons that only a comparatively few are really interested in our local history of bygone times, but the pleasure evinced by the audience at your lecture, as well as the numerous applications (personal and by letter) to myself as an old man of the town, convince me that there is quite a numerous public desirous of knowing to some extent the marvellous strides of our borough from the past to the present. I noticed many views which dated before my time, but the majority came within my own knowledge, some of which made me feel to be again living in the past. I could have added a few personal experiences in corroboration of your excellent lecture, but which in some small measure (though unintentional) might have detracted from the merit of your evidently correct and painstaking production. I am of opinion that our townspeople are greatly indebted to you for such an entertainment.


(Local Historian.)

"Highlands Cottage,"

St. Leonards-on-Sea,

July 22nd, 1902.

"Dear Sir,

"Would you be disposed to act as Guide with explanatory remarks, to an excursion of Sussex Archaeologists to the old houses in All Saints Street and the Bourne, on the morning of the 13th August ?

"Yours truly, W. V. CRAKE."

Extract from the report of the above excursion from Hastings Observer of August 16th, 1902 : "After leaving St. Clement's Church, Mr. W. V. Crake introduced Mr. Henry Cousins and stated that he would point out and explain the old houses and other points of interest in the Old Town, of which Mr. Cousins had a vast knowledge, acquired as a student of local history and a lecturer on 'Hastings - Past and Present.'" [ 9 ]


References to Pre-Historic, British, Roman, Saxon, and Norman Hastings


I have already said in the preface to this work that my object has been to gather together a series of pictorial evidences of Old Hastings, so far as I have been enabled, and to set them side by side with views of the same localities of the present day, rather than to attempt to deal with its ancient history, a subject already covered by learned writers connected by birth or residence with the county of Sussex, whose several works are open to all who wish to consult them. To my local readers, our Reference Library at Claremont and the Hastings Museum will afford abundant and intensely interesting evidences of the antiquity and importance of Hastings, and the part played by its men and ships in the King's service in bygone days. Whether the town was a Roman station or not (upon which chroniclers differ), the contiguity of its hills to the mainland, the flat and marshy lands stretching to Beachy Head on the west, and to the Kentish hills on the east, the Forest Ridge on the north, and the haven formed by its hills and valleys, and other physical causes, have led some historians to the belief that Caesar in his Commentaries referred to the coast and people of our isle, represented by Sussex and Kent, and that he found the aborigines a more superior and intelligent people than those in the interior.

David Hume, in his History of England, briefly refers to this subject as follows : "All ancient writers agree in representing the first inhabitants of Britain as a tribe of the Gauls or Celtae who peopled the island from the neighbouring continent. Their language was the same, their manners, their government, their superstition, varied only by those small differences which time or a communication with the bordering nations must necessarily introduce. The Greek and Roman navigators or merchants (for there were scarcely any other travellers in those days) brought back the most shocking accounts of the ferocity of the people, which they magnified, as usual, in order to excite the admiration of their country [ 10 ]men. The south-east parts, however, of Britain, had already, before the age of Caesar, made the first, and most requisite step towards a civil government, and the Britons, by tillage and agriculture, had there increased to a great multitude (Caesar, lib. iv). The other inhabitants of the island still maintained themselves by pasture; they were clothed with skins of beasts; they dwelt in huts, which they reared in the forests and marshes with which the country was covered they shifted easily their habitation, when actuated either by the hopes of plunder or fear of an enemy; the convenience of feeding their cattle was even a sufficient motive for removing their seats; as they were ignorant of all the refinements of life, their wants and their possessions were equally scanty and limited. They were divided into small nations or tribes, and being a military people, whose sole property was their arms and their cattle, it was impossible, after they had acquired a relish of liberty, for their princes and chieftains to establish any despotic authority over them - hunting and fishing for their food, tilling the ground and fighting their enemies seemed their principal occupations. Their religion was governed by the Druids, who were their priests, and possessed great power over them. Directing their religious duties and presiding over the education of youth, a primitive kind of civil and criminal jurisdiction was exercised. No species of superstition was ever more terrible than that of the Druids. They practised their rites in dark groves or other secret recesses, and in order to throw a greater mystery over their religion, they communicated their doctrines only to the initiated, and strictly forbade the committing them to writing. Human sacrifices were practised among them; the spoils of war were devoted to their divinities. No idolatrous worship ever attained such an ascendant over mankind as that of the ancient Gauls and Britons and the Romans after their conquest, finding it impossible to reconcile those nations to the law and institutions of their masters, while it maintained its authority, were at last obliged to abolish it by penal statutes; a violence which had never before been practised by those tolerating conquerors."

