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1403 - For many
centuries there was often the fear of a foreign invasion across
the sea waters surrounding Britain, so watches were mounted along
the coast, especially in the south. One of the first coast defence
laws was passed in 1403, when Henry IV acted to secure England
against an attack by ordering that such watches should be kept
“as they were wont to be in times past”, probably
from at least the early 13th century. A network of fire beacons
along the coast, with links inland, was the main method for signalling
the presence of enemy ships until the end of the 18th century.
Each beacon also mobilised militia forces in its surrounding area,
mustering bands of local people to fight off invaders. The system
became highly organised during the 16th century, particularly
when the Spanish Armada was expected in 1588. Fairlight always
played a prominent role in this communications network, being
the highest land between Beachy Head in the west and Hythe in
the east. There is no record of the site of the beacons, but the
highest point able to signal inland as well as along the coast
was about 200 yards south-west of Fairlight Church (mostly quarried
away during World War Two). The church, built 1180, could also
have been used, as its tower was visible all around for many miles.
Watches would probably have been kept where Fairlight Coastguard
Station is today, and on the East Hill.
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 building stone
was taken from quarries at Hastings and Fairlight (but the locations
of these are unknown).
Fairlight Place in late Victorian times
Mid-16th Century - Fairlight Place may have been built
at about this time (or up to a century later). It is generally
considered to be the most significant historic building in the
Reserve. It is built of stone, presumably local, and is two-storied
and gabled, with a tiled roof and a prominent central entrance
porch on its southern side. At its rear are two wings, one built
c1780, the other c1800. There is a rear brick annexe dating from
about 1850. It had several owners before being bought in 1733
by the wealthy Sir Thomas Webster, the then-recent purchaser of
the Battle Abbey estate and much other land in the eastern Weald.
His descendant Sir Godfrey Webster (1789-1836) sold Fairlght Place
to Edward Milward Jnr in 1811-12, plus Fairlight Down and much
of the Priory Valley.
1596 - It is believed that this was when the existing
Fishponds Farmhouse was built.
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.
The caves of the Minnis Rock, below High Wickham
1723 - Birth of Edward Milward Snr; who died 1811. He
and his father (also Edward, 1682-1749) acquired a large amount
of land in the Hastings area. He was mayor 26 times. He was a
strong character who let nothing oppose him. In 1754 he married
Mary Collier (1725-1783), a daughter of John Collier.
1750 - The earliest known large-scale map of Hastings
was produced. It was made by local surveyor and schoolmaster Samuel
Cant for John Collier (see 1760 below), and showed land that he
owned on the East and West Hills, and in the Old Town, Clive Vale
and Priory Valley. The East Hill was laid out as fields, with
St George’s Churchyard, called ‘Beacon Hill’,
containing a large signalling mast and flag in its south-east
corner. Ecclesbourne Glen was called ‘Egglesbourne’.
1760 Dec 9 - Death of John Collier, aged 75, the most powerful
establishment figure in Hastings from c1710 onwards. Born November
1 1685, he came from an Eastbourne family of moderate means. He
was appointed Hastings town clerk in 1706 and became a solicitor,
judge advocate, banker, property manager and government agent,
most notably as Surveyor General for the Customs for Kent (ie,
head of Kent’s anti-smuggling forces) from 1733. He undertook
estate agency for many notable Sussex families, especially the
Pelhams with whom he had long-term close ties via the powerful
Duke of Newcastle (Thomas Pelham), who was prime minister 1754-56.
At that time there were no banks, and Collier made a great deal
of money from acting as a personal banker: people brought him
their cash to look after, and he could invest this ready money
in property which would generate enough return to pay back the
‘borrowed’ money. In this way he obtained many acres
of land, including much of what is today the Reserve. When he
died he had £31,000-worth of land in Sussex, Kent and Surrey.
He had 24 children, but only five daughters survived him, one
of whom, Mary, married Edward Milward Snr in 1754. Two years later
Collier was able to assign his post with the Customs, usually
considered to be a good source of income (legal or illegal), to
Milward Snr, then his son-in-law, along with the role of local
agent for the Duke of Newcastle. Milward Snr acquired most, if
not all, Collier’s property on his death in 1760, and by
the end of the 18th century Milward owned most of the undeveloped
land between the West Hill and Warren Glen, plus much other property
across eastern Sussex. Collier’s widow Mary wrote in 1764:
“The way he [Milward Snr] goes on here is quite amazing
to all the world; neither house nor land within ten miles of this
place that he will not purchase if it’s possible, by offering
more than people can withstand.” Another daughter of John
Collier, Cordelia, married Major-General James Murray, Governor
of Quebec Province 1763-6 and the builder of Beauport house on
Late 18th Century - John Coussens carved the three large
‘Black Arches’ in a sandstone outcrop on the East
Hill, above Tackleway, as a hoax, fooling visitors into thinking
there was a church in the hillside. They are still visible today,
with some difficulty because of bushes.
1778-79 - Regiments of troops were encamped on Fairlight
1778-83 - Surveyors Yeakell and Gardner produced the
first detailed map of all Sussex. The two inches-to-the-mile map
shows most of the Reserve as fields, with little woodland and
few buildings. The map is similar to the Ordnance Survey drawings
of 1797-1806, which are clearer (see below).
1780 Spring - There was a serious outbreak of smallpox,
and for a long time a small house almost on the beach at the bottom
of Fairlight Glen was used as a ‘Pest House’, from
which non-infected people were banned. The house is in several
1786 Jan - The Lovers Seat lovers - Elizabeth Boys (daughter
of the High Sheriff of Sussex) and Capt Charles Lamb of Rye -
were married. Capt Lamb was the commander of an anti-smuggling
revenue cutter, the Stag, who courted Ms Boys, of Hawkhurst, despite
the opposition of her father. She was staying at Fairlight Place,
so the pair could only meet in secret at Lovers Seat when the
captain’s vessel was off that part of the coast. After marrying,
the couple lived happily for 28 years until the captain died at
sea. There have been many romanticised versions of this story,
not least because Lovers Seat was a most unusual and attractive
spot for lovers of all kinds to meet. What became known as the
‘seat’ was a slab of sandstone rock at the highest
clifftop point between Fairlight and Warren Glens. It projected
out over a secluded bench, about 20 feet below, where lovers could
come together. A major cliff-fall in 1961 removed the slab, the
bench and the surrounding clifftop.
Lovers Seat in the 1890s. The large slab may have been the first Lovers Seat; the one above looked as though it had been cut to shape and then put in place
1787 Sept-Oct - General William Roy set up a 32-feet
high scaffold tower supporting a theodolite where North’s
Seat is today, or close to it. He was making long-range observations
as part of the triangulation survey linking London and Paris that
resulted in 1791 of the setting up of the Ordnance Survey, the
world’s first official surveying body. Fairlight and Dover
were the two key English cross-Channel observation points. The
1787 survey enabled the production of the first one-inch-to-the-mile
maps, which began in the 1790s.
1792 - The name ‘East Hill’ first appeared
in deeds. Prior to that, from at least 1540, it was called St
George’s Lands (later St George’s Hills).
1793-1815 - During the Napoleonic Wars, Hastings was
in the front line because it was so close to France. In fear of
a French invasion, troops were stationed in the town in encampments
and specially-built military barracks around the town. Edward
Milward Snr sold to the government about 30 acres of ground at
Halton, where the main barracks were erected in 1803-4; these
were sold off to Boykett Breeds in 1823 for development. The 1794
barracks at Bopeep were accidently burnt down in February 1804,
and then rebuilt. There were also barracks at Bexhill, Battle,
Winchelsea and probably Pett, plus encampments on Milward’s
Fairlight Down. His High Street stables (now the Stables Theatre)
were converted to barracks in 1797. Troops were also billeted
around the town, and there was a marked increase in the number
of illegitimate children. A volunteer force, the Sea Fencibles,
was formed in February 1798.
1794-95 - A ‘Signal Station’ was built where
Fairlight Coastguard Station is today. This was one of a line
of such stations set up by the government in late 1794 and early
1795 along the south coast, to monitor shipping movements, identify
enemy vessels and communicate with defence forces by day and night.
Each station consisted of a small wooden hut-cum-cottage, prefabricated
in Portsmouth Dockyard, and an 80 feet high mast able to fly flags
and display signal balls. All this was delivered by sea to the
nearest landing site. The stations were managed by the Admiralty.
When the stations closed, in 1814, there were 26 along the coast
between North Foreland and the Needles. Fairlight’s nearest
neighbour to the east was at Dungeness point, while to the west
there was initially an 18 mile gap to Beachy Head, but this made
signalling so difficult that in 1811 intermediate stations were
built at Galley Hill and Pevensey Bay. The fate of the Fairlight
station immediately after 1814 is uncertain, but in 1818 the Admiralty
decided to set up a semaphore system linking Deal and Beachy Head,
with a station at Fairlight. The old building was probably demolished
and replaced by a bigger Coast Blockade Service watch house and
semaphore station. The new Popham semaphore system, invented by
Rear Admiral Sir Home Popham in 1815, improved communications
between the Blockade stations and revenue cutters. The semaphore
was a tall mast with two arms, operated by chains running down
inside the mast, which had a wooden shed around its base. Naval
men inside the shed worked its arms. The semaphore network was
installed over a period of years, covering the Kent coast and
Sussex as far west as Beachy Head. Fairlight’s neighbours
were Jury’s Gap to the east, Bexhill to the west. When the
system became operational in 1820, it was handed over to the Coast
Blockade Service. But most smuggling took place at night, so the
network, though efficient, proved of little value, and it fell
out of use around 1826.
The Yeakell and Gardner 1783 map, two inches-to-the-mile
1797-1806 - Three surveys were carried
out in the Hastings area by the newly-formed Ordnance Survey as
they prepared their first series of maps, the one inch-to-the-mile.
The first survey was made in 1797 to the east of Hastings, at
three inches-to-the-mile. It covered everything north of a line
running east-west about 200 yards south of Fairlight Place, going
west as far as Ore village (the bottom of this drawing has been
cut off and lost). It shows the east end of Barley Lane extending
in line to Fairlight Road, plus a road from just east of there
going across the fields to Warren Farm, with no Coastguard Lane.
The 1794 ‘Signal Station is marked as ‘Signal House’.
Fairlight Down is common ground, as seems to be everything east
of Warren Glen stream, south of Warren Farm as far as the Haddocks.
Everything else is fields, apart from woodland at Pinders Shaw;
Warren Glen gill and Brakey Bank. Warren Cottage is called Warren
House. The second Ordnance Survey drawing was made in 1799, also
at three inches-to-the-mile. In poor condition, it shows everything
east of a line from the high land west of Fairlight Glen to just
west of Fishponds Farm and then to Ore village. Fairlight Glen
may be all woodland. Both glens are untilled. There is a building
(probably a barn) about 100 yards east-south-east of where the
New Barn was later sited, by today’s New Barn Pond; so was
it ‘new’ in relation to the old one in this map? The
third survey, at two inches-to-the-mile and carried out in 1806,
is the only one covering the town of Hastings. It runs eastward
from Pevensey Levels as far as Ecclesbourne stream, Pinders Shaw
and Fairlight Down. All the Reserve area covered is shown as fields
except for Fairlight Down (a common). The only woodland is Pinders
Shaw. It also shows Fishponds Farm as being big (larger than on
the 1799 drawing), with some buildings close to the lane. These
three surveyor’s drawings - 1797, 1799 and 1806 - were redrawn
in smaller scale at one inch-to-the-mile and published in 1813.
The original three drawings can be viewed on the British Library
website (see Sources).
