White Rock

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White Rock
Other Names
Former name(s)Precursor Place
Stratford Place
LandmarksPalace Chambers
White Rock Pavilion
White Rock Baths
Hastings Pier
Boer War Memorial


The name of ‘White Rock’ most likely came from the colour of its cliffs and rocks, a yellow-brown sandstone, which was bleached white by the action of the sea lapping around the headland.In the first half of the 18th century, mapping shows this headland extending out from where White Rock Gardens are today.

Originally named Precursor Place then Stratford Place[1], part of the frontage was also made up by Albert Place[2], the road being renamed on the 7th of October 1881.

Presentation on maps

A small-scale map by Budgen in 1724 shows rocks in front of the headland, with the caption ‘White Rocks’ - possibly from the bleached sandstone. The larger scale Samuel Cant map dated to 1746 has ‘White Rock’ beside the headland, which, assuming the map is accurate, would appear to be of a harder stone than the area surrounding.

The 1746 map also reveals that the area of St Michaels Place, on the east side of Dorset Place, was a tall hill, with a windmill. Until late Victorian times this hill was known as ‘Cuckoo Hill’. Records dated 1832 describe Dorset Place as the road ‘up Mill Hollow to the White Rock’. The first Ordnance Survey map of Hastings, surveyed in 1873, calls the whole White Rock area ‘Cuckoo Hill’, and near the rocks in the sea to the front of the hill it says ‘St Michael on the Rock’. Prior to the 18th century the headland would appear to have been known as ‘St Michael’s Hill’, with ‘St Michael’s Cliff’ in front of it - most likely because of the close association to St Michaels Church.

As Hastings grew as a tourist destination in the late 18th Century, the grassy knoll of Cuckoo Hill became a well frequented view point.

Carswell's Mill

Joseph Carswell inherited a mill that stood roughly behind where Beau Site Convalescent Home from his mother. This mill stood for a number of years until destroyed in a storm on the 19th of February 1808. This was on the site of an earlier mill which was destroyed in a hurricane on the 9th of November 1800. Even this mill was the successor to an earlier one; located slightly to the east on Cuckoo Hill which was shown on the 1746 map[3]

Transport Routes

Before 1835, anyone wishing to head west from Hastings along the coast had to follow a rocky track along the bottom of St Michael’s Cliff and the cliffs of St Leonards. The first 350 yards of this track started at the end of today’s Robertson Street and gradually rose up the remains of the headland (in front of what is now White Rock Gardens) where a mass of huge boulders, perhaps 40 feet high, reached from the foot of the cliff into the sea at high tide. From there the track sloped down to where Verulam Place is now.[4]

To get past this pile of boulders, a partially-sunken roadway was cut through them, possibly in the late 18th century. The road closely followed the base of the cliff and climbed up to a height of about 25 feet above sea level in the cutting. This roadway was a key part of the coastal route going west, but in gales and very high tides it was dangerous to use or was even unusable, and the only alternative was to climb the steep track of what is now Dorset Place onto the 90 feet high White Rock and then follow a similar track on the other side, rejoining the coastal route at today’s Verulam Place.[4] Brett in his Manuscript Histories describes the route thus;

At that time the route from the Old Town to the new lay over the Priory Bridge, through White Rock street, over the White-rock hill (a steep and rugged projection on the site of the present Pier and Baths, with a faggot road on each side), along a low and crooked way (which was protected from the sea, not by walls and groynes as at present, but by high ridges of beach), and past the valley of Warrior's Gate and Gensing[5]

Creation of new route

With the creation of St Leonards, by 1834, speculators had already started investing in the future by beginning to cut back the cliff, from Robertson Street towards the western end of the shops in White Rock today[6]. Around this time, the track below the cliff, sometimes known as the High Road, was officially named as Stratford Place. The unstable cliff was stabilised with large-scale brickwork beginning during the early 1830s[7], and businesses started to appear in the area. These included two large, well known companies: Rock's Coach Factory (later Courts the Furnishers), built in 1834/5, and the White Rock Brewery constructed in 1831/2. Around this time, part of the cliff was cut back at Verulam Place, immediately to the west of today’s pier, and ten houses were built there between 1833 and 1840[4]. Numbers 25 to 31 in the terrace are the older buildings, unless replaced as described elsewhere, and numbers 1 to 20 were constructed in 1847[8]. There was a spring behind either number 24 or 25 from where the inhabitants of the obtained their water, but this was reported to have dried up by around 1885[9]

1834 Storm

Engineers involved with the project had completed plans to finish the route to St Leonards and the work was about to commence when a severe storm hit the coast on the 18th/19th of October 1834, causing much damage along the coast, undermining the new buildings in Stratford Place. Work was halted whilst temporary sea defences were put in place.

Princess Victoria Visit

A fortnight later, on 4 November 1834, the heiress-apparent, 15-year old Princess Victoria, came to stay in St Leonards. Travelling from London by road, she passed through Hastings en route. The White Rock coast road had been rendered impassable by the recent storm, so her entourage had to take the very difficult route via Dorset Place, which had also been damaged by increased use following the breaking up the coast road by the gale. This, in part, possibly hastened the work to clear the White Rock.


In 1841, a Hospital opened opposite what would become the site of Hastings Pier. This was subsequently re-built in 1884 in a 'rotunda' style, eventually being replaced by the White Rock Pavilion when the new hospital opened in Bohemia Road in 1905.


Features in White Rock

Name Street No From To

References & Notes

  1. Hastings of Bygone Days and the Present (Henry Cousins - 1911) pg.228 ISBN: 9789332862449 ESCC Library Google Books " Amazon
  2. Brett Manuscript Histories Vol. 3 Chap. 35
  3. Hastings & St Leonards Observer 27 July 1901 pg. 8
  4. a b c Hastings Chronicle
  5. Brett Manuscript Histories Vol. 1 Chap. V
  6. Hastings of Bygone Days and the Present (Henry Cousins - 1911) pg.304 ISBN: 9789332862449 ESCC Library Google Books " Amazon
  7. Steve Peak - 'a new history of the ' (a work in progress)
  8. Brett Manuscript Histories Vol. 3 Chap. 37 pg. 297
  9. Brett Manuscript Histories Vol. 3 Chap. 37 pg.296