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Battle for Hastings

Almost a thousand years have passed since the seaside town of Hastings made its entry into The Great Big Bumper Book of English History. In more recent years it has been a town in neglect, an image that it is struggling to lose. “You don’t want to go down there,” we were told, “it’s DSS-land.” Short historical recap for younger and overseas readers, the Department for Social Security (DSS) was the former government department responsible for the unemployed and unemployable. Or scroungers and crack-heads, as the Daily Mail might put it.

Blimey! Did you know Jon's New Zealand book Squashed Possums is out now - find out more



The fair seaside resort of Hastings has been pulling its socks up of late. The historic old town has been gentrified, or rather Brighton’fied. With neighbouring Brighton so overpriced and over-burdened with trendy young things, many have looked further afield and re-discovered Hastings. The formerly run down old town has been regenerated by independently run boutiques selling knock down labels, trendy bars and eateries that will sell you a fish platter that will cure a man’s addiction to fish fingers. Next door, you can still enjoy an old school knees up at a traditional boozer.

Unlike neighbouring Brighton there is still something unpretentious about Hastings. Along the sea front, colourful weathered fishing boats can be found moored up against the old fishing net towers at The Stade. Hastings’ working fishing fleet is the largest beach launched fishing fleet in Europe. Half a dozen fresh oysters can be bought from the seafront for the same price as a Whopper Meal. A stereotypically round jolly man dips fresh slices of plaice into a bowl of flour before placing them into a large pan of hot sizzling oil. Fast food but good, tasty and fresh!

As to the sights of Hastings, the local fisherman’s museum reminds visitors of the importance of the local fishing industry to the community. It makes for a poignant visit. As well as a store for historic relics from the sailing era, the museum doubles up as the fishermen’s church, hosting christenings and honouring those who passed on.

If the fresh fish, funky shops and fair prices don’t grab you then the epic, triple crazy golf course will - featuring the classic windmill shot, as well as scenic fountains and waterfalls. Every round comes with an obligatory dose of saucy seaside innuendo as your putter and golf ball is handed over with a friendly “don’t drop yer balls!”

It’s a shame then, that the town’s pier stands empty, shut now for three years due to failing health and safety standards. The funicular taking visitors up to the cliff peak also stands idle due to lack of investment and neglect. However, there is hope for Hastings long-term future but it comes at a price and feelings are mixed are to whether it’s a price worth paying.

There is a proposal to redevelop a section of The Stade into a high end art gallery that will provide a home for a financier’s art collection. Those in favour say that it will help attract Londoners to the town and that their money will spill over into the local eateries and hotels, much like the Tate did to St Ives. Those against the development object to a modern building being dumped in the middle of the historic, working fishing fleet and suggest the art gallery be moved somewhere a bit less in the way. But understandably perhaps the investors don’t want their attraction out of the way. They want it where the tourists are – in The Stade.

The local fishermen feel understandably under attack by the authorities. The government is telling them to dump their fish haul to protect endangered cod populations. The council has chosen to condemn the pier and now they want to hand the traditional fishing heart of Hastings over to a handful of pretentious towny art lovers. It’s hard not to sympathise with the plight of the fishermen. Why does Hastings need to be the next St Ives or Brighton when it could become the foody capital of the south coast? There’s not only the freshly caught fish but bottles of cheap excellent local champagne. Hastings could easily rival places like Rick Stein’s Padstow or the oyster capital of Whitstable. The next Battle for Hastings is on…

Blimey! Did you know Jon's New Zealand book Squashed Possums is out now - find out more


22/12/2009

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