The 1813 Ordnance Survey one inch-to-the-mile map
1803 - The March 1802 Treaty of Amiens brought the war
with France to a brief halt, but it resumed in May 1803. This
highlighted the need for improved defences, prompting the building
of the Martello Towers from 1805 (see below) and the setting up
of a new beacon warning system along the south coast to help inform
and unite the many military forces. The medieval fire beacons
had been partly reinstated over the previous decade, but had been
found inadequate, so in the early autumn of 1803 a new nationwide
chain of signal beacons was set up by the Army. Their main purpose
was to alert people inland, leaving the Admiralty’s 1794
signal stations to cover the coast. Fourteen stations were set
up in Sussex in 1803, including one on Fairlight Down, with its
nearest neighbours (from west to east) Jevington Hill, Brightling,
Hawkhurst, Tenterden and Aldington, near Hythe. The beacons were
tall simple piles of combustibles, especially gorse. Dragoons
were stationed in rough huts by the Fairlight Down beacon, ready
to ride with despatches to the Army commander based in Hastings
(there were then 2,100 infantry in and around Hastings, including
Fairlight Down). A test of the inland network in late 1803 found
it was possible to signal warning of an approaching invasion over
a distance of 100 miles in 15 minutes. But the many Army contingents
in Sussex also needed to be able to communicate with each other,
and so at the same time a pioneering telegraph system was set
up between Winchelsea and Brighton. A tall mast, with flags, balls
and pennants, was erected on Fairlight Down, linked to Winchelsea
and Bexhill. The 1803/5 fear of invasion soon passed, however,
and as the infantry moved away, the telegraph system either went
with them or was dismantled later. The beacons stayed in place
for a few years, until the French looked even less of a threat.
1803-05 - The great fears of a French invasion prompted
new coastal defensive measures in Sussex and Kent, which became
a very profitable business. Edward Milward Snr made bricks and
tiles, and in 1803 sold nearly all this output at a high price
for new barracks being built in Eastbourne. In early 1805 work
began on building the line of 46 Martello Towers along the Sussex
coast, plus the Redoubt at Eastbourne, requiring about 32 million
bricks. Most of the bricks for the towers between Cliff End and
Rye came from a large brickyard between Winchelsea and Camber
Castle, owned by Sir William Ashburnham and managed by William
Shadwell (later renamed Lucas-Shadwell). Overseeing the early
construction of all the Sussex towers was a Mr Dalloway, who lived
at Fairlight Place until late 1805.
1811 - Death of Edward Milward Snr, born 1723. He and
his father-in-law John Collier (1685-1760) were seen as having
been the most powerful individuals in the town for almost a century.
He bought Old Hastings House from a relative in 1796. His property
passed to his only son Edward Milward Jnr (1765-1833). Local journalist
and author Thomas Brett recalled that Edward Snr had been mayor
every other year for half a century, but was an invalid for some
few years before his death and left the mayoral business in the
hands of his son and Mr John Goldsworthy Shorter. “During
his long life he [Edward Snr] had become a very rich man, and
was less a philanthropist or public benefactor than was his son.”
Edward Jnr in 1817 married Sarah, daughter of the local Rev William
Whitear. But the marriage was childless, and when Edward Jnr died
in 1833, the estate passed to Sarah (1787-1873). She was very
generous, aiding many charities.
1811-12 - Fairlight Place, Fairlight Down and other land
was sold by Sir Godfrey Webster to Edward Milward Jnr. The Down
had been common land, but Milward enclosed much of it with hedges
and banks, and later sold some of the lower western slopes, where
houses were built to form Ore village.
1811 July - The “small genteel freehold villa called
Fairlight Lodge, or the Octagonal Cottage, [on the corner of Martineau
Lane and Fairlight Road] and upward of 24 acres of meadow and
arable land” were sold by auction in London to Dr Robert
Batty; the quote is from the auction bill. The Lodge (the date
of the building is unknown) was also called the Lantern House,
perhaps because its octagonal section looked like a lantern, and
also because it may have had a lantern giving signals to smugglers.
It was also on a route inland for smugglers. Martineau Lane was
then only going north from Fairlight Road, in front of the Lodge,
as far as the bottom of the hill. Dr Batty moved the first 150
yards of the lane to the west, to distance it from the Lodge,
to where it is today. In 1819 Batty’s daughter Elizabeth
(d 1875) married Philip Martineau, a Master in Chancery. The family
was descended from Gaston Martineau, a French Huguenot refugee
who fled to England in 1685. She inherited her father’s
property when he died in November 1849 in the Lodge, and gave
her husband’s name to the lane (it was first called ‘Martineau’s
Lane’). This was just as the construction of Fairlight Hall
was starting, and with it the new northern half of Martineau Lane,
from the bottom of the hill to Winchelsea Road. Elizabeth’s
son Robert Martineau was a friend of William Holman Hunt and John
Millais who stayed with him in the Lodge in 1852 (and possibly
The 1819 Ecclesbourne watch house, washed away in 1859
1819 Summer - A Coast Blockade Service (CBS) watch house
was built on a large rocky platform near the bottom of the cliff,
about 100 yards to the east of Ecclesbourne Stream. The CBS, consisting
of armed Navy men nicknamed the Warriors, was the forerunner of
the Coastguard. The CBS was set up in 1817 to replace the 1809-formed
Preventive Water Guard, which had been aimed at stopping smuggling
as well as giving anti-French defence. All this had started in
the Hastings area with the building of ‘The Battery’
on the seafront at the end of West Street in 1759 because of fears
of a foreign invasion. Also c1759 the military had a nearby piece
of ground at the west end of George Street where they built Government
House, with accommodation, stores etc, which was to be the headquarters
of military, naval and Coastguard operations in the Hastings area
until 1927. In 1899 the Government House (then called Marine Parade
Coastguard Station) was demolished and rebuilt as a block of flats,
work rooms etc. Around 1819 a CBS watch house was also built at
the Haddocks, Fairlight Cove, and another at Fairlight, there
either re-using, or roughly on the site of, the 1795 signal station.
An Admiralty semaphore station was also erected at Fairlight,
which the CBS used. All three watch houses - Ecclesbourne, Fairlight
and Haddocks - were later taken over by the Coastguard, which
was formed in 1822 under the Board of Customs, although the CBS
continued until 1831. The Ecclesbourne Station was extended in
1832 and a groyne was added on the east side in 1836 because the
sea was encroaching following the construction of groynes at Hastings.
It was washed away in 1859.
1825 - Sir John Herschel took long-range survey readings
close to where North’s Seat is today in order to help determine
precise calculations for degrees of longitude.
1830 Nov 3-4 - Serious disturbances broke out in the
countryside around Hastings and in neighbouring parts of Kent,
being the start of the Captain Swing uprising by impoverished
rural workers trying to stop their conditions becoming worse.
On these two days the insurrection was especially bad around Battle,
with barns and ricks being burnt, and a large crowd surrounding
the George Hotel. A few days later farm labourers at Fairlight
physically removed the Fairlight Workhouse overseer from the parish,
never to return, and local farmers agreed to give them a wage
rise. Other action in neighbouring parishes also won rises. The
direct-action movement petered out in the summer of 1831, but
the upper class felt so threatened by it that the Poor Law, giving
aid to the poor, was made much harsher and the workhouses were
turned into last-hope places of fear, rather than help.
1831 Jan 5 - Two smugglers - William Cruttenden of Hastings
and George Harrod of Guestling - were shot dead on the beach at
Fairlight Glen by military officers under attack from a large
group of smugglers. A jury later decided it was justifiable homicide.
Smugglers are believed to have played a leading role in the Captain
Swing uprising at that time.
1832 July - The Coast Blockade Service had largely won
its fight against smuggling, so it was abolished in 1831, with
the Coastguard taking over its roles and investing in them. This
included the leasing in July 1832 of more ground for the Ecclesbourne
Coastguard Station for an extension. Its new area was 50 ft by
323 ft, with much of the extra land to be a garden. A parade with
bastion protected the building from the sea. At the same time
the Haddocks station at Fairlight Cove was rebuilt. This included
a terrace of five small houses, the eastern one of which still
stands on the edge of the cliff - and is still used!
Sarah Milward, the Countess Waldegrave from 1846
1833 - Edward Milward Jnr died, and as he had no children,
his estate passed into the hands of his widow, Sarah (1787-1873).
She was the youngest daughter of Rev William Whitear, Prebendary
of Chichester, Rector of All Saints, St Clements and Ore. Born
in St Clements Rectory on January 17 1787, she married Edward
Jnr in March 1817. On his death she became the ‘owner’
(estate manager) of the West and East Hills, Fishponds Farm and
much other property, totalling more than 2,500 acres. In December
1846 she married, as second wife, Royal Navy officer William 8th
Earl Waldegrave, thereby becoming Sarah Countess Waldegrave. The
earl died October 1859. Sarah was a well-known local benefactor,
a strong Protestant, of stern character but great generosity.
She established one of the earliest Sunday Schools more than 60
years before her death, and founded the infant school in Cavendish
Place. She laid the foundation stones of many churches: Halton
1838; Fairlight 1845; St Mary Magdalen 1851; Holy Trinity, Robertson
Street 1857; Christ Church, Ore 1858; St Matthew, Silverhill 1860;
Hollington new church 1865; and the new parish church Ore 1869.
She gave sites for the 1835 boys and girls school in All Saints
Street and Halton schools. She gave £500 each to All Saints
and St Clements church restorations, also the St Andrews extension;
plus £500 as endowment for the Halton organist. She erected
the public baths and washhouses in Bourne Street for almost £2,000.
For the Rifle Corps, she gave £250 to clothe the men, and
provided the rifle ranges in Ecclesbourne Glen, and helped to
obtain the drill ground in the Central Recreation Ground, for
which she gave £1,000 to help the purchase. Luckily for
Hastings, most of her relatives who were to succeed her as managers
of the Milward estate shared her social concerns and generosity,
thus sparing the town from the speculative development that was
seen on most other estates in and around Hastings and St Leonards.
1833 Oct - Construction was completed of the town’s
first water reservoir, in Clive Vale. It held 800,000 gallons.
The 3.3 acres had been bought from Edward Milward Jnr early in
1831 for £100. By the early 1840’s the reservoir was
found to be too small, so a second one, holding two million gallons,
was built immediately downstream of it. This was completed by
April 1844. Both still exist, off Harold Road, opposite Githa
Road, and are used for angling.
1839 - Detailed tithe maps were made of all parishes,
giving the first comprehensive overview of the area which is now
the Reserve. The landowners: The maps show Sarah Milward as being
the owner of all of what is today the Reserve (including Fairlight
Down) as far east as Warren Glen, with most of it run from the
720-acre Fishponds Farm. The Milward eastern boundary at that
time was Warren Glen’s stream, from the sea inland to a
point on it 325 yards (300 metres) south of Warren Cottage; then
a line running north-east through roughly the middle of the big
quarry; to the fence on the west side of today’s car park;
then to Fairlight Road. The land to the east of that line - south
of Fairlight Road and taking in Coastguard Lane, the car park,
the Firehills and most of Fairlight Cove - was part of Warren
Farm and Waites Farm, themselves a section of the massive estate
then owned by William Lucas-Shadwell, the local solicitor and
speculator from a wealthy old Sussex family. (The Lucas-Shadwell
estate was auctioned in 1917 and the Milward estate probably then
bought the eastern side of Warren Glen to Coastguard Lane, plus
about 200 yards of the Firehills east of the Coastguard Station.)
Sarah Milward looked after the Milward estate from 1833 and made
it more publicly accessible. It was after her death in 1873 that
the estate began to be sold in parts. The largest farm in the
Reserve area in 1839 was the Milward’s Fishponds Farm. Neither
Fairlight Place Farm nor Shearbarn Farm were separate farms, as
they were then just outstations of Fishponds. The Milward estate
then owned 1,516 acres in the parishes of Fairlight, All Saints
(eastern Hastings), Ore and Guestling, plus well over a thousand
The fishponds of Fishponds Farm, in 1823
The land: The tithe maps and their schedules give a similar
picture to that of the Ordnance Survey drawings of 1797-1806.
The only significant woodlands were: Brakey Bank (then unnamed)
in Warren Glen; Gill Wood in Fairlight Glen (the north-east quarter
of the glen) and Long Shaw; and in Ecclesbourne Glen, the gill
around the stream near the bottom of the glen and at the top from
where the reservoir is today, north-east past Fishponds Farm.
