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Key events 771 - 1699

771 - 1699 | 1700 - 1799 | 1800 - 1849 | 1850 - 1899 | 1900 - 1949 | 1950 - 1979 | 1980 onwards

771 - Offa, King of Mercia 757-96, defeated ‘gens Hestingorum’, the Latin term for the people of the Hastings area, in his long-running military campaign to expand his kingdom into Kent and Sussex. In 772 he established a Minster Church at Bexhill, possibly on the site of the present St Peters, serving outlying districts.

880 - Documents referred to ‘Haestingaceastre’. ‘Ceastre’ is a Saxon word, meaning stone-built castle, but as none is known near Hastings at this time, it could mean that the Roman-built Pevensey Castle was the property of the Haestingas.

c930 - A mint was recorded as being at ‘Haestingaceastre’, possibly Pevensey, although the town of Hastings had started developing c900. The mint was established by King Athelstan (king 924-39), showing that there was a notable trading centre. The first surviving coins bearing the town’s name date from 985-991. There were five mint operators in 1017-23, a time of economic boom. Minting was discontinued in the reign of King Stephen (1135-54).

1011 - The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle says that in this year the Vikings over-ran all Kent, Sussex, Surrey and ‘Haestingas’, showing that the Hastings area was still a significant and semi-independent locality.

1017 - Some of Hastings was included in the grant of the Manor of ‘Rameslie’ to the Norman Abbey of Fécamp by King Canute. This link with Normandy lasted four centuries, and may explain why the Normans chose Hastings as their 1066 base. Rameslie may have been Rye; the extent of its manor is unknown, except that it was to the north and east of Hastings, possibly extending into Kent. Hastings has always had closer cultural ties to Kent than to western Sussex, a feeling increased by it being the easternmost rape in Sussex (see 1069). The Abbey probably founded the churches of All Saints and St Clements on its land.

1050s - The five ports of Hastings, Romney, Hythe, Dover and Sandwich started working together because of their shared economic interests in fishing and trade, and because the Crown occasionally needed them to provide vessels for cross-Channel communications and naval services. In the 12th century, when they were a more organised group, they become known as the Cinque Ports. ‘Hastingaport’ is named on coins dated 1050

1066 Sept 25 - King Harold’s army defeated the Vikings at the Battle of Stamford Bridge, near York, after marching there quickly from the south. But on the 28th the French, under William, Duke of Normandy, invaded England, landing on the coast between Pevensey and Bulverhythe. The Normans owned much land in Sussex at this time. William took over Hastings as his base, building a temporary wooden castle. This was either inside the prehistoric enclosure on the West Hill where a stone church already stood, or on lower ground, now submerged, to the south of the West Hill, where the Castle Rocks are today. This was the first Norman castle to be built in Britain. In the Bayeux Tapestry William appears to be burning the existing town. Harold marched back south, meeting William on October 13 to try to negotiate a settlement, but this failed.

1066 Oct 14 - William won the Battle of Hastings, which took place six miles inland from the port. He was crowned King of England in Westminster Abbey on December 25.

1067-9 - William’s temporary wooden castle was replaced by the beginnings of a stone castle. This may the one that partially survives today, or it could have been on the lower ground, only to be washed away by the sea a few years later and then replaced by the current building. The original size of today’s castle was probably more than twice what it is now. Over the following centuries, many changes and additions were made to the layout.

1069 - William I divided Sussex into six north-south strips (‘rapes’), each with a castle and seaport, designed to safeguard important passage routes between London and Normandy. The reliable Robert, Count of Eu, was given the Rape of Hastings, which was smaller than the territory of the Haestingas, as some of this was put in the Rape of Pevensey. The Count was entrusted with the castle, the cross-Channel stop-off point, but his descendents were so frequently in rebellion against their king in the 11th and 12th centuries that the castle was seldom out of the monarch’s hand for many years at a time.

1070 - The Count rebuilt the existing church in the castle as the Collegiate Church of St Mary, in honour of the Virgin Mary (the forerunner of today’s St Mary-in-the-Castle Church).

