Walk 55: Hastings Old Town Walk: Hang onto your Winkle!

The ‘Needs to Know’

Distance: Probably only about 1 mile (1.61 km)

Time to walk: 20 minutes or half a day, the choice is yours as we’ll see in a bit!

Difficulty: All on hard surface, although you’ve got to hobble onto the pebble beach to see the fishing fleet

Parking: Depending on the time of year there’s plenty of on-street parking

Public toilets: Pubs, cafes etc

Map of the route: No specific but here’s the area…

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We did this walk whilst working down on the South Coast. The people of Eastbourne had warned us about Hastings & whilst the main part of the town may need an uplift, the Old Town is a completely different world

Hastings is a historic town & borough in East Sussex. Historically, Hastings can claim fame from the Battle of Hastings, & later because it became one of the medieval Cinque Ports. The town was, for centuries, an important fishing port & although nowadays less important, it still has the largest beach-based fishing fleet in Europe which we’ll see shortly

The Old Town lies mainly within the eastern-most valley of Hastings. The shingle beach is known as The Stade (an old Saxon term meaning “landing place”). Many events take place every year in the old town such as the Hastings Old Town Week, Jack In The Green, the Seafood & Wine Festival, & the Bonfire Procession. Many of these events are centred on Winkle Island, which is, at the same time, the gathering place of the renowned Winkle Club (we’ll see that too!)

There’s lots of history to see here in what we thought was a really special place so…Let’s Walk!

1. Where oh where to start this walk? We didn’t want to start in the new part, but we didn’t just want to waltz off in the middle so decided to be risky & start on the edge after thinking where would our Laura start?

So walk along the seafront to the junction with George Street to the Penny (2p) Arcade…

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…but instead of going past it down George Street, resist for now & head along the Prom…

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Do you get the link between the 2 signs

Do you get the link between the 2 signs

2. Really like this part of the Prom. Over the road’s amusements & the train, but on this side’s a real mix of restaurants in some lovely buildings…

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Love the name!

Love the name!

For us of a certain age there was a slight pang at this point, but it turned out to be a facade for much newer pub…

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There’s everything along here..fancy some jerk chicken, rice & peas? Well Soul Food gets great write ups…

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Hastings is the place to come for fresh seafood & The Old Customs House contains a very nice looking restaurant. They do a ‘Livorno style’ fish stew which we’re rather partial to!

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3. There’s small square type area where 3 streets meet which we’ll come back to later, but, if you want the best fish & chips in town then everyone will tell you to go to The Blue Dolphin which is here on the left. Apparently in holiday season be prepared for a long queue…

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 It was voted No.5 best chip shop in the country by The Guardian newspaper

4. This walk’s in danger of deteriorating into a foodie fiasco walk & there’s just one more & then we’ll move on. Because Hastings get’s a lot of London visitors, there just had to be one…

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Foyles Traditional Pie & Mash shop is a real sign of the East End & there’s nothing like a slap of green liquor. Have to say though nothing beats Manzes in Walthamstow & Foyles don’t do Eels!

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5. Cross over the road towards the sea & walk down the gap towards the beach to have a look at the beach-based fishing fleet. The boats are winched up the pebbles…

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This beach is the early evening light is photographers dream. The boats are specially adapted to be able to be hauled up

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6. Walk back out to Rock-a-Nore Road passing some small shacks that sell the day’s catch plus, maybe in the past something else…

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The Jerwood Gallery on the right contains a collection of art by British artists with a particular focus on the years between World War I & the 1960’s including LS Lowry…

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Operated by the Jerwood Foundation, the gallery opened in March 2012 & cost £4m to build

7. Continue along Rock-a-Nore road passing some great fresh fish shops…

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On the right is a famous & unique part of the old town…the Net Shops. These are tall black wooden sheds which were built to provide a weather proof store for the fishing gear made from natural materials to prevent them from rotting in wet weather. The sheds are tarred (hence the colour) & weatherboarded

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The sheds were originally built on posts to allow the sea to go underneath, however more shingle built up & the sea doesn’t reach the huts anymore. The beach area, on which the sheds stand, built up after groynes were erected in 1834, however the limited space meant they had to grow upwards, even though some sheds do have cellars

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A common misconception is that the sheds were used for drying the nets, hence the height. This is incorrect – nets were dried on the beach & the sheds were built for net storage. The height is due to the limited space, & inside the sheds have always had multiple floors

