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Historic Hastings
This article first appeared in the Hastings & St Leonards Observer  8th May 2015  Hastings & St Leonards Observer

Thomas Nelson

Historic Hastings Looking Back


Historic Hastings Looking Back

“Hastings from Minnis Rock” quite a late picture because the town is now full of houses.

The publishing firm of Thomas Nelson started in Edinburgh in 1798 as the namesake of its founder (though the original name of the founder was actually Neilson but owing to so many errors made by his customers, he changed it to the current "Nelson"). The firm still exists as part of HarperCollins, the publishing unit of News Corp.

The company was originally a second-hand bookshop and Thomas realised that there was a ready market for cheap, standard editions of non-copyright works so he attempted to satisfy this market by publishing popular reprints of classics. He was joined in the business by his sons William and Thomas Jr. in 1835 and 1839. Thomas Sr. died in 1861 and William concentrated his talents on the marketing side, while Thomas Jr. devoted his to editing and production. The firm went on to become a publisher of new books, and as the nineteenth century progressed it produced an increasingly wide range of materials.

When Thomas Nelson UK was sold, the Canadian operation was retained. and the Nelson name lives on through the Canadian company Nelson Education Ltd.

In the earliest days of the firm, its books had to be inexpensive to be accessible to a new reading public made up of the skilled working classes and Thomas Nelson employed the process of ‘stereotyping’, invented by another Edinburgh man, William Ged, to reduce production costs over a large print run. In 1850 Thomas Nelson II perfected a rotary press and a model of it was demonstrated at the Great Exhibition in the following year. It was this machine that was the parent of all newspaper presses until well into the twentieth century. The company was among the first to introduce Monotype keyboards and casters, using them in its composing room to reset one reprint every two days in addition to other work. Efficiency was gained not only through this introduction of the latest technology but also through standardisation of the product. The books were grouped into various popular libraries, all to the standard Nelson size. Nelsons patented a casing-in machine which could case, that is place in hard covers, 900 books an hour.

In printing, a stereotype, (also known as a cliché, stereoplate or simply a stereo), was originally a solid plate of type metal, cast from a papier-mâché or plaster mould (called a flong) taken from the surface of a forme of type and used for printing instead of the original. The stereotype radically changed the way books were reprinted, saving the printer's recompositing expense while freeing the sorts for other jobs and this becomes apparent with Nelson’s ‘Hastings and the Neighbourhood’ which may have first appeared in the mid-1860s and the text, with all the usual descriptions of the area, remaining unchanged for possibly 20 years .

Several similar editions were published and the illustrations, which appear to be lithographs, were probably bought in. The guides were pocket sized, 165mm x 107mm and all editions contained identical text, printed in blue bearing no reference at all to Hastings Pier - reinforcing the view that each time a new edition was produced the pictures changed and text remained the same. Earlier editions had all 32 pages of text bound at the beginning of the book followed by 10 illustrations and later editions had the identical pages of text interspersed with a dozen pictures. These pictures were an attempt at colour printing - the main body of the composition in sepia with light blue as a second colour. Colour registration was a problem and the two colours did not overlay precisely. In some earlier editions the same format was followed but the illustrations were printed in sepia only.

Historic Hastings Looking Back
“Marine parade Hastings” the “Russian gun” captured in the Crimea in the 1850’s can be seen in the centre of the picture, on the right the fine Regency terrace where, as the Marine Hotel, Emperor Napoleon III stayed during the early days of his exile. By the end of the century the site was redeveloped as the Empire Theatre and soon renamed the Hippodrome, it became the De Luxe Cinema in 1910 and is now the De Luxe Amusements centre.

Historic Hastings Looking Back

“Eccles borne near Hastings” the wooden coastguard cottages on the beach were swept away in 1859 and rebuilt in stone on the cliff top in the foreground. They were to last 100 years until coastal erosion forced their demolition.

Historic Hastings Looking Back
“The church in the Wood near Hastings” pre-1862 before the Victorian “restorers” had a go at it. Notice it still has rectangular windows and the original small porch.

Historic Hastings Looking Back

“The Marina-St Leonards” the Royal Victoria library can be seen in the centre of the picture and to its left South Colonnade. The artist clearly has a problem with scale and perspective.

Historic Hastings Looking Back

“The Pier-Hastings” The pier didn’t open until 1872 so this rather magnificent representation may have been produced from a description. Note Pelham Crescent with the buildings in front of it and the windmills on the West Hill.

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