There were also many small pieces of woodland north and west of
Fishponds Farm, including Pinders Shaw (then called Pindle Shaw),
and adjoining the streams in Warren and Fairlight Glens. All the
other land was arable and pasture farmland, including what may
have been ‘common’ land, much of which was called
‘rough pasture’. Tilekiln Lane was more significant
than today, with a track connecting to Barley Lane, as seen on
other maps. There was also the Barley Lane extension north-eastwards
to Fairlight Road, but the old road running south-east from there
past Warren Farm towards Cliff End was not on the tithe map. No
new settlements were marked. A barn (unnamed) was shown where
the New Barn was on later maps, and not where it was on the earlier
Ordnance Survey drawings. There were two windmills on the west
side of Mill Lane on Fairlight Down: one stood at the lane’s
90-degree turn, close to today’s Hillcrest School, the other
on the later site of North’s Seat. The only quarry was in
the field on the west side of Fairlight Coastguard Station; there
was no quarry marked near the church or near Warren Cottage, where
they were to be set up. Today’s picnic site on Fairlight
Road and the field north of it were one field, called the Cricketing
Field. The field at the top of what today is the Ecclesbourne
Meadow was then known as the Church Field. The Firehills were
called The Hills.
1840 Jan 29 – The Cinque Ports Chronicle of this
date reported that “an ancient earthen vase, of rude workmanship,
containing about 30 brass coins” had been recently dug up
inside “the Roman encampment on the East Hill” (now
the picnic site). The coins were believed to mainly date from
the reigns of Hadrian 117-138 AD and Constantine 305-337 AD. The
“encampment” was then being let by Mrs Milward on
the ‘cottage garden principle’, like allotments today.
The vase was broken by the digger’s spade. Several of the
coins were acquired by Mr Cooper who ran the Marine Library.
The 1846 Fairlight Church
1846 Aug 7 - The consecration of the new Fairlight Church
(St Andrews) took place. Its foundation stone was laid in May
1845 by Sarah Milward, who had donated £1,000 towards the
cost of the building. William Lucas-Shadwell donated £500,
plus a large quantity of stone for the church from his quarry.
The smaller previous church, built in 1180, had been in danger
of collapse and had been buttressed. Both churches have been landmarks
visible for many miles, and especially useful to seafarers. The
1846 church stands 536 feet above sea level and the tower rises
a further 82 feet, to 618 feet. Members of the public can see
the breathtaking view from the top of the tower on many days in
the summer. Buried in the churchyard are Countess Waldegrave and
her husband, members of the Lucas Shadwell family, the famous
musician Richard D’Oyly Carte and the parents and sister
of Cecil Rhodes, founder of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe; some of the
family lived at Fairlight Place for a while).
1846 Dec - Sarah Milward married the eighth Earl Waldegrave,
becoming the Countess Waldegrave. The earl died in 1859. Sarah
lived mainly at Old Hastings House at the top of the High Street,
where she died in 1873.
1849 Spring - Following the overthrow of the French monarchy
by a popular uprising in February 1848, the former king, Louis
Philippe, and his wife Queen Amelie, escaped from France and lived
in England. For about five months in 1849 they stayed in Hastings
and St Leonards, and it is believed that at least some of that
time was spent in Fairlight Place, for on July 2 1849 there was
a meeting there of many French dignitaries, plus the Queen of
Belgium (Louis’s daughter Louise Marie). 1850 Jan 10 - An eagle was shot under
the ‘East Cliff’ near Pett. It weighed 8½ pounds,
was three feet long and had a wingspan of 6½ feet. Historian
Thomas B Brett reported seeing an eagle in the Hastings area in
1850-51 - Fairlight Hall was built, off Martineau Lane
by William Drew Lucas-Shadwell (1816-75). He was the nephew of
William Lucas-Shadwell (1766?-1844), the solicitor and property
conveyancer, who left Drew his huge estate to the east of Hastings.
The Hall is built of local sandstone in Gothic Revival style,
with battlements. William Snr lived for some of his time in the
house at the top of All Saints Street that was to become All Saints
Rectory, directly opposite the Milward residence at Old Hastings
House. The Milwards and Lucas-Shadwells jointly through much of
the 19th century gave much help to local charities and carried
out local improvements, including the upgrading of Old London
Road from the High Street to Mount Road in 1815.
1851 - Hastings was running short of water, so the council
persuaded Countess Waldegrave to lease them three acres at the
top of Ecclesbourne Glen to build a six million gallon reservoir,
plus a tunnel, 470 yards long, feeding the water into the two
Clive Vale reservoirs. Work started that May, and was completed
in March 1853, at a cost of £2,500. In 1921-4 the council
raised the height of the reservoir’s dam, doubling its capacity.
The council required another two acres of land for this, and in
1924 it purchased all five acres from Edith Sayer-Milward. Officials
liked to call it the Ecclesbourne Reservoir, but its local name
was the Spoon.
Holman Hunt’s famous painting Our English Coasts
1852 Summer - Pre-Raphaelite artist William Holman Hunt
painted his greatest landscape, Our English Coasts, later known
as Strayed Sheep, looking west across Fairlight Glen from Lovers
Seat. Then aged 25, Hunt had heard of Hastings through one of
his pupils, Robert Martineau, whose parents were living at Fairlight
Lodge (on the corner of Martineau Lane). Early in 1852 Martineau
introduced Hunt to the ‘nonsense’ writer and artist
Edward Lear. As Hunt had a commission to paint a picture with
sheep in it, he decided to do it near Fairlight, and Lear found
him an ideal place to stay: Clive Vale Farm. This was sited in
Clive Vale, where there are houses south-east of the junction
of Saxon Road and Alfred Road today. Hunt and Lear stayed at the
farm for several weeks, and were contacted there by John Millais,
William Rossetti, Coventry Patmore, Arthur Hughes and William
Thackeray. Hunt and Millais also stayed and painted at Fairlight
1855 June - A song about Fairlight Glen, Music of the
Stream, was published, with words by Arthur Ransom and music by
1856 Aug - Hastings mayor Thomas Ross carried out the
earliest recorded archaeological excavation on the East Hill,
at the south-west end, close to where the lift is today. His interest
in the hill was sparked by a feature resembling a tower on an
ancient map, which he assumed to be the base of a Roman lighthouse
(pharos). He found an east-west aligned wall footing, approximately
100 feet long, with a second wall joining it at right angles at
the western end and extending to the cliff edge. Within the walls
he excavated a Caen stone cist or coffin, and at least 40 inhumation
burials, some lying on beds of charcoal and one including a skull
of ‘extraordinary thickness’. He also located a flint
arrowhead and a portion of window splay. It is possible that this
was a Saxon site.
1859 May - The First Company of the Cinque Ports Rifles
Volunteers was formed, because of fears of hostility with France.
That summer, Countess Waldegrave let them set up rifle ranges
across Ecclesbourne Glen, firing from the East Hill to butts just
below the top eastern edge of the glen. Soon after, a volunteer
artillery company was set up, which constructed a small battery
at the seaward end of the east side of Warren Glen. This is marked
on the 1873 Ordnance Survey map, but not on that of the late 1890s.
Its site has suffered many landslips.
1859 Late - A storm made the wooden Ecclesbourne Coastguard
Station uninhabitable; it had been insecure for a long time. In
1864 a replacement station was built on the west side of the glen,
set back from the cliff edge. It was brick built, with rendering,
in two blocks, with a yard in front collecting rainwater into
an underground brick tank. It survived almost a century. The Coastguard
occupied land uphill to the rock-face marking the west edge of
The 1864 Coastguard station, in the early 1900s
1862 May 31 - Clive Vale Farm was sold for £7,900
to the Freehold Land Society. The farm consisted of 60 acres of
land between Old London Road and the western boundary of Fishponds
Farm (within the parish of All Saints). It had been the property
of the late John Mercer Durrant Esq and his ancestors for a century
and a half, up to 1832, when it was sold to the late John Samworth
Esq for £3,500.
1864 Summer - The Central Cricket Ground came into being
on the site of today’s Priory Meadow shopping centre, having
just been leased following public meetings. It replaced the cricket
ground on top of the East Hill as the town’s main cricket
pitch, although cricket was played on the East Hill until recently.
1868 Summer - The town’s new drainage system was
completed, with a 1½ million gallon sewage and rainfall
tank at Rock-a-Nore, and its outfall pipe running out to low-water,
off Ecclesbourne Glen. Sections of the pipe are still in place,
and visible at low water.
1870 April - A large seat for 12 people, made by GE Jones
of York Gardens, was erected by the famous artist Miss Marianne
North on Fairlight Down in memory of her father Frederick North
MP, who had died 29 October 1869. North’s Seat, as it was
called, was put on the site of the Fairlight Mill, the well-known
and valuable landmark windmill built in 1819, which burnt down
on April 21 1869. A sign said “Frederick North, his seat”.
The Hastings News suggested removing the scrub hedge which was
blocking the view. In the years following it suffered much vandalism.
1872 Oct - Hastings Council agreed to spend £5,500
on the ‘East End Springs’ scheme: extracting water
from streams in Fairlight and Warren Glens. Over the following
months, both glens had a 700,000 gallon reservoir built near where
their main stream went down onto the beach, plus a 50,000 gallon
on a side stream, totalling 1.5 million gallons. This water gravitated
to Rock-a-Nore water pumping station via a cast iron main laid
along the bottom of the cliff. By 1875 the scheme was supplying
78,000 gallons a day, and other springs in the glens were added
to the system soon after. The system closed in 1892 when other
water supplies had been set up from Crowhurst Marshes, and the
iron pipes under the cliff were taken up and used to connect the
Marshes with Filsham pumping station. A small reservoir still
survives, on a small stream on the east side of Warren Glen.
The small reservoir in Warren Glen being restored in 1990
1873 April 18 - Sarah, Countess of Waldegrave, manager
of the Milward estate, died, in her 87th year. She was then said
by the rates valuers to be responsible for 2,357 acres of land.
(The other owners of big estates in the Hastings area were Humphrey
Burton with 540 acres in St Leonards, Wastel Brisco 4,390 acres,
George Clement 502 acres, the Duchess of Leeds 638 acres, Mr Montefiore
1,422 acres, the North family 820 acres and William Lucas-Shadwell
of Fairlight 3,689.) The Hastings News of May 2 reported her burial
at Fairlight; and on June 20 said that in her will was an estate
of nearly £60,000. As she had no children, the estate passed
to Edward Henry Sayer-Milward (1835-90), a grandson of Sarah Collier,
who was a sister of the wife of Edward Milward Snr. But Mr Sayer-Milward
was recorded as being ‘of unsound mind’ in 1883 (and
probably so before then) and it was actually his brother, London
solicitor Charles Sayer, who ran the estate. Charles was less
public-spirited than the Countess, selling parts of the estate
at high prices for housing development (such as Milward Road)
following the death of his charity-oriented aunt Miss Mary Sayer
in 1880. On Edward Sayer-Milward’s death in 1890 the estate
passed from Charles into the hands of a more public-spirited third
brother, the Rev William Sayer-Milward (born 1837), who died in
1880 May - The new Harold Tea and Pleasure Gardens opened.
They were at Pinders Shaw, on the east side of the upper Clive
Vale valley. They were built by Mr W Rogers, who had a large temperance
hotel. There was a big dancing area at the west end of the gardens,
capable of holding several hundred people. The nearest pub was
a mile away.
1880 Oct 21 - The respected Miss Mary Sayer died, aged
79, at her residence, Parade House (where Marine Parade runs into
the west end of George Street). She had been in a feeble state
for some time, and had just returned from her country residence
at Chailey. She was the daughter of the late Henry Jenkinson Sayer,
and the aunt of Edward Sayer-Milward, the nominal owner of the
Milward estate. Miss Sayer’s death prompted the gradual
break-up and sale of this important estate by her nephew Charles.
She and her sister Miss Maria Jane Sayer (1808-1887) donated to
many local causes, charities and churches. The Hastings News said:
“In her private life the poor and needy have invariably
found in her a sympathising friend.” The sisters had played
key roles in founding the St Andrews Church in Queens Road and
St Andrews School in Stonefield Road.
