Hastings is a town and borough in the county of East Sussex, within the historic county of Sussex, on the south coast of England. The town is located east of the county town of Lewes and south east of London, and has an estimated population of 86,900.
In historical terms, Hastings can claim fame through its connection with the Norman conquest of England; and also because it became one of the medieval Cinque Ports. Hastings was, for centuries, an important fishing port; although nowadays less important, it still has the largest beach-based fishing fleet in England. The town became a watering place in the 1760s, and then, with the coming of the railway, a seaside resort.
The attraction of Hastings as a tourist destination continues; although the number of hotels has decreased, it caters for wider tastes, being home to internationally-based cultural and sporting events, such as chess and running. It has set out to become "a modern European town" and seeks to attract commercial business in the many industrial sites round the borough.
The first mention of Hastings is found in the late 8th century in the form Hastingas. This is derived from the Old English tribal name Hæstingas, meaning `the constituency/followers of Hæsta'. Symeon of Durham records the victory of Offa in 771 over the Hestingorum gens, that is, "the people of the Hastings tribe.", Hastingleigh in Kent was named after that tribe. The place name Hæstingaceaster is found in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle entry for 1050, and may be an alternative name for Hastings. However, the absence of any archaeological remains of or documentary evidence for a Roman fort at Hastings suggest that Hæstingaceaster may refer to a different settlement, most likely that based on the Roman remains at Pevensey.
Evidence of prehistoric settlements have been found at the town site: flint arrowheads and Bronze Age artefacts have been found; Iron Age forts have been excavated on both the East and West Hills. This suggests that the inhabitants moved early to the safety of the valley in between the forts. The settlement was already based on the port when the Romans arrived in Britain for the first time in 55 BC. At this time, they began to exploit the iron (Wealden rocks provide a plentiful supply of the ore), and shipped it out by boat. Iron was worked locally at Beauport Park, to the north of the town, which employed up to one thousand men and is considered to have been the third largest mine in the Roman Empire.
With the departure of the Romans, the town suffered setbacks. The Beauport site had been abandoned; and natural and man-made attacks began. The Sussex coast has always suffered from occasional violent storms; with the additional hazard of longshore drift (the eastward movement of shingle along the coast), the coastline has been frequently changing. The original Roman port could now well be under the sea.
Bulverhythe was probably a harbour used by Danish invaders, which suggests that -hythe or hithe means a port or small haven.
Kingdom of Haestingas
From the 6th century AD until 771, the people of the area around modern-day Hastings, identified the territory as that of the Haestingas tribe and a kingdom separate from the surrounding kingdoms of Suth Saxe ("South Saxons", i.e. Sussex) and Kent. It worked to retain its separate cultural identity until the 11th century. The kingdom was probably a sub-kingdom, the object of a disputed overlordship by the two powerful neighbouring kingdoms: when King Wihtred of Kent settled a dispute with King Ine of Sussex & Wessex in 694, it is probable that he seceded the overlordship of Haestingas to Ine as part of the treaty.
In 771 King Offa of Mercia invaded Southern England, and over the next decade gradually seized control of Sussex and Kent. Symeon of Durham records a battle fought at an unidentified location near Hastings in 771, at which Offa defeated the Haestingas tribe, effectively ending its existence as a separate kingdom. By 790, Offa controlled Hastings effectively enough to confirm grants of land in Hastings to the Abbey of St Denis, in Paris. But, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for 1011 relates that Vikings overran "all Kent, Sussex, Surrey and Haestingas", indicating the town was still considered a separate 'county' or province to its neighbours 240 years after Offa's conquest.
The start of the Norman Conquest was the Battle of Hastings, fought on 14 October 1066; although the battle itself took place to the north at Senlac Hill, and William had landed on the coast between Hastings and Eastbourne at a site now known as Norman's Bay. It is thought that the Norman encampment was on the town’s outskirts, where there was open ground; a new town was already being built in the valley to the east. That "New Burgh" was founded in 1069, and is mentioned in the Domesday Book as such. William defeated and killed Harold Godwinson, the last Saxon King of England, and destroyed his army; thus opening England to the Norman conquest.
William caused a castle to be built at Hastings probably using the earthworks of the existing Saxon castle.
Hastings was shown as a borough by the time of the Domesday Book (1086); it had also given its name to the Rape of Hastings, one of the six administrative divisions of Sussex. As a borough, Hastings had a corporation consisting of a "bailiff, jurats, and commonalty". By a Charter of Elizabeth I in 1589 the bailiff was replaced by a mayor.
Hastings and the sea
By the end of the Saxon period, the port of Hastings had moved eastward near the present town centre in the Priory Stream valley, whose entrance was protected by the White Rock headland (since demolished). It was to be a short stay: Danish attacks and huge floods in 1011 and 1014 motivated the townspeople to relocate to the New Burgh.
In the Middle Ages Hastings became one of the Cinque Ports; Sandwich, Dover, and New Romney being the first, Hastings, and Hythe followed, all finally being joined by Rye and Winchelsea, at one point 42 towns were directly or indirectly affiliated to the group.
In the 13th century much of the town was washed away by the sea. During a naval campaign of 1339, and again in 1377, the town was raided and burnt by the French, and seems then to have gone into a decline. As a port, Hastings' days were finished.
Hastings had suffered over the years from the lack of a natural harbour, and there have been attempts to create a sheltered harbour. Attempts were made to build a stone harbour during the reign of Elizabeth I, but the foundations were destroyed by the sea in terrible storms. The last harbour project began in 1896, but this also failed when structural problems and rising costs exhausted all the available funds. Today a fractured seawall is all that remains of what might have become a magnificent harbour. In 1897 the foundation stone was laid of a large concrete structure, but there was insufficient money to complete the work and the "Harbour arm" remains uncompleted. It was partially blown up to discourage possible use by German invasion forces during World War II. The fishing boats are still stored on and launched from the beach.
Hastings was now a small fishing settlement, but it was soon discovered that the new taxes on luxury goods could be made profitable by smuggling, and the town was ideally located for that. Near the castle ruins, on the West Hill, are "St Clement's Caves", partly natural, but mainly excavated by hand by the smugglers from the soft sandstone. Their trade was to come to an end with the period following the Napoleonic Wars, for the town became one of the most fashionable resorts in Britain, brought about by the so-called properties of seawater. Once this came about the expansion of the town took place, to the west, since there was little space left in the valley.
Like many coastal towns, the population of Hastings grew significantly as a result of the construction of railway links and the fashionable growth of seaside holidays during the Victorian era. In 1801 its population was a mere 3,175; by 1831 it had reached over ten thousand; by 1891 it was almost sixty thousand, and the 2001 census reported over 85,000 inhabitants.
Between 1903 and 1919 Fred Judge FRPS photographed many of the towns events and disasters. These included storms, the first tram, visit of the Lord Mayor of London, Hastings Marathon Race and the pier fire of 1917. Many of these images were produced as picture postcards by the British Postcard manufacturer he founded now known as Judges Postcards.
In the 1930s the town underwent some rejuvenation. Seaside resorts were starting to go out of fashion: Hastings perhaps more than most. The town council set about a huge rebuilding project, among which the promenade was rebuilt; and an Olympic-size bathing pool was erected. The latter, regarded in its day as one of the best open-air swimming and diving complexes in Europe, later became a holiday camp before closing in 1986. It was demolished, but the area is still known by locals as "The Bathing Pool".