Such were the aborigines described by Hume who inhabited Britain at the time of the Roman invasion. Numerous relics of the earlier or prehistoric age have been brought to light by one of our townsmen, Mr. W. J. Lewis Abbott, F.G.S., who has collected specimens of their implements, tools, rude pottery, domestic articles, bones, shells, ornaments, weapons, etc., forming a wonderful collection representative of the habits of these early settlers found on the dust heaps or the kitchen-middens of Hastings, and the rocks and fissures of the district. Mr. Lewis Abbott has written and lectured much upon this interesting and unique subject, and few will forget his marvellous exhibit in the local Museum some years ago and his wonderful accounts of the old hunter-fishermen whose [ 11 ]"settlements were here under the lee of the high cliffs and rocks of our shores."


The Roman invasion of Britain is said to have commenced with the landing of Caesar in 55 B.C.

The late Mr. T. H. Cole, M.A., in his Antiquities of Hastings, asserts that "some of the ships that fought Caesar hailed from our own old port, for Caesar tells us the Britons used iron, and that iron was found near the coast. Now it is only in the cliffs and valleys adjoining Hastings that it is to be met with, and on either side of our Priory valley the ancient ironworks can yet be pointed out. (See Cole's Map.) This harbour, then, in particular, would be in great demand for transporting this metal to the other parts of Britain and to Gaul. It would be of necessity a great emporium, where cargoes of iron would be exchanged for the copper which Caesar tells us was imported. The ships that frequented this haven must have formed no inconsiderable part of the British armament that went to the aid of their allies in Gaul. These allies, when hard pressed, took refuge in towns placed at the extremities of the lofty cliffs overlooking the harbours in which their ships found shelter." There is evidence of an old cemetery (13th century) on the East Hill; and near the open triangular space the late Mr. Thos. Ross discovered a burial place. Bodies were found lying in charcoal, and beside each what appeared to be iron rivets and large-headed nails. The iron rivets are characteristic of the iron region. But the existence of a Roman town therein is mere conjecture. Then the author quotes Professor Airy, late Astronomer Royal, according to whom "it was from our Hastings hills that the Triumvir saw the native forces in armed array. Be that as it may, Caesar describes the place he reached as a narrow inlet of the sea, shut in by heights, from which weapons could be discharged upon the shore beneath, a description which would tally well with our old haven. "Mr. Cole quotes other authorities indicating that the town was of Roman origin, including Mr. Bradley's Ptolemaic Measurements of the South Coast Journ. Brit. Arch. A. Vol. 37, part 3, p. 227.- "In the list of places on the South Coast of Britain occur the Portus Novus, one degree west of the Promontory of Kent, which may be identified either with the North or South Foreland," and Mr. Bradley observes, "after due allowance for the difference between Ptolemy's degrees of longitude and our own this indicates the precise longitude of Hastings. Now it is well known that Hastings did once possess an excellent harbour. The fact that this has now disappeared seems to shew that it was an artificial harbour, constructed in defiance of the natural unfitness of the site, exactly, in fact, what the term Portus Novus (New Port) would naturally be [ 12 ]supposed to imply." By quoting other longitudinal calculations, Mr. Cole winds up his argument thus: "1st, actual examination of the locality shews the former existence of a harbour here, a fact in agreement with both tradition and history. 2nd, the encampment and vestiges of ironworks prove the harbour to have been known to the Romans. 3rd, a Roman harbour called Portus Novus was situated at this very part of the Coast. These three considerations put together seem to lead inevitably to the conclusion that Hastings was a Roman Port, and that Portus Novus was the name of Roman Hastings."

Mr. Dawson, in his "Hastings Castle," has the following reference to Roman Hastings: "At what time iron-ore was first worked in Sussex for smelting, is a question which we cannot answer at present for want of evidence ; but it is almost certain that the passage in Caesar's Commentaries of the Gallic War, which states that iron is found in the maritime districts, related to the iron found near the Sussex Shores. If so, this would go to prove that the art of smelting iron was practised in Sussex before the first Roman Invasion, although earlier remains have not been positively identified in the cinder-heaps which abound in the vicinity of Hastings. The magnificent gold hoard discovered in 1863 at Mountfield, testified that Hastings was, at all events, near some important centre of the Celtic tribes. It is quite certain that iron-ore was extensively worked in Sussex during the time of the Roman occupation of Britain. Roman and Romano-British remains are common in the cinder-heaps of Beauport, near Hastings." So far as the Author is able to ascertain there is not sufficient evidence to shew that any considerable settlement existed at Hastings itself during Roman times. The reported discoveries of remains dating from this period are so extremely rare and doubtful, taking into account the large amount of excavation which has been carried out at Hastings for building purposes during recent years, that it is impossible to conceive that anything like a fair-sized settlement could have existed without leaving some more definite mark of its presence.