1881 Dec 18 - Hurricane-force winds drove a sailing vessel
onto the rocks near the Haddocks Coastguard Station, Fairlight
Cove, at 5.30 on the morning of Sunday December 18. The German
barque Sacitta was outward bound from Hamburg to Mexico with a
general cargo, including pianos, utensils, rifles, toys, twine
and a large amount of alcohol in the form of casks and bottles
of spirits and bottles of beer. The vessel struck a reef near
the Haddocks and immediately broke in two. One crewman survived
the wrecking, being washed ashore, but the other five drowned.
By Monday the whole coast from Fairlight nearly to Rye was thickly
strewn with an enormous quantity of cargo and wreckage, viewed
by many people. The Hastings News said: “The intermixture
was scanned over very eagerly by parties whose conduct obtained
for them the name of ‘Wreckers’, but after they had
collected a load of booty a Coastguardman would in most instances
succeed in getting the goods ‘handed over’.”
Some were very saucy and were arrested. The local receiver of
wrecks, Mr JC Vidler, had the most valuable goods taken to the
Custom House in Rye, with other items stored in the local Coastguard
stations, which were soon overflowing. “Large numbers of
persons from Hastings, chiefly belonging to the fishing fraternity,
visited the scene of the disaster and picked up wrecked goods,”
reported the News. “It was evident to lookers-on that many
of them had partaken too freely of the contraband liquor, and
their conduct in this direction has unhappily resulted fatally.
On Monday night, several youthful east-enders [Old Towners] returned
home intoxicated, and as night wore on two young fellows named
Benton and Adams were found to be missing.” Harry Benton,
aged 16, was found dead the next morning on a hillside near Lovers
Seat; Adams was never discovered, presumed washed out to sea.
Some young men were said to have drunk quantities of perfume,
which maddened them. Large quantities of the alcohol were brought
back to Hastings, causing much misery and suffering. It was also
rumoured that a few rifles were smuggled back to the town.
1882 - The Ransom’s Hastings Directory for 1882
said “the sea below [the East Hill] is fast carrying masses
of rock away”.
1882 April 8 - The Hastings Observer said that the East
Hill was one of the many attractions of Hastings, and the gorse
on it added to the enjoyable features. “It is a pity, therefore,
that there should be so much destruction of property as has taken
place of late. Many of the poor inhabitants of the Old Town, we
believe, are in the habit of cutting down large quantities [of
gorse] at a time, and carrying it away for fuel. Then again it
is almost a daily occurrence for some mischievous boy or youth
to set fire to the gorse, so that nothing is left but a large
number of burnt sticks, which make the scene as dull and dismal
as it could well be.” There had been many complaints about
this treatment of the gorse, and the Observer urged it should
be stopped. That August, the Council appointed an extra police
constable for the East and West Hills, with the Milward estate
paying half the costs.
1883 Feb 9 - The Hastings News said that the Council
meeting on February 2 had received plans for creating four roads
on the Stonefield section of the Milward estate: Milward Road,
Milward Crescent, Nelson Road and Wellington Road (from Plynlimmon
to Milward Road). The Council had discussed this several times
before. There had been problems with the steep slopes at what
was to be the junction of Stonefield Road, Wellington Road and
Milward Road. The report was agreed, on condition that proper
access was made from Wellington Road to the footpaths leading
across the West Hill. At the meeting fears were expressed about
these roads opening up all the West Hill to development. Cllr
Eaton “looked upon it as the thin end of the wedge to take
the hills away from the public”. This was brought up again
at the next Council meeting on March 2, when Cllr Catt proposed
sending a deputation of senior councillors and officers to meet
the trustees and owners of the Milward estate to try to keep open
the East and West Hills and the glens. He said the Council should
secure free access to them, as he feared development was likely
to encroach on land of which the public had had the free use for
very many years. The West Hill was especially under threat, as
the Sayer-Milward family intended in a few weeks to sell portions
of the land for which the Council had passed plans. Cllr Catt
did not think the family would lose by giving over the West Hill
to the people, because the knowledge that it was permanent open
space would increase the value of the building plots adjoining
it that they were to sell. The Council agreed Cllr Catt’s
proposal, hoping the trustees would grant a lease on reasonable
terms. But the Council meeting on 5 October 1883 heard that, following
discussions, the trustees had submitted a report demanding nearly
£20,000 for the lease of about 100 acres of the two hills
for just 21 years. This was considered excessive, and the offer
was rejected. The News of 12 October said “A cooler piece
of selfishness has never been penned”.
1887 May - Hastings Council took steps to stop Rye boats
coming ashore between Ecclesbourne and Warren Glens to load blue
stone from the beach, a valuable commodity which the council had
the rights to.
1888 April 21 - The 60 acres of the East Hill and 24
acres of the West Hill were at last purchased by the Council from
the Milward estate, for £24,000. But this was widely considered
to be far too high because for many years the land had been considered
to be common land and therefore not available for development.
1891 Autumn - The first idea for an East Hill lift was put forward, following the opening of the West Hill lift in March 1891. In its early days the West Hill lift looked like being a financial success, so a group of local businessmen proposed building another one, on the East Hill. Hastings Council had bought the East and West Hills from the Milward Estate in 1888, and local entrepreneurs hoped that this had opened the door for them to make some money by exploiting the tourist potential of the hills. They had been given the go-ahead for the West Hill lift, but the East Hill project was different. A lift could only be built there if certain stipulations of its conveyance were waived by the man in charge of the estate, the Rev William Sayer-Milward. The local business folk were initially optimistic that the Reverend would be helpful, not least because one of their group, Hastings solicitor and estate agent Alfred Sayer, was his brother. But the Reverend strongly objected to the idea, saying in a letter of May 1892 that “all the residents in Hastings to whom I have spoken on the subject do not consider that such a lift is desirable”. The speculators then abandoned the scheme, publicly blaming the Reverend, but in truth also realising that the West Hill lift was not turning out to be the success that they had hoped. In December 1893 the company owning the lift went bust, with debts of £7,000. But the idea for an East Hill lift did not go away, and it was revived in the late 1890s, following the opening of the large golf course on the hill in 1895. In August 1898 Hastings councillors and aldermen, many of whom were golfers, decided to see if the Reverend would change his mind. They also thought it should be built and run by Hastings Council, rather than by a private company, because of the financial risks involved. After much discussion, the Reverend gave his support in 1900, and in February 1901 the council granted itself planning permission for the project.
The 1895 golf club house; Rocklands Lane is on the right
1893 March 8 - A golf club should be started in Hastings, a packed public meeting at the town hall agreed. The meeting had been called by the mayor in response to an offer by the Rev William Sayer-Milward to grant 12 acres of his ground adjoining the East Hill at a very nominal rent. The key campaigner was the “clever caricaturist” Harry Furniss, who had done much preparatory work before the meeting. He was the first speaker, saying “in an able and humorous speech”, that golf was becoming increasingly popular in fashionable circles, and he was surprised links had not been established in Hastings long ago. He had many friends in London who would join the club and come to Hastings. “Golfers would only come in the winter, and not in the summer, when the ‘cheap tripper’, who was ruining Hastings, could have the hill to himself.” The club was formed at the end of the meeting, with £70 being promised by many subscribers. The Hastings Council meeting on April 7 gave a three year sanction for the laying out of golf links on the East Hill, under the supervision of the borough surveyor. But there was soon much protest at the way the hill was being cleared of gorse. Dr Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman ever to graduate in medicine (in 1849), who lived at Exmouth Place, wrote to the Hastings Observer (April 29 1893) saying the top of the hill was “a scene of desolation”. The west side of the hill had been “reduced to a desert, covered with smouldering rounds of ruined soil - a desert which the first heavy rain will convert into a quagmire”. The following week, an anonymous correspondent complained about the way the damage had been done by a private club run by gentlemen out of touch with the wishes of most people. In addition “the beauty of our East Hill is already considerably lessened by the jerry-built paving-stone steps, and old parade railings, with which the chief approach has been disfigured”. A club house was built at the junction of Barley Lane and Rocklands Lane, opening in 1895. During 1895 the Reverend supplied more land (flat) to make it an 18-hole course (it had been nine). The club house was partially destroyed by fire on December 6 1898. The course spread over the years as far east as Fairlight Glen (the course went out of use in 1958).
1893 Sept - Hastings Council bought from the Crown the
foreshore in front of the town, from Ecclesbourne to Grosvenor
Gardens, including the 18 acres from Rock-a-Nore to Ecclesbourne
that formed part of the Country Park when it was set up in 1971.
1896 June 26 - The Hastings News reported that a father
of three fell to his death over the cliff near Fairlight Glen
as he tried to escape arrest by a police officer on Sunday June
21. John Towner, 28, a bricklayer of Halton, was one of a dozen
men playing cards on the high cliff just to the west of Fairlight
Glen that Sunday morning. When they were challenged by a constable
and a gamekeeper, it was claimed that Towner attempted to jump
onto a ledge, but missed, and fell more than 200 feet to his death
in Covehurst. But his father believed he was pushed onto the rocks
below. The News said about Ecclesbourne and Fairlight Glens that
“The beautifully wooded spots are among the greatest frequented
by visitors to Hastings, being almost one of the first places
of interest.” But the inquest, held at Fishponds Farmhouse,
was told that a police officer was regularly posted to the glens
area in order to “prevent the nuisance of selling things
and begging,” and “the nuisance caused by people who
recited the history of the Lover’s Seat”. The scene
of the tragedy was to the south of the New Barn pond, on the part
of the cliff the inquest was told was known as ‘Cliff Field’.
This was said to be on one side of a dip in the ground, with ‘New
Shine’ the part of the cliff on the other side. The party
of men, with many dogs, was sighted playing cards in some bushes
by the patrolling PC Baldwin at about 11.30. He thought the people
carrying out “this nefarious Sunday morning pursuit”
may also have been poaching, so he went and called out the Rev
William Sayer-Milward’s gamekeeper Tom Barnes, who lived
in Little Warren Cottage. When the pair approached the card-players,
they scattered in all directions. Towner ran and jumped through
bushes, hoping to land on a ledge just below the cliff-top. A
witness, Henry Brett, a labourer of High Bank, was in the Covehurst
and saw Towner fall head first down the cliff. He was “dashed
on a ridge at the bottom”. PC Baldwin and some other men
found the body “in a terribly mangled condition”.
Towner was a “quiet, reserved man”, who lived in Priory
Road, opposite Ann Street. He left a widow and three very young
children. His father, also John Towner, lived nearby at 28 Albion
Street, Halton (where the Halton flats are today). John senior
was a respected boatman, and the many boatmen on the seafront
mounted half-mast flags in sympathy. He alleged in the inquest
that Tom Barnes had pushed his son over the cliff, but none of
the evidence from the several witnesses backed his claim. His
calls for the inquest to be adjourned while he put together his
evidence were refused.
1898 April - Hastings Council gave the Rev Sayer-Milward
permission to lay out a road on the West Hill for a new housing
development. The 360-yard long road, between the top of Croft
Road and the junction of Alpine Road and Priory Road, was to be
called Collier Road, after the 18th century Collier family.
1898 Aug - Hastings Water Committee bought land from
the Rev Sayer-Milward for £500 at Fairlight Down to construct
the Fairlight Reservoir.
The East Hill Lift in the early 1900s
1901 Feb 15 - A Council meeting gave
the go-ahead for the construction of the East Hill Lift. It would
rise 148 feet vertically, with its rails covering 258 feet. It
would be run by water balance, with the pumping fuelled by the
‘Dust Destructor’ (refuse burning plant) at Rock-a-Nore.
It would run beside the steps going up from Tackleway. The cars
would hold 20 people and would take a minute and a half to run.
The total cost would be £5,100. The landowner, the Rev Sayer-Milward,
had been generous over the matter. Some councillors doubted that
it would pay for itself. During the works, human remains and part
of a mortared wall were found, plus several “enormous thick”
skulls and a spear described as of Saxon date.