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The net shops had been listed as Grade II (grade two), the basic level, for many years, but in June 2010 the group of 39 were upgraded to Grade II* (grade two star), the second highest level. Hastings Borough Council uses the net shops as part of the town’s logo

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8. Just past the sheds is The Fishermans’ Museum which is housed in St Nicholas’ Church, which was also known as the fishermans’ church…

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The Old Hastings Preservation Society, a registered charity, sought to save the building in 1955. They wanted to preserve the building & use it to display a traditional Hastings lugger they’d acquired. Hastings Borough Council agreed to this & leased it to the society for use as a museum. In April 1956, one wall was partly demolished to allow the lugger to be brought in & the town’s mayor declared the museum open on 17 May 1956. It now has artefacts, photographs & paintings relating to the fishing industry & maritime history of Hastings including many relating to the Winkle Club which we’ll see shortly. The museum is one of the town’s most popular tourist sites, attracting about 140,000 visitors annually

9. Turn round & head back down the other side of the street towards the town again, passing The East Cliff Funicular Railway. It provides access to Hastings Country Park & is owned & operated by Hastings Borough Council. The line was opened in 1903 & was originally operated on the water balance principle – the twin towers of the upper station contained water tanks for this purpose. It was modernised between 1973 & 1976, during which time it was converted to electric operation

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The line was shut in June 2007 because of an incident where a fault in a control panel caused the cars to fail to stop at the correct point, resulting in damage to both cars & stations. In 2008, the Council decided on a major refurbishment involving new cars & new control & safety systems, together with repairs to the damaged stations. The line reopened in March 2010. Following the closure of lines in Broadstairs & Margate, the East Hill Cliff Railway is now the steepest funicular railway in the UK

10. At the junction turn right up the narrow All Saints Road…

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We’re now really entering Old Town Hastings with lovely old houses & great pubs so expect to be spoken to by everyone you meet – this is a real individual community

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They also have a sense of humour

They also have a sense of humour!

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11. The pubs start coming thick & fast now. The first one’s name is given away by the large crown over the front door. The Crown though is one of the younger establishments along here…

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12. Earlier we mentioned The Winkle Club…

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The Winkle Club is an internationally famous charitable organisation formed in 1900 by Hastings fishermen to help the under-privileged families of the Old Town. The headquarters opened in 1882 & the ground floor area, now used as the bar & clubroom, was initially used by the fishermen for making & repairing their nets

Apart from some specially selected local residents, Winkle Club members have included some very illustrious people such as the late Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, Lord Montgomery, Sir Norman Wisdom & Sir Winston Churchill

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Each Winkle Club Member (or ‘Winkler’) carries a winkle shell which they must produce when challenged to ‘winkle up’. Failure to do so results in a fine which goes towards local charities. During special occasions, members of the Winkle Club gather together on Winkle Island at the foot of All Saints’ Street. Winkle Island is the venue for many of the club’s outdoor events. The giant winkle that stands on the pavement was used as a collecting box in the past

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13. Next up on the left’s one of the older pubs dating back to the 16th century…the Cinque Ports Arms

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A traitions old English pub with oak beams, it’s also well known for its excellent selection of real ales. In fact, if you’re a real ale drinker this street’s a real haven!

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14. There’s several of the houses up here that obviously used to be shops, the one in the picture below being an example…

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Not sure what this one sold though…

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…& as we continue to climb the hill it gets even more quaint…

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15. The house below, built in the 15th century was supposedly the home of the mother of Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell

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Admiral of the Fleet Sir Cloudesley Shovell was an English naval officer. As a junior officer he saw action at the Battle of Solebay & then at the Battle of Texel during the Third Anglo-Dutch War. As a captain he fought at the Battle of Bantry Bay during the Williamite War in Ireland. As a flag officer Shovell commanded a division at the Battle of Barfleur during the Nine Years’ War & during the battle distinguished himself by being the first to break through the enemy’s line. Along with Admiral Henry Killigrew & Admiral Ralph Delaval, Shovell was put in joint command of the fleet shortly afterwards

