The West Hill of Hastings Local heritage Project
(Update, 29 January 2020)
Hastings & St. Leonards Society’s one-year long project to research the history and heritage of the West Hill area of Hastings has been progressing well. The project is funded with a grant of £8,500 from National Lottery Heritage Fund.
We have so far produced an exhibition, made several oral history recordings and put on the West Hill Community Festival last September.
We are now finalizing the booklet –running to about 76 pages – on the history of the West Hill,
hopefully for publication in time for our AGM on 17 March.
An extract from the draft booklet is given with this update.
At the end of the project, an archive of the research work will be donated to Hastings Public Library. We will continue to do oral history recordings. Home visits can be arranged for this.
Anyone willing to make a recording of reminiscences can arrange this by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org
The Exhibition is being offered for loan to organisations, schools and other suitable venues, and again this can be arranged by e-mailing the above address.
It will be displayed at Emmanuel Church during Heritage Open Days in September, when it is also intended to playback the oral history recordings.
Extract From Draft Booklet
The area under discussion in this booklet as ‘The West Hill of Hastings’ extends broadly northwards, for a distance of about half a mile, from the Ladies’ Parlour (the height adjacent to Castle Hill) to include Emmanuel Church (at the junction of Priory Road and Vicarage Road) and the District Community Centre (off Croft Road). St. Clement’s Caves (now known as the ‘Smugglers’ Adventure’ tourist attraction) are included, but Hastings Castle is omitted as it has an extensive history that is adequately covered in several other publications.
Today, the West Hill and the East Hills are two distinct features to the eastern side of Hastings, being divided by the Bourne Valley. However, these two hills were once one. Centuries of erosion by the River Bourne, flowing seawards to the Channel, resulted in the formation of a valley with a hill on either side. What is now known as the Old Town of Hastings later came to be developed in the valley.
The soft sandstone of the West Hill, said to be up to 200 metres thick in places, has been eroded over the years, resulting in unusual formations. About 2,000 years ago both the East and West Hills projected much further out to the sea. Saltzman (1921) explains that both hills are part of a chain of sandstone hills running southeast from the Ashdown Forest. Cole (1867) mentions that there is some evidence of a camp or defensive works on the West Hill in the time of the Romans, but that there is greater and earlier evidence of a Britons’ defensive area on the East Hill together with a find of some Roman coins.
The West Hill area was once very rural; then it became agricultural land with fields clustered around the Castle. Then we see it change to one of more mixed uses involving agriculture and windmills; finally to the West Hill that is seen today – mainly residential, with (mostly) Victorian and twentieth century buildings. Locals and visitors use the expansive open areas of grassland, with the long-standing system of paths, for recreation. The Hill offers splendid panoramic views in all directions. Looking northward, houses can be seen through Clive Vale up to Ore. To the east are views of the Old Town (nestled in the Bourne Valley), the East Hill, the Stade (fishermen’s quarter), and the English Channel. To the south the castle ruins and further Channel views are seen; and westward is the ‘new’ town of Hastings, Hastings pier and the seafront extending to St. Leonards-on-Sea; also, on a clear day, Eastbourne and the distinctive promontory of Beachy Head can be seen in the west.
The West Hill has attractions such as St. Clement’s caves, funicular railway, a café and children’s playground. There are also allotment gardens, Emmanuel Church, the District Community Centre, schools, and a long-established public house named The Plough. And there is considerable heritage and a fascinating social history to be found in the West Hill area. People of note have lived or worked in the area, and it remains a picturesque and pleasant location, popular with residents and tourists alike.