1901 May 6 - There was an opening ceremony at the new
rifle range in Warren Glen. Mrs Sayer-Milward fired the first
shot. The site was provided on long lease at a nominal rent by
the Rev Sayer-Milward. The firing points were on the west side
of the valley, facing north-north-east at two targets standing
in front of a high bank on the east side. The point for the longest
range (600 yards) was only a few yards over the bank by Lovers
Seat, while the 200 yard point was considerably raised, forming
the roof of a magazine and store. The site was almost that of
what had been an artillery range. The Ecclesbourne Glen range
had become crowded.
1902 Feb - A large portion of the cliff gave way at what
was then called Target Hill, on the east side of Ecclesbourne
Glen where the rifle targets were, not far from the footpath.
1902 May - The Golf Club gave up its six holes on the
public part of the East Hill and six new holes were made off Barley
Lane so that the whole course was then on private ground.
1902 Aug 10 - The East Hill Lift opened to the public
for the first time. It was said to be the steepest in Britain
at 1 in 1.28. The Hastings Mail of August 16 reported that it
had been well patronised in its first week, with an average of
1,200 passengers per day. The Mail of August 9 said that the lift
had been confirmed as being ready to start, following final trials
on Monday August 4: “After being in hand for over two years,
the East Hill Lift is at last in working order. It was originally
contemplated that the work would be finished last year, but the
excavation of the track took longer than was thought. The final
trials took place on Monday. The cars were loaded up with iron
to the extent of over 2 tons, and the tanks filled with water.
The cars were then set running, and when they had attained a good
speed, and were about five-eighths down the track, the ropes were
cut to test the safety gear which is fixed underneath the cars.”
The safety gear came into action automatically and stopped both
cars simultaneously and without shock. “This test showed
that there was no danger in the event of the ropes giving way,
though this is practically impossible, as each car is supported
by four steel ropes one and a quarter inches in diameter.”
The brakes were worked by hand, but there was also an “automatic
governor” which applied the brakes if the cars went too
fast. At the side of the track was a flight of steps set in concrete,
so if the cars stopped the journey could be completed on foot.
“The power for working the lift is the water balance principle.
A large tank is fixed underneath each car, between the steel framework,
and on the car reaching the top it automatically strikes against
a lever connected with a valve which starts water for filling
the tanks. When a sufficient amount of water is in the tanks the
operator closes the valve by a lever which is at hand, the brake
is lifted at the required moment, and the car begins the downward
journey. On reaching the bottom another lever is struck automatically,
and the tank is emptied, the water being pumped to the top again
through a pipe running up the side of the track. The time taken
to fill the tank and empty it is only a fraction of a minute.
The contractors were Messrs Easton & Co, of Erith Ironworks,
Kent, “the largest builders of lifts in the world”.
The Mail understood that the directors of the West Hill Lift had
asked Easton about the possibility of converting their lift to
the same principle as the East Hill. The Mail reporter had a ride
in the lift on Tuesday 5th: “True, there was a little bump
at the bottom, but it was understood that that would be easily
1902 Sept 22 - There was an alarming incident on the East Hill
Lift, with a man dashed through a window and several passengers
injured. The downward-going car increased speed rapidly and came
into violent collision with the buffers at the bottom. Mr Osborne
was thrown through the window onto the landing stage. The up-going
car had also increased speed and had smashed into the upper buffers
and its windows smashed. On 23 September a Parks and Gardens Committee
inquiry into the accident suggested water in the tanks was not
properly adjusted for a down-car loaded with passengers and an
up-car which was empty. There was no hint when the lift might
re-open. A similar crash was to happen in 2007, putting the lift
out of action until 2010.
1903 Jan 16 - A council meeting agreed to publish their
official report on the lift accident. It said that the lift staff
were to blame. The “rather serious accident” happened
about 5pm on Monday September 22. There were “13 passengers
in the descending car, and none in the ascending, and the descending
car, instead of being steadily brought to a standstill, dashed
against the bottom buffer with the result that all the passengers
were more or less shaken, and in some instances cut and bruised.”
Only one was serious. Both cars were “somewhat damaged”.
After the accident, the town clerk wrote to the contractors, Easton
& Co, saying “it was attributable to the insufficiency
of the brake gear provided by them under their contract”.
But on October 3 the Parks and Gardens Committee were shown a
letter from Easton “stating that the evidence before them
pointed to the accident being due to an error of judgement on
the part of the brakesman, in applying the brakes, rather than
to any failure in the brakes themselves.” Easton said they
were happy to repair the lift, but would accept no responsibility.
After hearing a detailed report from the borough engineer, the
committee concluded “that the accident might have been avoided
by the exercise of more care and discretion by the attendant in
charge of the top station.” There was a telephone connecting
the two stations, but it was not used on this occasion, so the
man at the top did not know there was no one in the ascending
car, whilst his was nearly full. As a result the descending car
went down too quickly and the brake could not stop it in time.
The committee also concluded that the accident showed there were
defects in the design of the brake system, so they commissioned
Easton to add a separate, independent brake to make it absolutely
safe. The lift was kept closed until that was completed. A total
of £231 15s 6d was paid in compensation to the injured.
The lift was about 270 feet long. Each tank held about four tons
of water. The supply tank at the top had sea water pumped into
it. Each carriage took 16 people. The man at the top delivered
enough water into the tank of the car at the top to make it descend;
he judged the amount according to the number of passengers in
each car. He also controlled a brake to slow and stop the descending
car. It re-opened on April 9 1903, the day before Good Friday,
and had 41,000 passengers in the first 16 weeks.
1904 - The Fairlight Coastguard Station was rebuilt on
its existing site. It formed the terrace of houses still there
today, with lookout facilities on the seaward end of the block.
At about this time, and in immediately following years, the government
cut down the size of the national Coastguard service, and this
seems to have resulted in the closure of the Haddocks and Ecclesbourne
Stations. Ecclesbourne closed in 1908, with a local newspaper
in April 1909 describing it as “deserted”.
The Hermitage, Ecclesbourne Glen
1904 - At this time, the main feature of Ecclesbourne
Glen was the Coastguard station and its surrounding gardens. Nearby
were cafes for the many members of the public who regularly walked
along the cliffs and through the glen. Inland on the west side
of the glen, where now there are just trees and shrubs, was a
line of five allotments, commonly known as the strawberry garden.
And at the head of these plots was a cave, with its long-term
resident, the Hermit. John Hancox, called the East Hill Hermit
as no one then knew his name, was a former London businessman,
in the drapery trade. He came to Hastings around 1893, being near-bankrupt
after a friend failed to repay a large loan. He decided to live
a solitary life, dependent on no one, and he became a ‘squatter’,
living in various places around the town, until ending up in the
cave in Ecclesbourne Glen. When the cave’s landlord, the
Rev Sayer-Milward, discovered it had an occupant, he gave Mr Hancox
a tenancy for 22s 6d a year (plus rates of 2s 6d). For this the
Hermit had both the cave and the plot in front of it. He then
put up a hedge around his ground, with a big wooden gate, and
stayed there for the rest of his life. He first became widely
known in 1904, following a report in the Hastings Mail. This said:
“Tanned, and not too well groomed, he is by no means unkempt
or dirty. His dark clothes are of a good cut and patter, although
obviously of years ago. He wears a cloth cap, and his features
still bear traces of refinement and breeding.” The Hermit
“is alone and poor but he never asks alms of anyone, although
many folk kindly minister to his needs. He sings and talks to
himself alone. He needs no other - he very rarely answers questions.”
The Hermitage, as the cave was called, had very little in it,
apart from a stove, which had been given to him. But, the Mail
said, there were other hermits in and around the glen, who were
not so attractive. About 100 yards up the valley was an alcoholic
living in another cave amongst the trees, who made a lot of noise
at night, singing and shouting while under the influence. The
Mail described how there were also several “untraceables”
to be seen in the area, gathering limpets at low tide and lurking
in farmyards before dawn. “Some times they sleep as honest
men. But they are predatory by instinct for the most part.”
The Hermit was a well-known feature of the glen for many years.
Then in November 1918 he was found dead in his cave one morning
by his only friend. Aged 74, he had died of “natural causes”
while asleep. The coroner heard that there was no bed or furniture
in the cave, but there were many books, plus firewood. The cave
itself was about ten feet square, with a pitch of eight feet.
His friend said he was a well-educated, intelligent man, who was
very happy. He neither had, nor wanted, other friends, and he
spent much time singing. He had lived on his small savings, plus
every day he searched pig tubs and dustbins in the town, on which
he survived. It was believed he had a daughter in service in Hastings.
The Hermitage has had many other dwellers, both before and after
1913 - Death of the Rev William Sayer-Milward, born in
1837, who had controlled the Milward estate since 1890. It passed
to his widow, Edith Sayer-Milward (1847-1935).
1914 June 13 – Intrepid young aviator Frank Goodden
gave a sensational exhibition of flying at Fairlight. Large crowds
of people gathered to watch Mr Goodden spend half an hour circling
and looping the loop in very strong winds. Unfortunately, many
of these people refused to pay to enter the fenced-off area (probably
near the church) to see the display, and instead watched it free
of charge from outside the fence. Mr Goodden flew from Tunbridge
Wells for the display, in a Morane monoplane, made by Gustav Hamel.
He gave another demonstration at Fairlight on June 17. Mr Goodden,
born 1889, was killed in January 1917 when the new Sopwith SE5
fighter he was testing for the RAF broke up.
1917 Nov 24 - The ownership of much of eastern Fairlight
was changed when most of the Lucas-Shadwell family’s Fairlight
Hall Estate was auctioned at the Castle Hotel, Hastings. This
followed the death of William Lucas-Shadwell (1852-1915), Conservative
MP for Hastings 1895-1900, the only son of William Drew Lucas-Shadwell
who had built Fairlight Hall in 1850-51. A total of 3,680 acres
was sold, covering an area from Fairlight Chuch along the coast
to Rye Harbour, taking in most of Pett as far north as the Pannel
Sewer. This included the Fairlight farms of Marsham (then 231
acres), Warren (325), Waites (153), Wakeham’s (69), Stonelink
(52) and Lower Stonelink (49). Mrs Lucas-Shadwell kept the Haddocks
Cottages, the former Coastguard station, as summer residences.
It appears that Warren, Waites, Wakeham and Stonelink Farms (and
possibly others) were bought by Lord Rothermere, the right-wing
newspaper magnate who in 1896 had started the first tabloid paper,
the Daily Mail. He bought this property as a wedding present for
his son, the Hon Esmond Harmsworth, who then came to live in the
Warren farmhouse. Esmond’s first daughter was to be the
wife of Hastings MP Neil Cooper-Key. But Esmond did not stay long.
In March 1921 an auction was held of Waites Farm (then 226 acres),
Wakehams Farm (40), Lower Stonelink Farm (34) and Chisholme Farm
(17½), plus marsh land at Pett and 11 cottages at Pett.
It is believed that the Harmsworths had decided to sell up and
move out, with much of the Waites Farm estate then being purchased
by a syndicate which started housing development, which was to
give birth to today’s Fairlight Cove. The farm’s cowshed,
opposite the farmhouse, became the Fairlight Cove Hotel. Building
work started in 1922/3, and by 1939 about 100 houses had been
put up, many of them small wooden bungalows in large gardens.
It was this beginning of Fairlight Cove in the early/mid-1920s
that prompted the purchase of the Firehills by Hastings Council
in 1927, in fear of the development spreading westward. In the
sales of either 1917 or 1921 (probably 1917) Edith Sayer-Milward
bought part of Warren Farm, extending the Milward estate east
to Coastguard Lane, plus taking in the west end of the Firehills
(to about 250 yards east of the Coastguard Station).
Fairlight Cove just as development started; near the edge of the cliff is the former Haddocks Coastguard Station
1920 Sept 11 - A Board of Trade report told Hastings
councillors that perhaps unemployed people could be given jobs
at the sand quarry adjoining Coastguard Lane, close to, and south
of, Fairlight Church. The geological formation was of snow-white
Ashdown sand (Wealden). There was also much white sandstone at
“an old quarry, about a quarter of a mile west of the church”
[presumably on Fairlight Road]. The church quarry had yet to be
extended to the west.