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During the War of the Spanish Succession, Shovell commanded a squadron which served under Admiral George Rooke at the capture of Gibraltar & the Battle of Málaga. Working in conjunction with a landing force under the Earl of Peterborough his forces undertook the siege & capture of Barcelona. He was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Navy while at Lisbon the following year. He also commanded the naval element of a combined attack on Toulon, base of the main French fleet, in coordination with the Austrian army under Prince Eugene of Savoy in the summer of 1707. His life was brought to an end in a disastrous shipwreck in the Isles of Scilly later that year. He also served as MP for Rochester from 1695 to 1701 & from 1705 until his death

16. Phew…after all that detailed history we think we’re in need of a drink &…some witchcraft…

Let’s have a look at the imposing pub on the right – The Stag Inn

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The 16th century timber-framed inn claims to be Hasting oldest surviving pub. The inn was renovated & altered internally in the 19th century. During this work, builders discovered the mummified bodies of two cats in a blocked-up chimney. Their dried-up bodies had been preserved in a blackened state. Two explanations have been offered:

  1. The cats may have entered the chimney & been overcome by smoke from the fireplace, which then prevented their remains decomposing or…
  2. They may have been offered as a sacrifice by a witch. Such activities have been reported in other parts of Hastings in the 16th & 17th centuries. An alleged witch named Hannah Clarke is claimed to have put her two cats up the chimney in 1665 & sealed it with a brick wall in an attempt to ward off plague using witchcraft

The bodies were displayed in the pub, originally hung from hooks in the main bar. In the 1980s, the delicate remains were placed in a glass-fronted wooden case which was then hung on a wall in the same bar

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17. Feeling in need of repentance? Well the good news is at the top of the road’s All Saints Church (unfortunately it was locked)

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Titus Oates, a serial perjurer, who fabricated the Popish plot to kill Charles II was born in Hastings & was baptised here in 1649. His father was the rector at the time & Titus was also a chaplain here. Many of the followers were executed as hysteria about the plot spread

18. Walk down to the junction with The Bourne…

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 …& turning left, over the road’s The Stables Theatre

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19. Carry on down this road looking for a fingerpost on the right…

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…where we need to take the right path up the covered alleyway

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…to emerge on another gorgeous part of the Old Town, the High Street

20. Surprisingly the alley emerges next to a pub called the First In Last Out

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 Although High Street’s are normally busy thoroughfares, this one’s quite narrow & one-way. Walk down it back towards the sea…

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…passing yet another watering hole, The Duke of Wellington

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The Duke of Wellington had links with Hastings as we’ll see shortly, but in the meantime we’ve spotted another blue plaque opposite the pub…

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This commemorates the site of the first Bank in the town, the Old Hastings Bank being established here in 1791

21. The High Street’s full of quirky shops & features so you might find yourself spending quite a time along here

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…& if you can work out what this shop’s selling you’re better than us!

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Apparently this is AG Hendy & Co which is a ‘Home’ shop. There’s also a cookery school attached & a quite unique restaurant. Here’s an interesting review by the Guardian critic

22. The street also has plenty of the trendy retro-type / vintage shops…

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Across the road is the wonderful Electric Palace cinema

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Although it may look old, the cinema was set up in 2002 after the owners felt frustrated about the lack of film choice locally. Starting with an empty white room they initially set up with a pot of red paint, some basic equipment & rather uncomfortable chairs. Since then they’ve gradually improved the facilities & interior, with the addition of a licensed bar & a new Film Council funded projector & classic red seats.

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A ‘Not for Profit ‘ organisation they rely on ticket sales & volunteers to run the cinema. They also invite requests for what films their customers would like to see & then try to screen them

23. Continue along High Street past The Jenny Lind Free House & Hotel which has a wink & a nod by calling itself a ‘KC Withoutaspoon Freehouse’

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The Jenny Lind opened in 1850 on the site of the Bell dating from 1613, but the site was not continuously a pub from that time. World famous Swedish Singer Jenny Lind, “The Swedish Nightingale,” lived in Hastings for a short while in the 1800s. The Jenny Lind pub reopened in 1950, having been rebuilt since it was wrecked by a bomb on May 23 1943. It became famous in 1959 when the British heavyweight boxing champion Don Cockle took the license

Well…we’ve now had a Winkle & a Cockle so bring on the Prawn!

