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Looking back: Mud, misery and the town’s crying game...
King Canute couldn’t do it – and neither could Hastings Borough Council.
Both were powerless to stop the waves that were slowly but surely consuming the town’s coastline during the 20th century.
Regular rock falls and dangerous cliffs along the coast often put homes and historic buildings at risk.
Part of Crowhurst Wood slid down the cliff in the 1930s, and a landslip in St Maray’s Terrace almost buried two houses in 1975.
Assistant borough engineer David Divall told the Argus in March 1980: “Yes – Hastings is crumbling into the sea.
“But if the present rate of about six inches per 100 years continues, it will take between 80,000 and 1,000,000 years to drown.”
Other dangers in Hastings included landslides, with hundreds of tons of mud regularly sliding down hillsides, bringing heartbreak and misery to families.
A circus parade from 1960s
For years, mudslides wrecked homes, cracked walls, uprooted trees and buried gardens.
But Hastings residents were warned there was little that could be done to stop the sticky mass.
Experts pinned the blame on the shallow, sub-tropical swamp that covered the area 135 million years ago.
The ancient swamp left behind the sandstone and layers of clay on which towns in the area now stand.
In February 1988, one family was forced out of their home in Sturdee Place, Hastings, after a landslide.
Tons of rock smashed into a rear wall, cracking brickwork, shattering a door and forcing residents to flee from the guesthouse.
But it wasn’t all mud and misery for plucky Hastings during the 1980s.
A fisherman with a shark at Hastings Fish Market from the 1960s
In August 1985, contestants in the National Town Criers Championship found themselves shouting against brisk sea breezes and heavy showers.
But undaunted, the 45 town criers competing in the championship protected their finery with umbrellas and took to the stage to shout their heads off.
Introduced with the familiar ‘Oyez, oyez, oyez’, each town crier had just 57 test-piece words to yell at the judges to convince them their volume and clarity was the best.
The tradition of town crying had been upheld in Hastings since 1952, when the first national championships were held in the town.
First prize for the best costume in the 1985 contest went to Jean Wells who confessed she had been working on her blue velvety costume half the summer.
A prehistoric theme for this float in the Hastings Carnival from the 1960s
Meanwhile Grace Hall, 87, the oldest competitor, revealed she practised by yelling at the cows on her farm.
Another old-timer who chose to spend his final years in Hastings was Herbert Steele, one of the last survivors of the 1899-1902 Boer War.
And at the ripe old age of 95, he was still fighting battles and winning them.
After lightning shattered the South African war memorial on Hastings promenade in October 1974, Mr Steele waited nearly a year for the borough council to put the 22ft marble column back on the base where it had stood since 1903.
A game of chess we think on Hastings seafront from the 1960s
Then he wrote to Mayor John Hodgson asking that something be done about the memorial lying dismantled in a council depot.
In June 1976, his wish finally came true.
The five-and-half-ton memorial, restored by a Hastings firm of masons, was back in its old position opposite the Yelton Hotel, with a burn mark running down the column.
ON THIS DAY
1692: Salem witch trials: in Salem, Massachusetts, Province of Massachusetts Bay, five people –
one woman and four men, including a clergyman – are executed after being convicted of witchcraft.
1848: California Gold Rush: the New York Herald breaks the news to the East Coast of the United States of the gold rush in California.
1987: Hungerford massacre: Michael Ryan kills 16 people with an assault rifle and then commits suicide.
The Argus’ popular “Looking Back” feature has been compiled into an A4, soft back book which catalogues the events that have made their mark on the people of Sussex. The fascinating archive of “Looking Back” images dates back to the 1930s when The Argus first started to print photographs. The book costs £6.99 including postage and packing. To order please visit theargus.co.uk/store
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