The town and port of Hastings,
East Sussex

Hastings as a human settlement has existed since before the Romans came to Britain but the town we know today was settled and developed by the Jutish tribe of the Hastingas from the 5th century A.D. onwards.

The setting of the old town of Hastings - St. Clements Church can be seen to the left of the middle of the picture and All Saints to the right. Detail of a steel engraving after J.M.W. Turner.

The present site of the Old Town of Hastings between the West Hill and East Hill (seen in the view above) was probably first built on around 1069, as the town moved in that direction from further west due to the loss of land to the sea and possibly necessitated by destruction caused by the Norman invasion of 1066.

It became an important sea port, having at that time a good harbour, and with the other Cinque Ports for many centuries provided a navy for the kings of England in return for which it received freedom from taxation and other privileges.

The beach at Hastings - seen from the west. The Old Town in the distance spills down between the two hills and in the foreground is the newer part of the town established as a holiday resort from the late 18th century onwards. From a steel engraving by Fenner, Sears & Co. after a drawing by N. Whittock, circa 1840?

The first reference to the Cinque ports is in a charter of 1155 when Hastings and Dover were by far the largest contributors, required to provide 21 ships each when needed.

By the 1200's Hastings was at its peak of importance but after that its ability to contribute declined rapidly. It provided 30 ships for the king's service in 1335 but seven years later it was able to send only 2 and, although it managed to send 5 ships to the siege of Calais in 1347, one of those had been bought from Winchelsea.

The decline was caused by what a witness described as 'the fretting and raging of the sea' as well as destructive raids upon the town by the French. Between 1292 and 1340 the Sussex coast lost a total of 5,500 acres of land to the sea and Hastings presumably lost a lot of foreshore, resulting in the town and its churches being rebuilt eastwards from its former site and further up the valley.

Weakened by the damage and loss of its good harbour the town was unable to withstand French attacks which were frequent and devastating. They burnt the boats and a large part of the town in 1339 and again in 1377.

Only one ship was sent from Hastings to join the fleet against the Spanish Armada in 1588. From then on Hastings was a fishing town and fishing was the occupation of the majority of its inhabitants.

Although in 1292 Hastings apparently had seven parish churches**, by the time the registers begin in 1558 there were only two left, St. Clement and All Saints.

The information above is derived from:
Hastings Past, by Rex Marchant, published by Phillimore, 1997     and 
Historic Hastings, by J. Manwaring Baines, published by F.J.Parsons Ltd., Hastings, 1955
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