Late 11th Century - At around this time, or soon afterwards, the town moved (or started moving) from the White Rock headland and Priory Valley into the Bourne Valley because of coastal erosion, sea damage, silting, and William’s burning of the town, if that took place. In the 12th century the town was sometimes called ‘New Hastings’. Today’s Old Town is clearly a result of town planning, because the High Street and All Saints Street are both straight, parallel and equi-distant from the Bourne Stream. They were also cut into the slopes of their respective hills, necessitating the roads and high pavements to be built before the houses. This town planning either dates from the late 11th century, or from immediately after the storms of the late 13th century, which probably caused major damage to much of the existing town.

1086 - There is no Hastings entry in the Domesday Book, although the Abbey of Fécamp is shown as having four burgesses and 14 cottagers paying rents up to 63 shillings a year in ‘Hastinges’ (the old Hastings?), and a ‘new burg’ (the new Hastings?) has 64 burgesses returning £7 18 shillings.

1094 - William II assembled a large army in and around Hastings for an expedition to France, but this was abandoned.

1154 - Arabic geographer Al-Idrissi described Hastings as ‘a town of large extent and many inhabitants, flourishing and handsome, having markets, workpeople and rich merchants’.

1155 - Henry II grants a royal charter to the Cinque Ports allowing them to engage in many normally illegal activities (including smuggling) as long as they supply the Crown with a total 57 vessels for 15 days each year, in emergencies. This charter was probably just confirming what had been in practice for many decades. The custody of the castle was returned to the Crown at about this time, and considerable work was carried out in the following decades. This included a stone keep built c1171-74, probably in the south-east corner, now lost to the sea.

1175 - The Holy Trinity Priory belonging to the Augustinians (the Black Canons) was founded about this time by Walter de Scotney. The Priory was located between Cambridge Gardens and Priory Street, and owned many acres in the Priory Valley.

1180 - Fairlight Church was built, becoming an important landmark for seafarers for many centuries. It was demolished in 1845 and replaced on the same site by the present St Andrews Church.

1191 - Each of the five Cinque Ports had other towns, or ‘limbs’, attached to them, with Winchelsea and Rye being added to Hastings. These two soon outgrew Hastings, being able to supply more vessels, and by the 14th century they had become known as the ‘Ancient Towns’.

c1200 - By this time most of Hastings was in the Bourne Valley, with few buildings in the Priory Valley. But coastal erosion and sea incursion were starting to reduce the capabilities of Hastings as a major port.

1201 - King John while in Hastings issued his proclamation claiming sovereignty of the sea. Edward I made some additional sea laws here in 1274, after which there is no record of a royal visitor to the town until the 18th century.

1204 - Philip of France recaptured Normandy, reducing the significance of Hastings as a cross-Channel communications port.

1216 - Hastings Castle was partially dismantled on the order of King John because the knights who garrisoned it had not been supporting him in his unsuccessful struggle against the Barons, seeking more power. In 1225 the Crown took over possession of the castle from the Eu family and refortified it.

1260 & 1278 - In this, the most influential century of the Cinque Ports, the Crown gave the ports two charters of extra privileges as a reward for the important naval roles they were playing. But the decline of their harbours because of storms, flooding and silting meant that from around 1300 their maritime capability was reduced, and the Crown started cutting back its use of the licensed pirates.

1287 Feb 4 - Severe weather caused possibly the most serious flooding for centuries, probably damaging (if not destroying) most of the Old Town, and sweeping away the remains of the old town of Winchelsea. ThIs was the culmination of decades of major storms, including 1236, October 1 1250 (exceptionally bad) and January 14 1252, all of which probably harmed Hastings significantly. Ground for a new St Clements Church was made available in 1286, some way inland from its Norman site, and it was probably built then or soon after. Some of Hastings Castle was also probably lost to these storms and the coastline of eastern Sussex was changed. Some historians believe the storm of 1250 was the worst of all, largely destroying Winchelsea, and leading to the laying out of the new town of Winchelsea in 1283. It may also have caused the rebuilding of Hastings on a new layout (see Late 11th Century).

1294 - A charity was created (today’s Magdalen and Lasher), with a gift of 57 acres of land for the benefit of the poor in the parishes of All Saints and St Clements. The land is now St Leonards from Warrior Square Station north-east to Bohemia Road.

1308 - Edward II, in a lifelong power struggle with the barons, ordered some improvements at Hastings Castle. It returned to a peacetime footing in 1322.

