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The Hastings Guide

From Historical Hastings

In 1794, John Stell wrote a work entitled 'The Hastings Guide', a transcription of which is given below:

[ 1 ]


The vicinity of Hastings abounds with the most delightful walks and rides, the entrances are remarkably numerous, and it is impossible to select any road that does not lead to some scene of rural amusement: the lands are as beautiful as extensive, and the sea exhibits a continual round of passing variety.

The Hop Gardens, Bohemia, the Old Roar[1], Bexhill, Pevensey, Broomham Park, Winchelsea, Rye, Beauport, Ashburnham, Crowhurst, Battle Abbey, &c. &c. &c. all have charms to please the inquisitive mind or curious or plodding eye.

One circumstance must, above all others, render Hastings dear to those who have a [ 2 ]regard to morality - Vice has not yet erected her standard here; - the numerous tribe of professional gamblers, unhappy profligates, and fashionable swindlers find employment and rapine elsewhere. Innocent recreational delight, card assemblies, billiards, riding, walking, reading, fishing, and other modes of pastime banish care from the mind, whilst the salubrity of the atmosphere impels disease from the body.

The society of Hastings are gay without profligacy, and enjoy life without mingling in its debaucheries.

The town of Hastings is situated upon the sea-coast near the eastern extremity of the county of Sussex, in 50o 50' 34" N. Lat. and 0o 37' E. Longitude, and distant 64 miles from London. It is the chief of the Cinque Ports, and, as such, enjoys a number of particular privileges.

Some account of their origin, as given by Camden, Jeake, and others, will be acceptable to many readers. [ 3 ]


Of what antiquity the five ports (commonly called the Cinque Ports) and two ancient towns are, when enfranchised, or, at what time their members were annexed to them, is not mentioned with any degree of certainty; but, according to Lord Coke, it appears that Dover, Sandwich, and Romney, were the ports of special note before the Conquest; and to make the five, William the Conqueror added to them Hastings and Hythe; and afterwards were annexed thereto, the two ancient towns of Winchelsea and Rye.

Lord Coke concludes them all alike enfranchised and privileged; and though Hastings got the precedency of the elder Kentish ports, and is named before, and sits above them, yet it was not because elder than they, or of greater immunities or grandeur, but either by some prenomination in the charter, or confirmation of King William or his successors, or else from the respect the King had to Hastings, on account of the kindness and [ 4 ]free reception he there met with at his first landing in England. But it seems they had some title to that pre-eminence; for in the service to Yarmouth, the town of Hastings found two bailiffs to any of the others one, and paid double the allowance of any of the other towns.

The word cinque necessarily denotes there are but five ports, under which term are comprehended the ancient towns, and the members annexed to the said ports and towns. Those that pass by the appellation of the Cinque, or five ports, and include the rest that enjoy like privileges with them, are

Cinque Ports, Hastings in Sussex
Dover, in Kent
New Romney,
Ancient Towns. Rye, in Sussex.

They are sometimes called the ports, no other ports in England having had such large privileges, or can equal the antiquity of their grants and confirmations, or have been so [ 5 ]eminent for the services they have at various times performed.

The following table shews the members to each port, which are corporate, and which are of.

Members corporate to Hastings Pevensey in Sussex.
New Romney Lydd in Kent
Dover Folkstone
Sandwich, Fordwich
Rye, Tenterden
Members not corporate to Hastings Bulverhythe in Sussex.
Petit Iham,
Beaksbourne, in Kent,
Members not corporate to New Romney Fromehill, in Sussex and Kent.
Old Romney, in Kent.
Member not corporate to Hythe. Westheath, in Kent.
Members not corporate to Dover Margate, in Kent.
St. John's
Burchington Wood
alias Woodchurch
St. Peter's
[ 6 ]
Members not corporate to Sandwich Deal, in Kent.

Of the members, Seaford only sends burgesses to Parliament. Of many of the others, as Bulverhithe, Petit Iham, Hydney, Old Romney, Dengemarsh, &c. there are now little or no remains.

Of whatsoever standing the ports and ancient towns are, it must be presumed the members are of later date; and though it is not certain how long they have been annexed to their respective ports, or incorporated, as some of them are, yet it is plain they are not all of equal standing, for Tenterden was not united to Rye till the 27th year of the reign of Henry VI. An. Dom. 1449; nor does it appear that Dengemarsh was a member of Romney in the reign of Henry I. for in that reign, a ship being wrecked within the precinct of that liberty, the King's officers would have seized it for his use; but Gaffray, then Abbot of Battle, claimed it [ 7 ] as the property of the Abbey, by virtue of a grant from William the Conqueror, who, among other immunities, had endowed Battle Abbey with the wreck of the sea falling in Dengemarsh ; and Henry I. valuing his father's grant, yielded the matter wholly to the Abbot's own courtesy.