1920 Sept 25 - The Hastings Observer published a drawing,
dated that September, and headed “A Disappearing Landmark”,
showing the “the picturesque, but decayed, Barley Lane Farm
House”. The town’s first council houses were about
to be built where the farm was, and the farm buildings were to
be demolished. The farmhouse, and attached small barn were built
of stone, with a separate wooden shed nearby. They all stood where
Nos 47 and 49 Barley Lane are today, a few yards uphill from the
Gurth Road junction.
1920 Dec - Tilekiln Farm was sold by Edith Sayer-Milward
to Thomas Smith.
1921-4 - The height of the dam of the Spoon reservoir
in Ecclesbourne Glen was raised, and the reservoir’s inside
slope was improved, doubling its capacity to 12 million gallons.
To do this, an additional two acres of land was needed, to add
to the existing area of just over three acres, so the Council
in November 1924 bought all that land from Edith Sayer-Milward,
ending its lease. Ownership of the Spoon was transferred to the
Southern Water Authority in 1974.
1922 - Scotsman John Logie Baird (1888-1946) came to
Hastings to recover from a severe illness. Being an inventor short
of finance, he needed to create something that would bring an
income. He later recalled: “More thought was needed. I went
for a long walk over the cliffs to Fairlight Glen, and my mind
went back to my early work on television. Might there not be something
in it now?” He came up with what seemed like a feasible
system, went back to the house in Linton Road where he was staying
and explained it to the friend that he was staying with. Together
they put together a crude mechanism - and it worked, transmitting
the world’s first-ever television pictures.
John Logie Baird
1924 Summer - The Hastings Golf Club moved into Fishponds
Farmhouse, which was to be its base until 1958. Until then its
clubhouse had been at the junction of Barley Lane and Rocklands
Lane. But four of its course holes were in the field lower down
Barley Lane, opposite the new council housing estate on the lane
and Boyne Road, making those four holes difficult. The club’s
AGM in February 1923 was told that, by chance, the tenant of Fishponds
Farmhouse had died recently, so it was decided to lease Fishponds
and its neighbouring farmland from the Milward estate. The AGM
was told this would give the club a high-quality 18-hole course,
in two lots of nine, and 6,147 yards long. The February 1924 AGM
heard that the scheme had gone ahead, at a cost of £2,200,
including a “considerable amount of alteration to the farmhouse”.
They transferred to the new clubhouse just after Whitsun 1924,
later becoming known as the Hastings Downs Golf Club.
1926 March 22 - There was a serious fire at the Firehills,
and much gorse was burnt.
1927 April 6 - Hastings Council, fearing development
such as that taking place in Fairlight Cove, had in early 1927
bought the 69 acres of the Firehills adjoining the Cove, not being
part of the Milward estate. It was purchased from local resident
Mrs Mabel Schoneboom for £2,000, and on this day, April
6, the Prince of Wales witnessed the handing-over ceremony. A
lease was granted to the Coastguard to build a small lookout half
a mile east of Fairlight Coastguard Station, but the Hastings
Observer of November 26 1927 said “The beauty of the Firehills
has not been increased by this lookout”. The remains of
it can still be seen today. In 1927/8 the large Marine Parade
Coastguard Station was closed, with Fairlight replacing it as
a much smaller HQ for all Coastguards in the Hastings area. The
Marine Parade building was renamed Sturdee Place, after Admiral
Sturdee, and is now shops and flats. Fairlight became the only
constant-watch Coastguard station between Newhaven and Dungeness.
1929 March 11 - A major fire swept the Firehills and
surrounding land. The Hastings Observer of March 16 reported there
were “four square miles of blackened countryside. …
The fire raged all day and into the night, spreading from the
Warren Estate [the west side of today’s Fairlight Cove],
to Fairlight Church, to the Coastguards headquarters and to the
approaches to Fairlight Glen itself.” Many people joined
in the fire fighting, and there was no serious damage to any buildings,
apart from some huts. The fire started at the north of the Warren
Estate. “In some places there was a solid sheet of flames
two miles in length, advancing quicker than a man could run.”
In December 1927 a fire had damaged much of the gorse on the Firehills.
Amy Johnson - see 1931
1931 July 2-8 - The famous aviator Amy Johnson took passengers
on flights from Fairlight in her Gypsy Moth two-seater biplane
Jason III. In May 1930, aged 26, she had become the first woman
to fly solo to Australia, using a very similar Gypsy Moth, called
Jason. Fees at Fairlight were from 10 shillings (50p) per flight.
Adverts said that other “experienced pilots” were
also giving flights, in “the latest type of open 3-seater
Spartan aircraft” from 5 shillings (25p), as they had been
doing in several weekends before Miss Johnson’s “special
flying week”. The “Flying Field” was “adjoining
Fairlight Church”, with a car park (one shilling). The Jason
III, which had been given to her on returning from Australia,
was on display in the showroom of motor engineers Butler &
Phillips at 161-2 Queens Road for five days before the flights.
The “intrepid airwoman” told the Hastings Observer
of July 4 1931: “As I was flying along the South Coast a
few weeks ago, I spotted this landing ground, and thought it was
such a beautiful spot that I landed.” She believed that
Hastings needed a municipal aerodrome, but that unfortunately
Fairlight was not suitable. She agreed the best location was Pebsham
Farm in Bexhill Road. Miss Johnson, born 1903, was the first British
woman to obtain an aeroplane mechanic’s licence. In 1941,
while transporting a plane for the RAF, she ran into trouble and
bailed out into the Thames Estuary. Her body was never found.
1931 Dec - Hastings Council purchased from the Sayer
family land on the east side of Rye Road on which to build council
houses and a school. In 1937 the Council bought from the Sayers
much more land for housing, north of Rock Lane and on both sides
of Rye Road.
1935 April 23 - Death of Edith Sayer-Milward at Fairlight
Place, owner of the estate since the death of her husband the
Rev William Carlisle Sayer-Milward in 1913. From 1935 it passed
to Major Alfred Carlisle Sayer (1886-1964), son of Hastings solicitor
Alfred Sayer, a brother of the Rev William. By 1963 the major
had sold or donated to Hastings Council all of what he owned that
is now in the Reserve.
1938-39 - A total of 18 acres of Warren Estate land at
Fairlight was purchased by Hastings Council from private individuals
(not members of the Sayer family). This included a large area
east of Coastguard Lane and part of Mallydams.
1938 April 1 - The borough boundary was extended by the
1937 Hastings Extension Act. The new land included parts of Ore
1938 July - Hastings Council accepted Major Sayer’s
generous offer of selling North’s Seat and the acre of surrounding
land to the council for £100. The seat had been replaced
by a large viewing platform in 1930, which was to be used as a
look-out during World War Two. But this was vandalised in 1982
and so was demolished and replaced by two seats, with a large
round direction plaque, which is still there. Much of the rest
of Fairlight Down was acquired by Hastings Council in following
years: in 1964, the triangle to the south of North’s Seat,
between Mill Lane and Beacon Road; in 1970, from Fairlight Down
Estates, the large area west and north-west, between the Seat
and the reservoirs; and in 1983 and 2000 the two small plots between
that area and the estate’s houses.
1939 - Milward estate maps of this time show that all
the land south of Fairlight Road and Pinders Shaw was still part
of the estate (including Shearbarn), but not Tilekiln Farm and
its land (sold 1920), Rocklands, the Coastguard stations, or the
East Hill (sold to Hastings Council in 1888).
The big quarry in 1990, with the shelter in the distance
1939 May - A new company, the Fairlight Mining Company,
leased land from Major Sayer between the top of Warren Glen and
Fairlight Church to dig for sand. The Hastings Observer (January
14 1939) reported that there was “an excellent deposit of
sand” there, which would be “a basic raw material
in various industries”. The mining buildings would be kept
to a minimum, and the sand would be taken to a purifying factory
to be built at Doleham Halt, on the Hastings-Ashford railway line.
As the high-quality sand was worked out, the quarries would be
given free by Major Sayer to the local authority for use as a
public open space in perpetuity. The company created two quarries.
The first, the Fairlight Sand Quarry, was to the south-west of
Fairlight Church, taking in the remains of the small quarry adjoining
the Almhouses; this is now the large car park and picnic site.
The entry road to the car park was cut in about 1943 as a narrower
trackway for the lorries taking the sand to the station. The second,
much larger quarry of 11.4 acres is north-east of Warren Cottage
in what was then a field. A small rail line ran from near Warren
Cottage along the north edge of the big quarry to the other quarry.
It is believed that both were heavily in use during World War
Two, because Belgium had been a key source of this type of sand
in peacetime, but was then unavailable from there. In the big
quarry stands a windowless brick building with a concrete roof,
which may have been built as an air raid shelter, although it
could have been a blast shelter for workers using explosives in
the quarry. Both quarries were worked until the early 1950s. The
mid-1957 Ordnance Survey map describes both of them as “disused”.
1939 July - A Mr HJ Stent applied to Hastings Council
for planning permission to “develop the Fairlight Place
Estate as a holiday resort”. This involved building a thousand
bungalows on the fields to the south-west of Fairlight Place,
a clubhouse, a bathing pool below the cliffs at Fairlight Glen,
cafes and a big extension to the existing golf course. But the
council meeting on July 25 turned down the application.
1939-45 - The Reserve probably saw much activity during
World War Two, but it went largely unrecorded because of legal
restraints on wartime reporting. It was feared that Hitler’s
forces could land along this coast, so access to the area was
barred and mines were laid along some of the beach. Bombs landed
in several places, with Fairlight Coastguard Station suffering
a hit. Five anti-aircraft batteries were set up in the borough,
including one on the East Hill. These shot down ‘doodlebugs’
- V1 rockets - in 1944, and one fell on Shearbarn Farm on July
20 1944, killing the occupant, Miss Ethel Maria Barnes, the last
person in the borough to die as a result of enemy action.
c1940 - The large barn standing immediately to the north
of New Barn Pond was demolished at about this time. The barn was
probably called ‘new’ because it seems to have replaced
another barn 100 yards to the south-east of it in the early 19th
century. Some bricks and rubble remain of the ‘new’
barn, nothing of the old one.
The New Barn, now gone
1940 - The RAF Fairlight Station was set up on the north
side of Fairlight Road, at what is now the picnic site adjoining
Martineau Lane. This was a radar station, with two operating sites:
one at today’s picnic site, the other in the field between
there and Mill Lane. It became operational in September 1940.
Today’s picnic site was to remain an RAF Domestic Camp (living
base) for many years.
1944 March - Major Sayer gave permission for an overhead
transmission line to be erected to supply electricity to New Barn
Farm (the barn next to New Barn Pond) for Operation Pluto - PipeLines
Under The Ocean. This operation supplied petrol to Allied forces
in France after D-Day June 6 1944,by laying 4½-inch pipelines
under the Channel. The first pipelines, from the Isle of Wight
to Cherbourg, opened on August 12, followed by another set of
lines between Dungeness and Ambleteuse near Boulogne in the autumn.
It is not known what took place at New Barn Farm.
1947 Mid-Jan - The War Office announced it wanted to
acquire Warren Glen and neighbouring land to use as a permanent
field firing range. But Hastings Council strongly opposed the
plan and three months later the War Office abandoned the scheme.
1949 March 31 - The Hastings fishing boat Pioneer RX
255 ran on to the Hooks Ledge rocks under the cliff at Fairlight
in a thick fog. The Hastings lifeboat and Coastguards were unable
to find the vessel, even though the three crewmen could be heard
shouting, and they all drowned. This was the biggest tragedy to
hit the local fishing community for many years.
August 1949: Freddy Funnell begins turning Shearbarn Farm into a caravan park
1949 July 12 - Hastings Council gave planning permission
for farmer Frederick (‘Freddy’) Funnell to use some
of his land at Shearbarn Farm for camping for three years. Funnell
bought the farm from Major Sayer in 1949 and this planning permission
was the beginning of his conversion of the farm into a major caravan
and camping site over the following years. This provoked much
opposition from local residents, but not from the council, which
had too cosy a relationship with Funnell, said critics.
