The battle did NOT take place in Hastings
Depending of where you went to school, you had to learn that there was the battle of Hastings which took place on October 14th 1066. That is OK, but the problem is that the battle of Hastings did NOT take place in Hastings, but on Senlac Hill, which is some miles to the northwest of Hastings. Senlac Hill is part of a small town called Battle (no prizes for guesses where that name comes from) which grew around an abbey which William I. ordered to be built after his victory. Hastings was "only" the place where William built his first castle and gathered his troops before the famous battle.
For more information about the battle, check out: http://battle1066.com/ A museum of the English Heritage can be found next to Battle Abbey and the battlefield. There, you will find far more extensive information about the battle than in Hastings. So if you like to do all the 1066 stuff like I did, go to the train station and buy a ticket to Battle. A return ticket costs 2,80 pounds (July 2006), but going by train is a more comfortable way to go than the one William chose in 1066.
All along the Watchtower
There has been some form of Watchtower at the Firehills, at Hastings Country Park for centuries. This is the current coastguard tower and radar at Fairlight.
Smuggling has for centuries been a problem on this part of the UK coastline, with contraband being shipped over from France from as early as the 16th century and probably reaching a peak in the 18th century, when violent, alcohol fuelled battles took place between smugglers and coastguards . Smuggling still occurs from time to time even today but may take different forms, ie drugs, tobacco and human trafficking.
There are "Danger of Radiation" signs all along the fences surrounding the tower.
The area around Hastings is named 1066 country and you will find many attractions related to the battle of Hastings which took place in 1066. One of these attractions is the castle of Hastings which was the first stone castle built by the Normans in that year.
First, only a wooden "motte and bailey castle" was built on that site, later it was rebuilt in stone. The castle was given to a norman nobelman, the count of Eu in 1069. Until the late 13th century, the castle was expanded, but a heavy storm made the cliff collapse destroying a large part of the castle. The church, St. Mary in the castle, was in use until the reign of Henry VIII, but afterwards the ruch and the remaining castle buildings were abandoned and the site was used for farming. The castle was excatavated from 1824 on and became open for visitors. In 1961, a stone was exchanged with the castle of Falaise, the place where William the Conqueror was born. Sometimes, events related to the battle of Hastings take place in the castle ruins.
Today, you can visit the castle ruins. A small leaftlet will give you some information about the fuction of the different buildings. Unfortunately, almost everything was demolished in the past centuries. An arch of the church is the best preserved structure, from some walls only stumps are remianing. In a new building which looks like a blue tent, you can see a 15-minute-video about the battle of Hastings and its background. For more information about the battle of Hastings, I would like to recommend a daytrip to the town of Battle.
If you don't mind walking on a steep street, approach the castle via Castle Hill road. It takes less time than the West Hill funicular railway or the steps (which are even steeper than the road) as these are a little further away from the castle. See also my tips about West Hill for further information.
P.S.: The opening times on the webpage are a little outdated. In summer 2006, the castle was already open at 10:00 a.m.!
A fine seaside town.
"It didn't happen here!"
OK, let's get one thing cleared up straight away. If you mention Hastings to anyone, they will probably mention the famous Battle of Hastings in 1066 when William of Normandy invaded, defeated King Harold and eventually conquered England. The battle actually didn't happen here, but at the village of Senlac some miles inland, which was subsequently renamed Battle. Have a look at my Battle pages for more information.
Notwithstanding that the battle didn't take place here, there is still a noticable Norman influence. The Old Town is dominated by the Norman Castle, which can lay claim to being the first Norman stronghold in England.
As suggested in the previous paragraph, the town is split in two, the Old Town and the New Town. The old Town is probably of more interest to the visitor. It is a very picturesque fishing village set at the foot of some steep cliffs, and there are a number of tourist attractions there. The New Town boasts a lively shopping district and a promenade complete with that essential of the English seaside town - a pier.
Hastings, undoubtedly, has had it's heyday some years ago, when it was a popular tourist destination but, like many other English resorts, it has lost out to cheap overseas holidays. I still rather like the place though, and it makes a pleasant day trip from London.
Apologies for the photos, but I took them on a particularly overcast November day!