Hastings

An aesthetic seaside town day out from London, about one and a half hours by train from Charing Cross Station, or less conveniently from Victoria Station.

Hastings has a good main museum, and two smaller ones, all with at least some Victorian interest. Also part of the historic town survives with antique shops etc, and there is a (very) ruined castle.

Hastings Museum and Art Gallery

From the station, the main museum is rightwards and upwards, along Cambridge Road, the opposite way from the main town by 10 minutes walk. It is called the Hastings Museum and Art Gallery, and is much undiscovered by many visitors to the town.

The museum has a good display of 19th Century marine paintings as part of a collection of scenes in the Hastings area. Charles Martin Powell (1775-1824) has a large View of Hastings Beach (c. 1814), in classical Dutch style with a mirrorlike calm sea in which boats appear 'stuck'. Rather different in style is The Parade at Hastings in 1818 (c.1825) by Richard Hume Lancaster (1773-1853), with sombre choppy sea and dark cloud formations. William George Moss has a Rescue at Hastings (1814), with good rough sea and dark clouds, and na´ve-style people. Other early works include The East Fort (c. 1830) by John Thorpe (1813-c.1872), a landscape and coast painter who lived for a time in St Leonards, and another picture by Lancaster - Pelham Crescent (c.1825) - a surviving development in the town.

Of the mid-19th Century artists, we must first mention William Henry Borrow, based for much of his career in Hastings, and whose work may also be found in the two smaller museums in the town. Looking towards Wesfield is his principle work on show here. Clarkson Stanfield has a good Fishing Boat on Beach (1852). Note also works by Thomas Caffe Jun, John Coul, and a small landscape by Agostino Aglio (1777-1857).

William Henry Hunt was much associated with Hastings, and here is his excellent West Hill House (c.1846), a rich interior with seated woman, with characteristic emphasis on texture, carved wood, stained glass window and fabrics. On the stairs hangs a typical H. W. B. Davis cow picture - Midday - Bulls and Calves (1907), and also noteworthy are a winter landscape by Mark Fisher, and portraits by Sickert, Shannon and Shee, and early 20th Century watercolours by Albert Goodwin. Later work includes a Charles Cundall and a George Cole landscape.

So much for the paintings. Most impressive among the collections of the Museum is the Brassey Durbar hall, reconstituted from the 1886 Great Colonial and Indian Exhibition at South Kensington. The two-storey Durbar Court (Hall) was taken from the Indian Palace in the exhibition, acquired by Lord Brassey, a railway magnate, and presented by his successor to Hastings Museum. The ornate carved woodwork is by Muhammad Baksh and Juma of the Punjab. Displays include models of Indian workers, jewellery, and a small ethnographic collection. Among much else is a bust of Brassey by M. Wagmueller, dated 1868. (The Jaipur Gate to the same exhibition is now at Hove.)

Also in the museum is a collection of 16th-18th century firebacks, some with crude mythological scenes, and a pottery collection centred round the Vicat Cole bequest of 18th and 19th Century pottery, with local brown slipware, colourful and elaborate work from the Rye Pottery, and small displays of other work of oriental and classical early English origins. Completely irrelevant mention must also be made of the exhibition relating to Grey Owl, a red Indian celebrity who turned out to be an impersonator originally from Hastings, a certain Archibald Belamey (1888-1939).

Old Town Museum and Fishermen's Museum

As mentioned, there are two smaller museums in Hastings of arty interest - the Old Town Museum and the Fishermen's Museum. The recently refurbished Old Town Museum has various drawings, watercolours and a few oils. Samuel Prout had some sort of link with Hastings, and here are good near-monochrome studies of Hastings fishermen, and a view of Newcombe. Transferred from the main museum is Joseph Powell's small, dark Dutch Man o' War and Frigate (1803).

There are several works by W. H. Borrow, already met in the main museum, of which the most lively is Hastings Beach. To complement the marine paintings is a portrait of a steamship by George Mears, dated 1885.

Other notable work includes a small portrait of the artist's daughter by William Henry Hunt, and a watercolour Interior of West Hill House (c. 1842) by John Hornby Maw. Historical exhibits and several 19th Century ships' prows are also in the collections of this charming, modest museum.

The Fishermen's Museum, housed in a small former fishermen's church of 1854, has lots of mixed quality pictures and prints, and in particular there is a good opportunity to further make the acquaintance with the works of William Henry Borrow. Close to that museum is the series of tall and narrow 19th Century wooden net-drying huts.

Also in Hastings

In the Old Town, St. Clement's Church is of interest, partly because Rossetti was married here. On the sea front is much Georgian and Victorian architecture, in particular the excellent Pelham Crescent of the 1820s, by some obscure (to me at least) architect called Joseph Kay.

In the main part of the town ('New Town'), Holy Trinity Church, on Robertson Street, dates from 1851-9 and is apparently by Teulon. Next to is is an ornate fountain to Sarah, Countess of Waldegrave, with much corroded limestone statue, erected by public subscription 1861.

Half a minute away on Claremont is the Brassey Institute, now containing the town library. A good building by the architect Vernon, dating from 1878, it combines a blocky Gothic tower on one side with otherwise largely Italianate detail. It is worth exploring - the porch has a small mosaic frieze a la Bayeaux Tapestry, and there are a couple of portrait sculptures inside. Most interestingly, though, in the lending library are two long paintings by E. A. Armitage, from 1874, showing processionals of heroines from the past.

The Town Hall is in Queen's Road, a castellated effort in sandstone by Henry Ward. Opposite is the former Gaity Cinema, once the Marine Palace of Varieties, from just before 1900. The modest Queen's Arcade runs underneath.

Facing the sea and walking rightwards or westwards along the shore is a pleasant stroll to Warrior Square (1850s-60s, though sadly some demolition is occuring), where facing the sea is a bronze statue of Queen Victoria (1902), one of several versions of the subject by F. J. Williamson. The date is 1902 and this is a characteristic work by the sculptor. The modest pier which divides Hastings proper from the St Leonards/Warrior Square district is by E. Birch. Warrior Square has its own station on the line from London, and visitors alighting here can visit the main street with its several antique shops before walking along the beach through to central Hastings.

Top of page

Victorian art in Britain

Home