1331 - As Hastings Castle had been abandoned as a place of defence and was in severe disrepair, the Dean and Chapter of St Marys chapel were granted custody of it by Edward III, which they retain until 1546. Much of the cliff had fallen in the bad weather of recent decades. They enclosed the castle and built their dwellings within, but from here it gradually fell into a state of decay from which it never recovered.

1339 June - The town was plundered and burnt by the French, after burning Portsmouth, two years after the start of the Hundred Years War. This seems to have been the first serious attack on the English coast since the Norman Conquest. The Cinque Ports fleet retaliated a few weeks later, burning Boulogne. The castle was briefly brought back into use, under the command of William de Percy. The oldest surviving houses in the Old Town date from after this time.

1340 - An inquiry was held into the damage done to the churches of St Michael (at White Rock), St Peter and St Margaret.

1343 and 1366 - The townspeople of Hastings pillaged the unguarded castle, imprisoning the resident clergy who then looked after it.

1340-50 - Successive storms damaged the coast and properties close to the sea.

1346-7 - In the year-long siege of Calais, Hastings, as one of the Cinque Ports, provided only five vessels and 96 men. England won. Throughout this century, Winchelsea and Rye made larger contributions to the King’s Navy than Hastings, reflecting its decline.

1366-7 - Sandstone from Fairlight was taken to Rochester Castle by sea.

1377 Aug - In their second major attack on the English coast since 1066, the French failed to beat Winchelsea, so they plundered and burnt Hastings and Rye. All Saints Church and St Clements Church were both probably destroyed. This attack, and much sea damage in the past century, turned Hastings into a small and poor port, a state it did not recover from until the late 18th century.

1379 - In retaliation for the 1377 French attack, the Cinque Ports attacked and burnt several towns in Normandy.

c1380 - St Clements Church was rebuilt, following the French raid. It replaced one built on this site in the 1280s, which itself replaced one nearer the sea, which had been destroyed by storms and, possibly, the French.

1381 June - Richard II defeated the 'Peasants' Revolt', the near-revolution led by Jack Straw against the unfair poll tax, which sparks widespread social unrest in England.

c1385 - A wall is believed to have been built at about this time across the south end of the Old Town. It was probably for protection from defence against the sea, and may have also been an anti-French defence. The beach level on the seaward side of the wall was about six feet below today’s ground level. The wall visible today is either that wall, or, most likely, a replacement or upgrading of it dating from the 1540s, when major anti-French defensive works took place along the south coast. The wall (known as the ‘town wall’) included three gateways: The Sea Gate, in the High Street, by No 58; the Great Gate, where The Bourne road is today, by Winding Street; and the Pulpit Gate with an adjoining fort on the site of 74 All Saints Street.

Early 1400s - The existing All Saints Church was built. The site of its Norman predecessor, which was probably burnt down by the French in 1377, is unknown. It may have been where the new church was built, or it could possibly have been closer to the sea, where it may have suffered sea damage similar to the pre-1287 St Clements,

1415 Nov - There was another great storm and inroad of the sea.

1417 - Hastings Priory had suffered severe sea erosion in recent years, so it moved inland to Warbleton, east of Rushlake Green, on land granted by Sir John Pelham. The old Priory remained in use until its suppression in 1536, when it became a farm.

1419 Jan - Henry V won the battle of Rouen in Normandy in his successful war against France, of 1415-20. This gave him control of all Normandy property, including that of the Abbey of Fécamp which included the churches of All Saints and St Clements.

1450 - Jack Cade led a rebellion of Kent and eastern Sussex people (including at least 11 from Hastings) in an unsuccessful attempt to create a better form of society.

1536-8 - During the Reformation, when Henry VIII took ownership of all monasteries and their valuable land, the old Priory and its many acres were bestowed on the attorney general. (By the start of the 19th century, the Earl of Cornwallis had acquired three-quarters of it and the Milward family the rest.) In 1546, following the Reformation, Henry VIII passed on St Mary’s Church in Hastings Castle, along with much other land in Sussex, to Sir Anthony Browne, a prominent courtier. By this time the castle was in complete ruins. There was little more than the outside wall, plus a gate with chambers over it, some vaults and fragments of buildings.