24. Almost next door’s the Old Town Hall Museum

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The Old Town Hall was built in 1823, replacing an 18th century building on the same site. It was a Museum since 1949, but is now unfortunately permanently closed. However two places that are definitely open & worth a look at are Penbuckles Delicatessen & Judges Bakery

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Judges is the award winning bakers shop owned by Green & Black’s founders Craig Sams & Josephine Fairley. It was named as one of the 50 best food shops in Britain by The Independent & winner of the Best New Store & Best Small Organic Store in the Soil Association Industry Awards. Sams & Fairley set about reinventing traditional recipes from jam tarts to white bloomers & sausage rolls to Madeira cakes to Soil Association organic status & also introduced a selection of high quality artisan breads including country sourdough, wholewheat sourdough & 100% rye bread.

25. Drag yourself away & turn right up Swan Terrace…

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On the left’s a sign referring to the Swan Inn which was Hasting’s most famous hostelry. First recorded as “le Swane” in 1523 during the reign of Henry VIII, its timbers were twice burnt by the French during the Hundred Years War in the 14th century & later it was bombarded by the warships of France & Holland

For centuries The Swan was the Posting House for mail coaches running to London, Brighton & Dover. Unfortunately during World War II it was completely destroyed

26. At the top of the hill turn right into beautiful Croft Road. On the corner is St Clements Church

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St Clements can trace it’s origins back to 1080 AD although it was ravaged by the French in 1339 & again in 1377 & was rebuilt in 1380

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27. You may have seen where we’ve been walking on television & Croft Road is no different. The Detective Series ‘Foyle’s War’ is located in Hastings & this road is where Foyle lives – in the show it’s called Steep Street

The property where he lives is at the top of the road so continue up it to No.31

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No.31 Foyle's home

No.31 Foyle’s home

28. Back to ‘real life’ so retrace your steps back down to the High Street

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We mentioned The Duke of Wellington earlier. Directly ahead is a property with a blue plaque on its wall…

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Sir Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, was Commander of the British troops against Napoleon in the Peninsular War & hero of Waterloo. In 1806 he was stationed with his brigade in Hastings & this property was his headquarters. He stayed in the town until his marriage to Lady Catherine Packenham when he moved to Hastings House (since demolished to make way for Old Humphrey Avenue). He was elected Member of Parliament for nearby Rye in the same year

29. Continue down High Street where there’s more interesting shops. Almost next door to the above property is another blue plaque…

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General Sir John Moore was billeted here in 1805. Also known as Moore of Corunna, he is best known for his military training reforms & for his death at the Battle of Corunna, in which he defeated a French army under Marshal Soult during the Peninsular War. After the war General Sarrazin wrote a French history of the battle, which nonetheless may have been written in light of subsequent events, stating that “Whatever Buonaparte may assert, Soult was most certainly repulsed at Corunna; & the English gained a defensive victory, though dearly purchased with the loss of their brave general Moore, who was alike distinguished for his private virtues, & his military talents.”

30. We couldn’t resist taking a snap of the shoe shop – reminded us of home…

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We’re now back at the junction of streets we mentioned near the start of this walk where The Blue Dolphin is…

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…& need to turn right down probably the Old Town’s most renowned pedestrian walkway…George Street

31. George Street is just fab & in the summer months will be heaving & the place to go in Hastings. It was pedestrianised in 1987 by ‘Carry On’ actor Bernard Bresslaw. There’s opportunities to shop, buy a saucy postcode, have a beer or a coffee – loved it!

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Almost immediately on the right’s a small square area known as Butler’s Gap named because it was situated between two ‘Butler’s Emporium’ shops. It has a landscaped seating area, a giant chessboard, & chess sculptures by local sculptor Leigh Dyer

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This is a lovely little area to sit & admire the different sculptured pieces in here

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32. The shops in this street just make you want to go into them & see what they’re all about…

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Unfortunately today the Market Hall was closed

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33. There’s so much variety along here – bars, restaurants, cigar & sweet shops &….if you want to get a tattoo…

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Forget the tattoo…after all this walking it must nearly be time for a beer so…on the right’s Ye Olde Pumphouse & on the left’s the Anchor Inn which is the second oldest inn in Hastings

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34. Right…so what’s your pleasure? Is it sweeties….or a cigar?

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Don’t fancy either of those then carry on down George Street…

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…or some mussels…

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The mussels are served up at the fabulous Whites restaurant

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35. Remember seeing the East Cliff lift? Well on the right here’s the West Cliff one

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So there we are back at the penny arcade where we started this walk. Old Town Hastings is a fabulous place & we’ll come back again to spend a few more days to really get under the its skin

It really does have a character of its own & is rather a special place so…

Go Walk!