Battle On The Beach


The post-war years have not been easy ones for the Hastings fishing industry. Its future is far from assured, as fish stocks have declined following over-fishing by larger, more sophisticated boats from Britain and other Common Market countries, and Hastings Council has continued to pursue its aggressive, short-sighted and damaging policies. This unfortunate hostility from Hastings Council provides the ever-present backdrop to fishing on the stade, and no more so than since the end of the Second World War.

The Planners versus the Fishermen.

Hastings Council began planning for the post-war world in October, 1942, when it set up a Reconstruction Committee to make detailed proposals for the direction of the town in peacetime. Before the committee reported, a Mr Trystam Edwards came forward with his own plan, in August, 1943. Edwards had been in line to become town planning consultant for the borough, but instead of confirming his appointment the Council, in October, 1943, first engaged him to produce a fuller version of his proposals in the form of a report on town planning in the built-up area.

Edward’s controversial scheme appeared in March, 1945. Among his suggestions was one for reviving the fishing industry by directing most of the trippers to the west end of the town and building a new village of fishermen’s homes on the edge of the stade, a direct reversal of Council policies. over the previous two decades and more. The Council meeting of March 6, 1945, glumly received Edwards’ report – and promptly sacked him. His proposals were thrown out, and in his place Sidney Little was appointed Town Planning and Development Officer, in addition to his duties as Borough Engineer and Surveyor.

The sacking of Edwards and the appointment of Little were of great symbolic importance. Out of the window went post-war policies sympathetic to the fishing industry and the traditions and life of the Old Town. In came a reassertion of the pre-war antagonism towards the fishermen and of the use of the East End as a dumping ground for all the down-market tourist facilities. The Council’s appointment of Little ensured the continued post-war destruction of the Old Town and its way of life.

The ever-energetic Little immediately began producing his own plans for the borough. While he was at work the Reconstruction Committee at last published its 12,OOO-word report, in May, 1945. This looked at every facet of the town’s life, from industry to leisure, and produced a framework of ideas and proposals that the Council agreed should be borne in mind by all committees when making future policy. The committee examined the local fishing industry, the harbour and the Old Town, but its proposals in these areas were vague and insubstantial compared with other recommendations.
‘We have to be bold and courageous,’ Sidney Little told the Hastings branch of the National Council of Women in July, 1945, in a speech about town planning.

Three months later he spelled out what this meant for the Old Town and the fishermen in his major report to the Council on the borough’s future. Most of the buildings between the boating lake and Rock-a-Nore, including the Fishermen’s Church, were to be swept away, a giant amusement park would be built between the boating lake and the net shops (which might be moved), while a new promenade would be built roughly along the line of what is today the railway track to Rock-a-Nore, where it would continue beside a lagoon under the cliff to Ecclesbourne. The plan was steamrollered through the Council in just eight days.