It is, of course, possible to suppose, as some have done, that for a Roman oppidum (city or town) flourished south of the supposed shore, on land now submerged; but even had this been the case, one would have surely found more evidences of its existence on the immediately adjoining land. On the other hand, it is quite within the bounds of possibility, owing to the "Eastward drift," that there may have been no port on the site of Hastings during the Roman occupation. The supposed traces of Roman entrenchments (found by Ross) upon the East Hill must be considered, for the present at all events, very much open to question. Traces of Roman occupation have never been known to occur in or about the Castle or West Hill.

Much importance must be attached to the testimony of the author of "The History of Hastings Castle."[a] [ 13 ]


The Roman occupation of Britain extended for over four-and-a half centuries, and upon the fall of Rome their legions began to evacuate the country. Haydn's Dictionary of Dates states "that the Romans gradually withdrew from Britain from 402-436."

Prior to their departure their powers had begun to wane and they had frequently to repel the attacks of those bold sea-rovers known as the Saxons, who eventually established themselves in 477 under the Saxon AELLA who founded the kingdom of the South Saxons or Sussex, although the Britons made strenuous attempts to check their advance, and it is supposed their great stand was made on the Sussex Shore culminating in the siege of Andredecester now recognised by historians to be the Pevensey now known to us. The Kingdom of the South Saxons probably included that part of the shore upon which Hastings is founded. The earliest reference to Hastings is contained in the Chronicle of Simeon of Durham, written in the 12th century, who compiled his record from earlier Saxon documents: that in 771 Offa, King of the Merceans, subdued by force of arms the Race of the Hastingi. From this race or tribe some writers claim our town received its name, while others state it was derived from a Danish Pirate of that name whose followers overran this part of the coast about 893. The former belief is supported by Sharon Turner in his History of the Anglo-Saxons, while the latter is given on the authority of Camden. The former claims the more credence, as it was discovered that the town was known as a port a century before the Viking Hastings flourished. Cole, in quoting from Taylor's Words and Places, says, "The Hastings, the noblest race of the Goths, seem to have held the eastern part of Sussex (known since the Conquest under the name of the rape of Hastings) as an independent community. Portus Novus falling into their hands after its adandonment by the Romans, became their capital, and thus acquired the name of Hastings by which it has ever since been known." And in the Charter granted by the Abbey of St. Denis in 790, Hastings is described as a Seaport. Dawson further states that "The earliest direct and unquestionably genuine reference to Hastings is that in the law of Athelstan, where a moneyer is appointed to the Mint at Hastings." This would point to the importance of Hastings as early as 924. This Mint is said to have been (as was usual) within the precincts of a fortress, and leads to the supposed existence of a Castle here before the Conquest. One of the earliest masters of the Hastings Mint was named Bridd according to Ruding in his work on coinage. Cole suggests him as an ancestor of the present family of Breeds (which family can certainly claim a long ancestry here). Another local writer has ventured an opinion that Bridd's descendants are represented by the local family of Brett or Britt on the ground that double D is pronounced like th. Might not Bridd have been a Welshman? There 

References & Notes

  1. It must be borne in mind that much of Dawson's work on Hastings Castle was found to be plagiarism - Transcriber
  1. Mr. Stell, in the preface to his Guide of 1794, says : "It is now six years since I opened a Circulating Library in this Town, during which time the constant enquiry of every stranger has been, 'Have you any History or other account of Hastings. ' A late much-lamented author, on receiving the usual negative, replied, 'Why don't you write one ?' Thus encouraged, I determined to attempt the task." Barry's Guide of 1797 was a reprint of this, with the same title page, but without the preface. It is to be noticed that Barry uses the final "s" in Hastings. I am inclined to think Barry took over Stell's Library. Author.
  2. Mr. Charles Lane Sayer, who compiled " The Collier Letters," a private work in 2 vols., forming the family letters of John Collier, Esquire, from the beginning of the 18th Century until his death, and embracing a most interesting description of the social, political and commercial life in Hastings during that period, from which Mr. Sayer has so kindly allowed the author to make extracts for the purpose of this book. Mr. John Collier lived at Old Hastings House, High Street, Hastings.