The town of Hastings has a long maritime tradition. The original port stood partly on land that has now been eroded by the sea.
In 928 the town was of sufficient standing to have its own mint, and when, around 1050, Hastings was joined with Romney, Hythe, Dover and Sandwich in what became the privileged institution of the Cinque Ports, the town’s importance was firmly established.
It was the Cinque Ports’ task to supply the King with ships and crews for a certain number of days each year, their merchant vessels being converted to warships by adding castles at their ends. They defended the Sussex and Kent coastline from attack and to at one time Hastings supplied 20 of the 57 ships that made up the Cinque Ports’ navy, the main English navy until the 15th century.
Bulverhythe, at the west end of modern Hastings, was, in those days, an annexe port to Hastings and was responsible for contributing to the quota of ships. It was a self-contained community on a low hill where today the ruins of its medieval church can be found as a clue to its maritime past.
Hastings’s influence as a port received a severe setback when the storms of 1286 – 7 started to erode the port away and eventually the once great Cinque Port became nothing more than a small fishing town, nestling between the East and West Hills.
Many medieval houses survive in the Old Town behind its defensive wall built as a protection against the French probably in the 16th century. Traces of the 16th century Elizabethan harbour have been found to the west of the modern harbour, but that did not last long before it was broken up by the sea.
The most interesting surviving clues to the ancient port are its two lighthouses, the Upper and Lower lights, which, although dating from the 19th century, are still used to help fishing boats return to harbour at night. The strange thing is that the lights are still lined up to enter the Elizabethan harbour that ceased to exist about three centuries ago!
The tall weatherboarded and tarred sheds, locally called ‘net shops’, date from the 19th century. They were used to dry fishing nets, but modern net materials do not require them so they are only used now for storing fishing equipment.