It appears that, for and in consideration of the great services which the five ports, by their fleet and armies, rendered the kingdom, during the invasions of the Danes, and other troublesome times, they were first enfranchised by Edward the Confessor; and in the reign of Edward I. they had their Charter of Confirmation, by which they were made free de toto venditione achato et reachato, which was upwards of 99 years before the city of London had their Charter of foreign bought and foreign sold.

The same Charter confirms all the liberties and freedoms enjoyed by the Cinque Ports before that period; exempts them from all duties on wares and merchandize bought or sold; enables them to buy and [ 8 ]sell openly in any corporation or privileged place, without being bound to the use of brokers or other freemen of such place; empowers their fishermen to land on the quay at Great Yarmouth, deliver their herrings freely all the fishing season, and to mend and dry their nets upon marsh-lands there, yet called the Dennes, (from the word dent used in the charter, signifying to mend and dry nets), for which purpose, the ports formerly sent certain men as their bailiffs, to superintend and decide all differences that might arise during the herring season. But the fishing trade increasing, and becoming profitable, and the town of Great Yarmouth increasing so as to procure a government by a portrieve, or bailiff, (which it had in the time of Edward I.) frequent disputes arose between the portrieve and the ports bailiffs:- the former, being jealous of the privileges the latter possessed, endeavoured to curtail them, so that the ports were often obliged to complain to their Sovereigns for redress; notwithstanding which, they were some times sufferers by the outrage and violence of the people and their head officers. In one [ 9 ]of these affrays, a port bailiff was, by one of their bailiffs, killed, for which he was hanged; and the town, as a badge of punishment, yet pays a certain number of herrings yearly to Windsor Castle, or a sum of money in lieu.

The ports are likewise exempt from any attendance at the shire or county court, and other courts holden for the county, as also from attendance at, or service to the hundred courts.

The Barons of the Cinque Ports, and two ancient towns, have the honour of bearing the canopies over the King and Queen at the coronation, and to dine with the King on that day, when they sit at the first table on the King's right hand. The canopies, with the staves and silver bells, become afterwards the property of the Cinque Ports. Formerly the Barons of Hastings and its members claimed and had one canopy with the staves, bells, and all its appurtenances, to their sole share; whilst the rest of the ports and their members had only the other [ 10 ]canopy with its appurtenances, to divide among them all. But now the ports divide equally. At that time the Barons of Hastings were wont to give the canopy cloth to the Church of St. Richard of Chichester, and the Barons of the other ports gave their's to St. Thomas a Becket, in Christ Church, Canterbury.

The following is the answer of John Duke of Norfolk, High Steward of England, in the reign of Richard III. to the claim of the ports for the honour of bearing the canopy, as belonging to the ports time out of mind.

It is considered that the Barons of the Cinque Ports, according to their claim, be admitted to do their service, viz. to bear the silk cloth sustained by four staves silvered over, with little silver bells gilded, over the King and Queen in the day of their coronation; and after the service performed, to receive and have the same cloths with their appurtenances aforesaid, as their accustomed fees, and also to sit [ 11 ]the same day at the principal table at the right side of the hall.

All thieves and felons of the precincts of the ports, taken out of them, shall be brought back, and there tried and judged.

Ports-men are not obliged to serve at assizes or in juries, out of the ports, against their will, notwithstanding they may possess lands out of the precincts of the ports.

Ships and other vessels belonging to the ports, might enter any of the King's havens or harbours, come to anchor, or lie aground, without being subject to the payment of any dues or customs.

By the charter of Richard II. all fines and penalties for trespasses, misprisons, extortions, conspiracies, and all other offences whatsoever, that in other parts of the kingdom go to the King, are granted to the ports. [ 12 ]The ports have the power of trying all actions, civil and criminal, treason excepted ; though persons deeming themselves aggrieved, may appeal to the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, who, upon such complaint, has power to enter the said port and hear and decide upon the matters.

Formerly the inhabitants of the ports were not obliged to serve in the army longer than the King abided, personally, in the field ; nor were they, at any time, to serve in foreign wars, nor were the seamen liable to be pressed in wartime, though this last custom has long been broke through.

The ports-men, contributors to the service of shipping furnished by the ports, were freed from all aids, subsidies, and contributions granted to, or exacted by, the King.

The ports-men were not obliged to serve as constable, bailiff, or other office out of the ports. [ 13 ]These, and many other privileges, were granted to, and enjoyed for many ages by the ports (though most of them have now been long obsolete), as well in consideration of the eminent services they had rendered the kingdom during the incursions of the Danes, and other Piratical Rovers, as of their service of 57 ships which they were obliged to furnish yearly, if required, at their Own cost for 15 days ; but if their service was required for a longer term, they were victualled and paid by the King.

Ships and Men furnished by each Port.

Hastings and its members, 21 ships, armed and manned with 21 men and a boy each.

Dover and its members the same number as Hastings.

Sandwich and its members, 5 ships armed and manned as above.

