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Historic Hastings
This article first appeared in the Hastings & St Leonards Observer 20th February 2015 Hastings & St Leonards Observer
"A Concise Historical and Topographical Sketch of Hastings, Winchelsea & Rye" Fred W L Stockdale

Historic Hastings
The frontispiece to Fred Stockdale’s guide. The illustration is probably Old Roar.

Hastings has for centuries been an important fishing port and 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 in the 1840s, a seaside resort. The first English census in 1801 shows a population of 3175 which had risen to 4080 in 1811 and 5768 in 1821 (compared with over 90,000 in 2011) By 1815, the year Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo Stell's guide, only Hastings Guide, was on its fourth edition and two years later newspapers reported that visitors were being turned away because boarding houses were full and plans were afoot to cut away Hastings Castle cliffs to build houses and Stockdale himself notes "within the last five years, owing to the great influx of company at Hastings, during the summer season, and the high repute it bears as a watering place, a very handsome row of houses has been built in a field called the Croft".

Fred Stockdale had been convalescing in Hastings during the summer of 1816, and decided to produce his own Concise Historical and Topographical sketch of Hastings Winchelsea and Rye appearing quite unaware of Stell's efforts saying "Considering the great antiquity of Hastings ...... it is rather surprising that there has not hitherto been any separate historical or topographical account of it published, much less any series of views, pourtraying [sic] the beautiful and picturesque scenery with which it abounds"

Stockdale's guide appeared in 1817 or 1818 with several publishers including P M Powell, owner of Powell's Library Marine Parade, it ran to 48 pages plus 19 plates of engravings and half a dozen vignettes within the text. I have two versions, the 'everyday' edition with uncut edges, 5.5" x 9" and engravings printed directly onto their own pages and a deluxe edition, bound in Morocco leather with the pages trimmed and gilded but more importantly the engravings are printed that is, the image is impressed on a thin sheet of China paper which is backed on to a stronger thicker page and produces a much sharper image. There was also a smaller, and pocket edition which used the same printing blocks. As was customary at the time small piece of tissue paper covered each picture to prevent the ink of the engravings staining the opposite page.

Stockdale does not include a map and has shown himself to be a very capable artist having drawn all the views himself with a number of different engravers producing the plates. He includes a fine view of the old town showing the caves at the Minnis Rock and the Wilderness with All Saints Street and High Street running to the left and right of it. The view from the West shows the area that will later be occupied by Hastings station and the note lack of houses on the West Hill although the building of Wellington Square by 1818 was in fact well underway and the Castle Hotel (demolished in the 1960s) had opened for business. St Clement's Church appears little different to today but the cannonballs supposedly fired by the Dutch or French are not in evidence. All Saints Church appears quaintly rural with its sheep in the graveyard and Hastings Castle is still awaiting the rebuild of its iconic arch.

Views and details of Rye Winchelsea  Camber and Battle are included and a view of the ruined chapel at Bulverhythe with Martello Towers 40 and 39 in the background, the text includes a brief description of the wreck of the Amsterdam.

A paperback facsimile copy of the pocket edition has been reprinted and can be obtained, price £6.99 directly from Ion - tel 01424 437468.

Historic Hastings

The caves in the Minnis Rock, All Saints Church, The Wilderness, St Clement’s Church and Hastings Castle.

Historic Hastings
Dominated by Hastings Castle, Wellington Square as yet unbuilt, cliffs yet to be cut away for Pelham Crescent, and no sign of Hastings station. The Priory Bridge in the foreground is the site of Hastings Memorial.
Historic Hastings
Virtually unchanged today but note lack of cannonball on the tower.
Historic Hastings
Note sheep in the graveyard

Historic Hastings

The iconic arch of Hastings Castle is yet to be reconstructed. Still very few houses in evidence.

Historic Hastings
Not quite recognisable because the arch hasn’t yet been rebuilt. Note scattered shacks later to be replaced with the formal splendour of Wellington Square.

Historic Hastings
Still there but less of it, behind the Bull Inn. Note the Martello towers and the cliff that is now hidden by the grand houses that line St Leonards Seafront

Historic Hastings

Old St Helen's Church, partially dismantled in the 1860's to provide fabric fot the new church

High quality prints of these images can be obtained from Ion - use email address below

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