1949 July 25 - Following Major Sayer’s problems with maintaining the clifftop footpaths, Hastings Council announced that he had agreed in principle to sell the paths, plus Fairlight and Ecclesbourne Glens and part of Warren Glen, to Hastings Council. In return for giving the Major just £10 in cash, but with expensive services added, the council would receive 215 acres, including all the cliff area from Ecclesbourne Glen stream to the start of the Firehills. The Council would then own all the 2.9 miles of cliff area between Tackleway and the east end of the Firehills. But the complex negotiations over the deal lasted 18 months, and was not finalised until January 18 1951. Major Sayer was disposing of the steep glens and cliff edges that were unusable as farmland and expensive to maintain, and much of which were also to be designated as protected environmental sites in the coming years. So the Major, an astute businessman, spent those 18 months negotiating strict conditions on the conveyance that required the council to fence off the steep glen sides and cliff edge, divert several paths and create a new vehicle access track into Fairlight Glen from Barley Lane (which today is the only such access). After this work was carried out, the farmland that he retained was to be safer for cattle and with restricted public access, enabling him to use it more intensively and therefore more profitably. Not only did the council have to spend almost £2,200 straightaway on this work, but they had to pay the £263 bill that Major Sayer incurred from his solicitor and surveyor for the negotiations. The council gave the land the official title of the ‘Cliffs and Glens’. 1951 May 18 - Princess Elizabeth visited the town and took part in the ceremony of handing over the title deeds of the 215 acres to Hastings Council. As Major Sayer had only asked for £10 in cash from the council, the event was publicised as the Major presenting a valuable “gift” to the people of the borough, and has been cast in the public memory as such ever since. But in fact he had negotiated a very good financial deal: he disposed of a large amount of unproductive land that was expensive for him to maintain, and in return had a much bigger area of farmland significantly upgraded, thereby giving him a higher annual income for many years to come. The conveyance did not take place formally until March 1 1952. On May 18 1951 the princess also transferred to the council the deeds of the recently-purchased Hastings Castle.
1951 June 29 - Hastings Council gave planning permission
“in the national interest” for the RAF to erect 90-feet
high lattice masts, six feet square, on two sites: the Fairlight
Road radar station, and north of North’s Seat. In 1952 the
Fairlight Road station was chosen to take part in the new anti-Soviet
Rotor radar project, and it set up a technical centre on land
adjoining the Fairlight Coastguard Station. A large underground
bunker was built there, with a guardhouse on top. It came on line
on August 30 1952. It was redundant by 1956, but remained on care
and maintenance until the early 1960s. It was sealed in 1973 and
all buildings on site were demolished, although the underground
bunker, with many rooms, still exists fairly intact. In 2002 a
team from Subterranea Britannica accessed and recorded the bunker,
following which it was resealed (see Sources for website). Today
the bunker still exists underground, beneath what looks like a
round hillock immediately south-east of the Coastguard station.
The only visible relic is an iron vent shaft standing in the middle
of a gorse bush on the edge of the hillock.
1951 Oct - Hastings Council reported that it had received
a letter from the Nature Conservancy stating that Fairlight Glen
had been included in the areas of scientific interest.
1952-53 - Various parcels of land on Fairlight Down were
sold by several people to Hastings Council’s housing committee.
1956 Jan - The Bomb Disposal Unit of the Royal Engineers
began a three-year clearing of the minefield on, and near, the
beach at the bottom of Fairlight Glen. The mines had been hurriedly
laid in the summer of 1940, but accurate records of the location
of some of them were lost because the officer in charge (Lt RY
Thorne of the 6th Battalion The Devonshire Regiment) was carrying
the plans when he was blown up by stepping on a mine displaced
by a German aircraft’s bombing of the glen. The engineers
set up a camp, with Nissen huts, in the corner of the field at
the top of the west side of the glen (TQ849109), on the new track
created by Hastings Council. The engineers also turned the path
in the glen running down the west side of the stream into a vehicle
track, which is still in use today. This was the second attempt
by the unit to clear the mined area. After the war they swept
a length of land adjoining the seashore about two miles long and
200 yards deep. By January 1948 this had all been cleared, except
for the portion below the cliff, which was known to contain beach
mines, and it was fenced off. The cliff behind this had been hit
by a flying bomb, bringing down a large portion of cliff on the
mines, and it was hoped the mines would be buried for ever. But
from 1953 onwards some mines had been found on the beach, plus
one in the glen, so part of the glen was also swept clear. All
the mines found were blown up and the scheme ended late in 1958.
There is now no sign of the existence of the camp.
1956 Dec 15 - Fairlight School, opposite Fairlight Church,
1958 - The Hastings Downs Golf Club closed, having been
based at Fishponds Farm since 1924. The closure followed the decision
in April 1958 by Hastings Council not to continue subsidising
the club, and not to pay Major Sayer the £20,000 he was
seeking if the council insisted on purchasing it. Instead, the
councillors decided to end years of debate over its future and
try to buy the town’s other course, in Filsham Valley. After
the closure, Major Sayer resumed use of the farmland that had
formed the golf course, and in 1959 sold the Fishponds farmhouse
and garden to Thomas Chorlton, who then went to live there. It
has been a private residence ever since.
The golf links in better days, from near the end of Tilekiln Lane
1959 Feb 10 - Hastings Council gratefully accepted from
Major Sayer the gift of 21 acres of land between Ecclesbourne
and Fairlight Glens. There had been a landslip over the cliff,
meaning the clifftop footpath had to be re-sited away from the
cliff edge, and this land enabled that to take place.
1959 April - Shearbarn Farm campsite had exceeded its
permitted limit on the number of caravans (250), and had not carried
out the required tree planting to hide the caravans. Hastings
Council made noises about forcing farmer Freddy Funnell to do
something, but not much happened. He was well-known for bending
the planning rules and giving hospitality to local decision makers
in order to make money out of using his farmland for more profitable
camping, caravanning and entertainments.
1959 Sept - In the town’s biggest fire since 1925,
about 80 acres of Warren Glen were destroyed in a two-day fire,
starting on September 10. The fire, which destroyed most of the
vegetation on the east side of the glen, was started when a maroon
fired by the Coastguard to call out their rescue team landed in
the gorse. It was a false alarm, but there was a pall of smoke
1960 Dec 18 - A landslip carried away the terrace on which Lovers
Seat stood, although the ‘seat’ itself survived until
slipping over the edge in early February.
1962 Oct - Hastings Council accepted a £350 tender to demolish
the Ecclesbourne Coastguard Station and push it over the cliff.
It is believed that the last person to live there left at the
end of the summer of 1963. There was still no piped water (it
came from the well in the yard) and the southern building was
only inches from the edge of the cliff.
1963 March 25 - Hastings Council bought 445 acres of land for £90,000 from Major Sayer. This comprised all 394 acres of Fairlight Place and its farm, and 51 acres of the adjoining Church Farm including the quarryland. This was one of the biggest land purchases in the history of the borough. In 1951 the Major had sold to the Council 215 acres comprising Fairlight and Ecclesbourne Glens, part of Warren Glen and the clifftop walks. As part of the conveyance, Hastings Council had to fence off much of the farmland adjoining the cliffs and glens, and this made Fairlight Place Farm more commercially viable. The Major continued managing the farm until shortly before he died on December 19 1964, aged 78. The Hastings Observer (December 24 1964) said Major Alfred Carlisle Sayer (DSO, MC, DL, JP) was “one of the town’s great benefactors”. He sold the farm to the council because he was “concerned in case the land fell into the hands of speculative developers and felt that it was in the best interests of the town that it should control this land”. The Major, a Catholic, was the son of local solicitor and estate agent Alfred Leighton Sayer. He had a distinguished war record, serving in Gallipoli and France in World War One, commanding the Sussex Yeomanry in the field for five months as Lieutenant-Colonel. He was president of the town’s Conservative Association for many years.
The old Ecclesbourne Coastguard Station, shortly before demolition
1963 Sept - Hastings Council gave a mining lease for the 51 acres of land near Fairlight Church just purchased from Major Sayer to Messrs Cole and Jennings for sand quarrying.
1964 Sept - The new Hastings lifeboat was named Fairlight
in honour of the Fairlight Coastguards.
1966 Jan-Feb - RW Dicker and Co demolished the former
RAF Domestic Camp at Fairlight Road (later to become a heliport,
and now the picnic site). There used to be about 40 huts, plus
a water tower and chimney there. The RAF had acquired the 15.6
acre site from Major Sayer in January 1957, and Hastings Council
became owner in March 1967. In May 1965 Hastings Council tried
to obtain permission to turn the building on top of the RAF Technical
Camp bunker next to Fairlight Coastguard Station into a café,
but did not succeed. In 1973 the bunker was sealed and the surface
buildings were cleared. Hastings Council bought both the RAF sites
from the MoD, comprising 10 acres, in about 1967.
1967 Summer - Hastings Council leased 366 acres of Fairlight
Place Farm (plus 10 acres of adjoining land in 1970), to Hugh
and Peter Cotterill.
1969 July 26 - A 1,200 ft borehole was to be dug at Fairlight
sand quarry by the Institute of Geological Science, reported the
Hastings Observer. The ten-week survey was expected to take place
that autumn, part of a long-running series that had been taking
place between Bexhill and Rye for over four years. The object
was to gain more information about the rock formation in the area. 1971 April 1 - The Hastings Country
Park officially came into existence on this day. It was then only
the second seaside park to have been set up under the 1968 Countryside
Act. It initially comprised 512 of the 830 acres the Council owned
or leased between the Old Town, North’s Seat and Fairlight
Cove, the other acres being Fairlight Place Farm, which was still
in use as farmland. Hastings Council and the Countryside Commission
were planning to spend £30,000 over the following five years
on nature trails, car parks, conveniences and a warden service
in the park, with the commission’s share being 75%, although
some of the money was actually spent on Beauport golf club. Three
quarters of the park was officially of Special Scientific Interest.
The park was declared open by Sir Mark Henig, chairman of the
English Tourist Board, on July 13 1974.
1971 June 25 - The Duke of Edinburgh visited Fairlight
Coastguard Station, then in the course of building a new lookout
tower and full modernisation. It became operational towards the
end of 1971.
Fairlight Coastguard Station in September 2009
1971 Oct - About 60 acres of Warren Glen were ravaged
by fire, mostly near the cliff on the east side.
1971 Dec - Planning permission was given by Hastings
Council for a pathway to be cut through the Iron Age promontory
fort rampart on the East Hill, despite it being scheduled as an
ancient monument in the 1950s. The path was made by the owners
of Rocklands, Mr and Mrs WB Usher, as a way of giving public access
to their café. It was not until four years later, in September
1975, that the council’s error was discovered. Hastings
Area Archaeological Research Group pointed out the serious mistake
and borough planner Herbert West apologised, saying he did not
know that the rampart had been scheduled because of the unclear
maps that should have shown the affected area. The gap was later
1972 July 15 - The first Country Park warden, Mr J Heathcote,
started work. In September 1972 Frederick Futter, a 79-year old
retired police chief inspector, moved out of Warren Cottage, where
he had been the tenant for 25 years.
1972 Oct - Fairlight Place Farm and 418 acres of land
were leased to Maurice Ashworth, who resided at Marsham Farm.
His son Richard eventually took over the running of Fairlight
Place Farm, making it a dairy farm and causing much controversy
because of serious pollution of Fairlight Glen for many years
from its slurry tank. He was bought out by Hastings Council in
1972 Sept - The Hastings Observer of September 16 reported that
the sand quarry buildings near Fairlight Church were being demolished,
and a new access road, car parks and toilets were soon to be built
there. These are the facilities that exist today. But the construction
of the new road caused a bitter argument, as it involved widening
the former entrance road to the quarry, cut c1943, by taking land
on its west side from Church Farm without the permission of the
owner David Brown. Mr Brown has been running the Fairlight Goose
Sanctuary on his farm since 1969, and he is still protesting about
the way in which the authorities took and used his land without
his consent. In 1987 the Land Registry admitted it had made a
mistake, and that Mr Brown owned the ground, but he said he had
spent thousands of pounds on partially reclaiming it and fighting
his legal battle with the council.
