Secret Hastings & St Leonards
By Tina Brown 

REVIEW BY TIM BARTON

Now here’s a fun little book – unearthing details of smuggling, former famous residents, groovy little places like the Mortuary House, and much more. Passionate historian Tina Brown was born and bred in Hastings and has been researching, designing and leading local tours since 1992. In this, her latest book of many on Hastings and beyond, Brown introduces even long-time residents to new facts about our weird and wacky town. Whilst most locations will not be unknown to locals, many of the snippets of history attached to them will be. And for newbies and tourists alike this book is a gem.

Naturally, pubs feature heavily throughout the book – we have a lot, and many are very old. Links to smuggling are ubiquitous and fascinating details of the goods that were hidden, in what quantities, and in which nooks and crannies are revealed. Linked to these nefarious activities are the networks of twittens and snickleways that lace the Old Town. Missing from this edition, but worth wandering round, are the St Leonards passages, one of which to me is pure St Ives.

Buildings we are familiar with often had very different uses in the past, and a number of these are unveiled here too: some I knew, for example, Source Park housed mineral baths, and the White Rock was formerly an infirmary. But others I had no idea about, such as the old Workhouse in George Street and the Mortuary House.

I also didn’t know about the origins of the old oak trunk in Alexandra Park; if you don’t either, this is the book for you. The chapters on Education & Religion and Food & Drink are especially interesting on old buildings now either repurposed, like the Old Ragged School or the Kicking Donkey public house, or demolished, like the Bohemia House School, which was pulled down in 1972.

Inevitably, there’s the odd section that rings a bum note, except for tourists: for example, yes we know the battle of Hastings didn’t take place here. We also know, however, that technically it didn’t take place ‘at a town some 5 miles inland, which now bears the name of Battle’, not quite anyway (or is that controversial too?). Nevertheless, there are also plenty of fascinating historical facts to be found within this
work that I suspect many locals will have not already known about.

One of the things we don’t do enough of when out and about is to look up, and our town has many features above street level we may never have noticed, even having lived here for a long time. These may be quirky decorative architectural features or faded old-fashioned business adverts, such as the clock over Hendy’s in the High Street. I had no idea before reading Secret Hastings & St Leonards that the Duke of Wellington at one point resided here. Although there’s a blue plaque, you need to – you guessed it – look up to notice it.  Hopefully, this book will encourage us to pay more attention to where
we live.

Also in stock at Bookbusters is ex-mayor David Thornton’s 1987 Hastings: A Living History, a beautifully presented volume for £15. There are very few general histories of Hastings available – a hole in the market perhaps.

Tina Brown has also written books on Haunted Hastings and Haunted Sussex Theatres. 

Amberley Books have other published works on Hastings & St Leonards and the Sussex Coast.
www.amberleybooks.com Available from Bookbuster at £14.99


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