New Romney and its members the same as Sandwich, [ 14 ]Hythe and its members the same likewise -

Making in the whole 57 ships, manned by 1140 men and 57 boys, which quota of vessels and men the ports actually fitted out till such time as larger ships came into use, when they supplied the navy with two or three, being equivalent in value to their original number of 57. Indeed it appears that the Cinque Ports' fleet formed the chief and best part of the Royal Navy, and upon all occasions were ready to guard the narrow seas from pirates infesting the coasts. During the wars between England and France, they were frequently employed in transporting the King and his forces.

Great reliance seems to have been placed by our Kings on the Cinque Ports' fleet, and not unjustly; for King John in his retirement in the Isle of Wight, was nearly forsaken by all his kingdom, save the Ports' fleet, with which he secured himself till he recovered all again. [ 15 ]In the beginning of the reign of Henry III. the Ports fitted out 40 ships, which putting to sea under the command of Hubert de Burgo (then Warden of the Cinque Ports, and Governor of Dover Castle), came up with, and engaged 80 sail of French men, who were coming to aid Louis, the French King's son; when, after a furious engagement, he took several ships, sunk others, and dispersed the rest.

In the year 1406, the Ports' navy, under the command of Henry Paye, surprised and took 120 French ships laden with salt, iron, and oil.

In the 38th year of Queen Elizabeth, An. 159-5, the Ports, at the Queen's command, fitted out five ships of l6-0 tons burthen, which they maintained five months at their own charge.

These, and many other actions performed by the Ports, evidently shew their great weight and consequence in former times, and that the great privileges and immunities [ 16 ]they did, and still do enjoy, were no more than their zeal and services justly entitled them to.

A modern writer says, the "Cinque Ports were an incorporated body, enjoying an inferior jurisdiction within themselves, subordinate to the Admiralty of England, but more immediately united in the same person, and under the immediate command of the Constable of Dover Castle. From their local situation opposite, and their immediate vicinity to Calais and the French coast, they were from the highest antiquity of great consideration and consequence, for the defence of the British Channel, and of the southern and eastern coasts of this kingdom: and under this idea were invested with high honours, privileges, powers, and immunities, and erected into a bulwark and guard to defend our coasts, able to repel the attacks of foreign enemies whenever they might attempt an invasion[2]

[ 18 ] Hastings, according to Camden, derives its name from a noted Danish pirate who landed here, and built a small fort, in order to protect his men, and secure a retreat, after pillaging the country around. It is pleasantly situated in a valley, surrounded on all sides but the south with high cliffs and hills, which protect it from the cold winds, and render it one of the most; healthy towns in the whole island.

Here is a fine beach, and the purest water for bathing of any along the coast; for which purpose, great numbers of the gentry have of late years resorted from London and the neighbouring country, during the summer season.

The town of Hastings may boast as great antiquity as any place in the kingdom. In the reign of Athelstan there was a mint here, by which it must then have long been in a flourishing condition.

William Rufus, on the death of his father the Conqueror, got possession of the Castles [ 19 ]of Hastings, Dover, and Pevensey, as the first and most essential step towards securing him the throne. The present town may be called the New Town, as there was formerly another which stood without the present one, and was swallowed up by an inundation os the sea ; but when that event happened, is very uncertain. As a proof that the sea has gained considerably on the coast here, an entire hedge has been discovered beneath the surface of the sand at low water, a little to the westward of the town near the white rock, and pieces of wood and stick brought away from it. Some of the present inhabitants remember grass growing below the high water-mark, a little to the westward of the bathing-room.

Mr. Somner, in his account of the Roman ports and forts, seems to think that Hastings or Pevensey was the ancient Anderida of the Romans ; though Mr. Camden places it at Newenden, in Kent.

References & Notes

  1. A cataract in the middle of a thick wood, which falls perpendicularly from a rocky precipice, about 40 feet.
  2. The same writer has given the following curious document from the Harl. Manufc. No. 6274, entitled Item, ordonne estoit a Hastings, piir lei et costume, en temps du Roy John, l'an 2de de son regne, per advys de ses fcigneuries tempbrelles, que si lieutenant en aseun voyage ordonne par common confeil du royaulme, encountroit fur la mer, aseuns ness ou vefleaux chargees ou voydes, que ne voulent avaller et abaster leur tress au commandement du lieutenant du roy ; ou de l'admiral du roy, on son lieutenant ; mais combatent encontre cieulx de la flotte ; que si ils puent estre pris, que ils soient re putes come enemys, et leur ness vessaux et bien pris et forfaits come bien des enemys ; tout foit qut les maistres ou possessours d'icelles, bouldroient venir apres, et alleguer meifmes les ness, vessaux et biens, estre biens des amys notre leigneur; et que le Mayne estant en yeclles, soient chastiez par imprisonment de lour corps, pour lour rebellette, par discretion.