gales in the mid-1870s highlighted how vulnerable the rapidly
expanding resort of Hastings was to the sea. The gales led to
sea defences in the west of the town being strengthened, but
the Old Town was left unprotected - deliberately, many believed
- until the fishing industry was literally almost washed away
The gale of Sunday, November 14, 1875, caused some of the most
serious damage ever seen at Hastings. 'A great public disaster
has fallen upon Hastings' said the Hastings Chronicle!. 'Such
a scene. . . is unequalled within the memory of man, or within
received tradition. . . .
industries and hard working lodging house keepers have been
ruined; substantial tradesmen have received loss which will
interfere with their prospects for a long time; and the fishery
have become sufferers to a degree rarely known even in that
risky life, Sunday's south-westerly gale was preceded by several
days of strong winds that forced a large volume of water into
the English Channel. The gale drove the water onto the land,
and for three hours on Sunday morning 'waves such as are never
seen off the Hastings shore poured over the parade walls in
a continuous raging torrent. West of Robertson Street, the substantial
sea defences that had been built led to only minimal damage
being caused, but to the east widespread destruction occurred.
All the streets round the town centre, plus George Street and
West Street, were flooded, while right along the front east
of the Queens Hotel hardly a house escaped flood and damage.
At least 30 buildings were completely wrecked. The fishermen,
anticipating the danger, hauled their boats and gear up to the
roadways and comparative safety, but could not prevent 14 net
shops being knocked down and washed out to sea.
Four months later, on March 13-14, 1876, the eastern end of
the borough was again ravaged by a gale, while on New Year's
Day, 1877, a storm almost comparable with that of November,
1875, caused havoc once more. Net shops were undermined, although
not apparently lost, while all the Old Town front west of Bourne
Street was inundated.
The effects of the November, 1875 gale on valuable seafront
property forced Hastings Council to urgently review all its
sea defences. Sir John Coode, one of the country's leading civil
engineers, was employed to prepare recommendations. In order
to understand Coode's important report, however, we need to
look first at the stage of development Hastings and St Leonards
had reached in 1875.
The two towns were then one, administratively and geographically,
although the social divisions between the two still persisted,
with Old Towners continuing to express hostility to St Leonards.
The Priory Valley was rapidly filling up with industrial, commercial
and residential building, while extensive housing developments
were taking place around central St Leonards, north from there
to Silverhill, on Hastings' West Hill, in Clive Vale and at
Ore. The seafront was a continuous line of buildings from West
Marina to the Old Town, while the Memorial area had become the
heart of the town.
began on the much-criticised wooden groyne, a moderate August
gale gave a foretaste of the destruction that was to come. The
old Custom House, opposite the Cutter in East Parade, was washed
away and the sea severely damaged the road between there and
Bourne Street. The sea was then only a few feet away from the
frontline buildings, and it was clear that they would fall victim
to it unless something was done. Yet still the Council refused
to build the Rock-a-Nore groyne. Instead they opted for an eastward
extension of the parade wall past the High Street. The Council
had already given the site of the Custom House to the local
branch of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution for a new
lifeboat house, and were extending the western parade to join
up to it. This provoked another clash with the fishermen, angry
at seeing their stade being cut down even further. The Pierwarden
moved one of their large capstans to the east, but the fishermen
immediately hauled it back again 'amid considerable excitement.
This happened early in September, 1881, and a month later the
Council, undeterred, decided as a result of the August gale
to extend the wall even further to the east, past the bottom
of High Street.
This wall, parallel to the road, would simply have protected
the roadway and open-air fishmarket, but would not have accumulated
any beach, and would have stopped the fishermen pulling up their
boats there. As the Hastings News said later: 'A good carriage
way would, no doubt, be obtained, and another step be taken
in opening up the locality around the fishmarket to the enterprising
builder, but the so-called improvement would be the destruction
of the fishery interest. No boats could approach a wall of the
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