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Historic Hastings
This article first appeared in the Hastings & St Leonards Observer 29th May 2015  Hastings & St Leonards Observer

Parsons New Illustrated Guide to Hastings and St Leonards and Environs

We have seen the youthful FJ Parsons’ first guide, published in 1864 when he was aged 20 and operating from an office and print works in the Central Arcade under the Music Hall, ( now better known as Yates’ Wine Bar between Havelock Road and Robertson Street) but another dozen years was to pass before a completely new edition was to appear in 1876. Parsons’s New Illustrated Guide to Hastings and St Leonards and Environs was a hard back publication roughly equivalent to modern A5 size and cost of one shilling, (5p today). A new edition would then appear almost every year until 1894, These editions bore no publication date but the content was regularly updated and would bear reference to contemporary events which now helps with identifying editions. In the years that they didn’t appear under the Parsons Banner, such as 1880 identical volumes would appear badged by other local publishers such as Whittaker & Williams of the Royal Victoria Library and Woodley in 1894.

The format of the guide was a listing of local amenities and a variety of tours that could be undertaken both locally and further afield. Churches seemed to feature quite heavily and there were advertisements for local businesses.

There are a small number of reproductions of this guide, for sale at £12.99 (+p&p). They are A5 size, hardcover and stitched as in the original and are complete with map and panorama. email

Parsons New Illustrated Guide

The map Parsons used was from his own plates and was regularly updated and would appear in other productions. The panorama had also appeared elsewhere including the Hastings Observer special editions celebrating Royal visits etc. Henry Cousins, in his book Hastings of Bygone Days and the Present published in 1911 and updated in 1920 (to be featured later) notes “many editions of this excellent guide were published between 1876 and 1894 it is full of interesting matter and illustrated with wood engravings” Cousins and Parsons had been partners. The map shows how little of our town had been built on despite the fact that the census of 1881 indicates a population approaching 50,000, just over half what it is today.

Parsons New Illustrated Guide

Close examination of the panorama reveals fascinating insights into long gone features of the town.

Parsons New Illustrated Guide


Parsons New Illustrated Guide
Above: The Gaiety Theatre and Opera House had recently opened and, externally above ground floor level is little changed.

Left:The Hastings and St Leonards Observer office in Claremont, with (from 1881) the free public library next door built in Venetian Gothic style easily identifiable today. It had been redeveloped by Parsons from his existing print works by 1878 using the same architect (Walter Liberty Vernon) that Lord Brassey was using for his School of Art next door. Parsons building included an engravers room so that all the illustrations were produced in-house and both buildings are still there.

Parsons New Illustrated Guide Parsons New Illustrated Guide

Parsons New Illustrated Guide
St Pauls Church, on the corner of Church Road and a Ellenslea Road was to be replaced by a block of flats at the end of the 1960s.


Above Left
St Andrews Parish Church, Morrisons filling station occupies the site today. The interior had been lavishly decorated by Robert Tressell and a fragment of his work in this church can be seen in the Hastings Museum

Mount Pleasant Congregational Church, on the corner of Hughenden Place and Mount Pleasant Road was replaced with a block of flats (containing a Chapel) in the 1970s

Below right
The Albany Hotel. Destroyed with loss of life of Canadian troops billeted there during the last war. The site is now occupied by Albany Court and has an entrance to Debenhams

Below left
The Claremont library, just a few doors along from the print works. This was a private enterprise not to be confused with the Brassey Institute, the public library next door to Parsons.

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