1539-44 - In fear of an invasion by France, Camber Castle was built on a shingle spit to provide artillery protection for shipping entering Rye and Winchelsea. Some of the stone was taken from quarries at Hastings and Fairlight. The garrison was disbanded in
1637 as the eastward movement of the harbour entrance had made the castle obsolete.

1548 - The French burn about a tenth of the houses in Hastings. In this decade of increased trouble with France the Town Wall may have been built from George Street to the bottom of All Saints Street (or a wall built there about 1385 was improved).

1563 - Almost 200 people were killed by an epidemic in the summer months.

1578 - The town’s small harbour arm on the west side of the Old Town was washed away in a storm. Attempts were made to build another, but this was not completed (mainly because much of the funding was pocketed by members of the local establishment), and a storm in 1589 or ’90 demolished it.

1586 - The first-ever topographical survey of all the British Isles (Britain, by William Camden) said: “The tradition is that the old towne of Hastings is swallowed up by the sea. … The haven, such as it is, being feede but with a poore small rill, is at the south end of the towne.”

1588 Aug - The Spanish Armada was routed by the English as it went up the Channel. Hastings could only mobilise one large vessel, the 70-ton Bonaventure, plus several fishing boats.

1588 - A charter of incorporation was granted by the Crown to leading people in the town to regularise unlawful land seizure they had carried out. It allowed them to set up a 'local authority', with a mayor, so that they could run the town in a more official-looking (but still privileged and undemocratic) way until the local government law was changed in the early 1830s.

1591 - The castle and the 'honour of Hastings' were purchased by the Pelham family, long-serving prominent members of the Sussex establishment who had been involved with Hastings Castle for almost two centuries, and who played an influential role in the town up to the 19th century. The castle remained derelict until 1824, when Lord Chichester, a member of the Pelham family, excavated and partly rebuilt it. The family sold the castle to Hastings Council in 1951 for £3,000.

1595 - Major investment was made in a new harbour which the town urgently needed, using large blocks of stone abutting the remains of the wood harbour of 1578-80. But this was washed away in late 1596. Another attempt was made in 1597, using the wood, but a storm on November 1 1597 destroyed it, leaving the town in considerable debt. Attempts were made to repair it, in 1611 and
1621, but then stopped because of lack of funds.

1596 - It is believed that this was when the existing Fishponds Farmhouse in Barley Lane was built.

1618 - Several disastrous fires in the town resulted in a ban on new houses having thatched roofs.

1619 Nov 15 - The Rev William Parker, rector of All Saints Church, in his will of this date left to Hastings Council 110 acres of land on the west side of Ore Valley the rents of which were to fund a school. This, the town’s first school outside the castle, opened in 1639 in a house at the top of the High Street, where Torfield House is today. In 1878 his legacy helped pay for the creation of the Grammar School, later renamed the William Parker Comprehensive. Parker Road is part of that land.

1627 - Privateers from Dunkirk bombarded the town.

1643 July 9 - During the English Civil War, a detachment of the Parliamentary army led by Colonel Morley took over the Royalist-dominated town, meeting no resistance. All weapons were surrendered. That night some soldiers were billeted in All Saints Church.

1656 - There were more attacks by enemy privateers.

1656 Late - A storm wrecked the repaired 1597 harbour. No further attempts were made to build a harbour until 1896.

1663 - The Minnis Rock, below the north end of High Wickham, appears in a sketch, the earliest indication of the existence of the three caves there. The name comes from the Middle English word ‘menesse’ meaning common land. Both the East and West Hills were regarded as being common land.

1678 - Samuel Jeake, a prominent Rye lawyer, in his book Charters of the Cinque Ports, written in this year, said about Hastings that the sea had “covered with its Waves the old Town and Port, as some say three miles, and left this Town and Port of Hasting only a Stade Place”. He appeared to be referring to the late-13th century storms. He also said he was “as yet uncertain” that it had happened.

1690 July - The English and Dutch navies were defeated by the French at the Battle of Beachy Head, and the British ship Anne ran ashore at Pett Level, where much of her hull still lies. The French later attacked Hastings from the sea, but without landing.

© Copyright 2012 The Hastings Chronicle