When I was a teenager, Hastings was my favourite place to spend time. I loved the vibrant culture, great music scene and, of course, The Crypt nightclub (which is sadly no more). In addition to these lively attractions, the town also has an incredible history – something that can really be felt in Hastings Old Town, which is home to a funicular railway, smugglers caves and buildings that date back to the fifteenth century. It is also home to an unassuming building, which, despite its minimal exterior appearance, is in fact abundant with information.
Hastings History House aims to give both locals and visitors the opportunity to immerse themselves in the past. Through the extensive use of display boards, one is able to move from area to area, and from past to present. Entirely volunteer-led, this engaging space is best described as a work in progress. Research into different aspects of Hastings history is on-going, and this is reflected in the use of post-it notes to add to, or update, information. This sense of development, and active curating, makes the place feel alive with knowledge – something that is also apparent in the enthusiastic conversation of volunteers.
One of the History House’s most engrossing displays focuses on Hastings Old Town, and the streets that were lost during the Bourne slum clearance, after the First World War. The recounts that described this slum housing made for grim reading. In one description, for instance, fourteen people were described as living on a temporary floor, which had been made by simply laying planks of wood on top of rafters – in comparison to the repeated accounts of flooding cesspits, these quarters might have been considered a luxury.
It is amazing to think that a volunteer-led space can be so ‘maximal’ in content: reference books, film clips, archaeological finds, and various types of text – all supported by well-informed staff. From this visit, it would seem that Hastings History House is definitely achieving Old Hastings Preservation Society’s initial objective, which is:
“To promote the permanent preservation for the benefit of the Nation of buildings of beauty or historic interest, and in particular, such buildings in the County Borough of Hastings.”