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).
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.
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 the Ridge.
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 Down.
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 contemporary drawings.
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.
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.
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).
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 other times).
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!
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 acres elsewhere.
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.
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 1844.
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.
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 Lodge.
1855 June – A song about Fairlight Glen, Music of the Stream, was published, with words by Arthur Ransom and music by George Lindridge.
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 glen.
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.
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 1913.
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.
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.
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 remedied.”
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”.
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 Mr Hancox.
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).
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.
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.
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 and Fairlight.
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).
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.
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.
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, closed.
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.
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 over Hastings.
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.
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.
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 filled in.
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 2001.
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.
1988 – The North’s Seat area was added to the Country Park.
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 result.
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 and 2009.
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.
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 History Group.
Hastings Council’s website map of the Reserve www.wildhastings.org.uk/reserves/hcp_map.pdf
Hastings Council old printed maps, especially Laing’s of 1859.
Ordnance Survey surveyors’ drawings 1797-1806; www.bl.uk/onlinegallery/onlineex/ordsurvdraw
Ordnance Survey large-scale plans, from 1873 onwards.
Tithe maps of c1839.
Various estate drawings held by Hastings Museum.
Yeakell and Gardner’s map of Sussex, 2”-to-mile, 1778-83.
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 Association, 1992.
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 spoken to.