Artist Lorna Crabbe tells us about an exciting new project, ‘Rediscovering West Street: A meandering and forgotten past

Duo Bogof and a white rabbit 'family portrait’, Duo Bogof will be part of the Illuminating West Street celebrations, photo by  Sin Bozkurt
Duo Bogof and a white rabbit ‘family portrait’, Duo Bogof will be part of the Illuminating West Street celebrations, photo by Sin Bozkurt

’, which launches at the beginning of December.

I have lived on West Street in Hastings old town for over ten years now and it never fails to surprise me. Set in the Old Town conservation area, wedged between George St and the Seafront, it is a narrow, badly-lit back street and service road with a largely ignored history.

Postcard photographers were not interested in it, local historians have only basic information, nobody has undertaken any thorough research and yet its history is steeped in tales of piracy, smuggling, slums and crime. My research has unearthed a host of characters including prominent Suffragettes, a champion swimmer & costumier, Oswald Mosley and the Black Shirts, the Ancient Order of Druids, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Biddy the Tubman, Nelson’s valet and an octopus.

I have wanted to develop a project for West Street for some time, to look beyond the overspilling wheelie bins, blocked drains and the noise of late night revellers and to encourage greater awareness of the street, its past, and the creative endeavours happening here now.

Discussions with Home Live Art –  who I have worked with on the Coastal Currents arts festival in the past – encouraged me to apply for funding for more formal research and to run some creative projects to reflect West Street’s unconventional history.

Through the West Street Community Group , we have received funds for a year-long project supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund which will allow for greater research and the chance to create a publication and archive, and hold a street party.

The Arts Council have supported our first event – Illuminating West Street: a Winter Salon, a series of special performance on and around West Street over the first weekend in December, in partnership with Home Live Art and tying in with the Old Town Spirit of Christmas celebrations.

Some of our activities will take place in the Simply Italian restaurant on the seafront, backing onto West Street, beginning on Friday 1st December at 8pm when Colchester Arts Centre Director, Anthony Roberts, performs his very own candlelit rendition of Dickens’ classic tale, A Christmas Carol with musical accompaniment by Jamie Cunliffe.

On both Friday and Saturday between 4pm – 8pm, the wonderfully eccentric Duo Bogof will flit between West Street and George Street, serving up vintage style magic, a vanishing lady and a lost rabbit. Meanwhile, Hastings-based artist collective Radiator Arts will create light interventions to illuminate West Street and local artist Peter Quinnell will offer a “Christmas Grottoesque” – a distorted seasonal tableau.

From 2-4pm on Saturday, Transition Town Hastings will present ‘Ye Olde Curiosity Swap Shop’ a free present swapping event at Simply Italian, and just to prove that beautiful things can come out of West Street between 2pm – 6pm, a spectacularly large and colourful snail will emerge into neighbouring George Street.

On Sunday from 11-12.30 artist Ed Boxall will perform storytelling and magical projections and in the afternoon from 2-4pm free craft based workshops will be on offer.

Open studios will run throughout the weekend.

If you would like to find out more about the project and how to get involved or have any information to share about West Street please get in touch with Project Coordinator Lorna Crabbe at lornacrabbe@gmail.com or 07975 872075.

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