1974 - The 1.2 acres of the glebe, known as St Georges
Churchyard, on the East Hill was purchased by Hastings Council
from the rector of All Saints parish, to be included in the Country
Park. Its name is traditional, being first recorded in the mid-18th
century, but there is no record of there being a church called
St George in Hastings. Then allotments, it was converted into
a picnic area. Since 1974, several other pieces of land around
North’s Seat and Barley Lane have been purchased to protect
the Country Park’s open space.
1975 Oct 25 - The Hastings Observer published a description
of the “hidden underground bunker at Fairlight, built in
the late 1950s, which is equipped to monitor the horrific effects
of a nuclear explosion”. The Royal Observer Corps bunker,
measuring just 14 feet by eight feet, was six feet underground,
and was located to seaward of the Fairlight Coastguard lookout
tower. If a nuclear warhead were dropped in the area, three members
of a ten-strong group of volunteers would secure themselves inside
the bunker and monitor the effects of the blast. The bunker still
exists, a few feet in front of the radar scanner, marked by two
small concrete blocks, one being on top of the entrance shaft.
1978 Spring - The beach at the foot of Fairlight Glen
was wrongly declared to be an ‘official naturist beach’,
starting an ongoing problem of offensive behaviour by naked men
which continues today. For several months prior to the declaration,
the Central Council of British Naturism (CCBN) and the Association
of Sun Clubs (ASC) had discussed with officers of Hastings Council
whether the area could be used for naturism. But there was confusion
over who was responsible for which piece of the seashore. Nationally,
the Crown Estate controls all ‘foreshore’ (the area
below high water mark), while the ‘beach’ (the area
above high water) can be owned or run by other bodies. Hastings
Council controlled the beach at Fairlight Glen. The Crown Estate
had refused to give a lease on the foreshore, but the naturists
had then asked Hastings Council for such a lease - not for a lease
of the beach. In a letter of December 13 1977 council officials
pointed out that they had no power over the foreshore, but would
“leave the matter on an informal basis so that your members
may use this part of the foreshore”. The confusing letter
did not mention the beach, but the naturists then behaved as though
it had done so. The ‘misunderstanding’ went so far
that in April 1978 Hastings Council paid for the making of “Official
Naturist Beach” notices that were put up on paths at the
bottom of Fairlight Glen. The beach and neighbouring Covehurst
Wood soon became the habitats not just of legitimate naturists,
but also of numerous men who carried out indecent exposure and
offences in public. After repeated complaints, the police in the
summer of 1997 carried out an operation to try to stamp out the
behaviour that had changed the character of the area, and there
were several prosecutions. Unfortunately, indecent offenders are
still to be seen, not only on Fairlight Glen beach but also on
its approaches. 1980 Aug - Fairlight Glen stream
was found to be heavily polluted by slurry from Fairlight Place
Farm, which was owned by Hastings Council. In 1984 it was still
badly polluted and this problem of irresponsibility by the tenant,
Richard Ashworth, persisted until he was bought out in 2001.
1982 Aug 1 - Fairlight Coastguard Station was downgraded,
to become a secondary station with only two staff (plus volunteer
Auxiliaries) and with the lookout only manned during bad weather
and searches. Fairlight was further downgraded in 1990 when a
new Station was built at Rock-a-Nore, taking over the role of
sector HQ from Fairlight, which is now only manned in emergencies.
1982 Nov - Amoco Exploration carried out a seismic survey
of the Fairlight area, looking for oil and gas. A survey in 1980
produced some positive results at Fairlight, so they extended
the survey area, but this proved unsuccessful.
1983 Oct - The High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural
Beauty (AONB) came into existence, taking in the Country Park.
1987 Late July - Rother Council decided not to pay for
work to stop cliff erosion at Fairlight Cove, where houses were
falling over the edge. But later they changed their minds, and
in July 1990 the battle to stop the cliff erosion began when a
massive barge, with 9,000 tonne loads, started dropping granite
20 metres in front of the cliffs to form a 500-metre long breakwater
parallel with the shore. Over the coming four months a total of
120,000 tonnes were deposited. Local residents had begun their
fight to save 47 threatened homes in 1979, but only obtained official
support and funding a decade later.
1987 Summer – Warren Cottage, at the top of Warren
Glen, was converted into a headquarters for the Country Park rangers.
Unfortunately the work was carried out on a low budget to a poor
design, and over the following years nothing was done to improve
its outward appearance, or that of its garden.
Warren Cottage in 1851
1988 - The North’s Seat area was added to the Country
1990 Nov - Hastings Council opposed plans by the Coastguard
to erect a big radar scanner at Fairlight Station to monitor all
shipping in the western Dover Strait. Local opponents, fearful
of the noise, initially stopped it being built there. As a result,
the scanner was put up in Mill Lane on Fairlight Down, near the
radio mast, but it did not work properly, because of the undulating
coastline interrupted the signals. So in 1995 the scanner was
relocated immediately in front of the Fairlight Station, on the
initially opposed site.
2001 Oct - Richard Ashworth, the tenant farmer at Fairlight Place
Farm, departed after legal action was threatened over the pollution
of the Fairlight Glen SSSI he was repeatedly causing by allowing
slurry to run-off from his intensive dairy farming. His negative
approach to farming was condemned by many people, but councillors
and council officers were reluctant to take action against him
because of his prominence in the local establishment. However,
when they were threatened with major fines (£20,000 or more)
if they did not stop the SSSI pollution, the Council bought out
his agricultural tenancy, and thereby took possession of Fairlight
Place and the farm buildings. The Hastings Observer reported that
Mr Ashworth received £½ million for this settlement,
which had a damaging effect on the finances of the farm and park,
forcing the Council to sell Fairlight Place, the farmhouse and
the lodge, and to try to sell the Barn teashop and Warren Cottage.
But the auction of Fairlight Place and the farmhouse was not held
until mid-December 2003, by which time the premises had suffered
major vandalism, thereby reducing their value. Mr Ashworth, born
in Folkestone in 1947, was a farmer in New Zealand until 1972,
when he became one in England. He developed his own large-scale
business of processing and retailing dairy products, and from
1990 to 2003 was chairman of United Milk plc. He was chairman
of Plumpton College from 1985-2000. Mr Ashworth was an influential
member of the local Conservative Party, and was elected as an
MEP (Member of the European Parliament) for the south east region
in 2004 and 2009.
2002 March - Hastings Council had decided in September 2001 that
the Country Park and the Fairlight Place Farm should become a
single integrated land unit and that it should be declared a Local
Nature Reserve. Agricultural consultants ADAS were appointed in
March 2002 to pursue this. Sussex Wildlife Trust emerged as the
preferred managers, and a management agreement was discussed with
them throughout 2003. But this failed to produce a satisfactory
2004 - The Archaeology and History of Hastings Country Park, edited
by David Padgham, was published by Hastings Area Archaeological
Research Group. This was the first comprehensive overview of the
Reserve’s history, and is still available. It examines the
story area-by-area, rather than chronologically, as is done here,
and is essential reading.
2004 March - The council decided to run the combined
park and farm itself. It appointed a reserves officer, established
a Management Forum (of five councillors, agency representatives
and council officers) and signed a Countryside Stewardship Agreement
with the government. The stewardship scheme began in October 2004,
receiving a ten-year grant, to be administered by ADAS. The forum
met for the first time in November 2004, and over the following
months drew up a comprehensive management plan for the implementation
of the grant. This plan was endorsed by English Nature in February
2005 and by Hastings Council in
July 2005. It covered a five year
programme of capital spending to 2010, and a revised plan was
drawn up in 2009-10 for 2010-15.
2004 Nov - Hastings Council refused planning permission for Shearbarn
Caravan Park to site 136 static caravans on the touring facilities
field on the north-west side of Barley Lane and for 18 timber-clad
caravans on the south-east side of the lane. In August 2005, Shearbarn
lost their appeal for the 136, but won approval for the 18, which
went ahead, turning the area into a form of housing estate.
2005 May 4 - The small golf shed on the East Hill was
demolished, the pitch-and-put golf course having been scrapped.
2006 March 27 - Hastings Council agreed to go ahead with
running the Country Park and farm as a ‘local nature reserve’
under the terms of the 1949 National Parks and Access to the Countryside
Act. This was achieved in July 2006, creating the Hastings Country
Park and Fairlight Place Farm Local Nature Reserve, to give it
its full official title. The management is funded by Hastings
Council, DEFRA and Natural England, and the scheme is known as
the Hastings Country Park Nature Reserve Restoration Project.
The Reserve was awarded a Green Flag by the Civic Trust in 2006
2006 April-May - Archaeology South-East, part of University
College London, conducted a landscape survey of all the Reserve
for Hastings Council, to “inform future management plans
and produce information for use in educational and interpretative
formats” (see Sources). The detailed 104-page report, listing
all known historic sites, recommended that “the most important
issue [for further fieldwork] relates to the possible promontory
fort on the East Hill”. It said that in addition to the
2007 topographical survey (see below) there should be a geophysical
survey of the hill, with special concentration on the south-western
corner, by the lift.
2007 March-Oct - English Heritage’s Archaeological
Survey Team carried out an analytical earthwork survey of the
East Hill, with the aim of helping Hastings Council “improve
future management and appreciation” of the hill (see Sources).
The survey said that archaeological activity spanning at least
4,000 years “indicates that this headland has been an important
locale for local communities over a long period of time”.
It concluded that it was quite likely (but still unproved) that
the hill was an Iron Age hill fort, and that there may have been
a burial mound dating from c2,000 BC near the lift, although this
was uncertain. The team came to no conclusion about the role or
age of the picnic site, except that it was pre-1750. The team’s
report was largely inconclusive because geophysical surveys and
excavations were beyond their remit, and would have been expensive.
2007 March 8 - A meeting of the Country Park Volunteers
agreed that a new group called the Friends of the Hastings Country
Park Nature Reserve should be formed. The inaugural meeting of
this group took place on Tuesday April 17 2007 at the Horntye
Sports Complex. Its aims are to help provide information, guidance
and education and to assist with the management of the reserve,
for the benefit of wildlife and people; and to promote, protect,
conserve and enhance the natural environment of the reserve for
future generations, and encourage others to join in this work.
2007 June - The East Hill Lift was closed following a
serious accident, when the cars crashed into the upper and lower
walls. This was caused by the malfunctioning of the controller
unit, which was being replaced as part of a three-year major improvement
scheme. The carriages were removed for rebuilding in August 2009,
with the lift aiming to re-open in spring 2010.
Ecclesbourne Glen, 2008
Special thanks to David Padgham for allowing
me to use material from his 2004 publication (see below) and for
his other help. Also thanks to Brian Lawes and the Hastings Local
Archaeology Data Service, http://ads.ahds.ac.uk
The Archaeology and History of Hastings Country Park, by David
Padgham, 2004 edition, Hastings Area Archaeological Research Group.
East Hill, Hastings - A Landscape Survey and Investigation, by
Michael Fradley and Sarah Newsome, 2008, English Heritage Research
Dept Report 35-2008.
Fairlight - Echoes of the Past, compiled by Fairlight Residents
Fairlight Rotor station, www.subbrit.org.uk/rsg/sites/f/fairlight/exit_1968.html
Hastings Borough Council minutes and other official documents,
including property transactions, publicity leaflets and guides.
Hastings Country Park Archaeological and Historic Landscape Survey,
by Richard James, 2006, published by Archaeology South-East (University
College London), commissioned by Hastings Council.
Historic Hastings, J Manwaring Baines, 1986, Cinque Ports Press.
Local newspapers held on film in Hastings Reference Library, especially
Hastings and Cinque Ports Iris, Hastings News, Hastings Observer,
Hastings Weekly Mail, Sussex Express, Sussex Weekly Advertiser.
Personal memories of myself (Steve Peak) and people that I have