How a fishing boat disaster affected a Hastings Old Town family

Pioneer fishing boat SUS-190322-095036001
Pioneer fishing boat SUS-190322-095036001

Our report on the 70th anniversary of the loss of Hastings fishing boat Pioneer, along with three crew members brought back memories for Old Town resident Di Bourner.

Di, who lives in the Bourne, in the Old Town, contacted us to say that one of those lost at sea was her grandfather James Helsdown.

She explained: “My father John, was the youngest son of James and was only 11 when he died.

“We still have copies of the original Observer report of the disaster.

“John is a Boy Ashore and still visits the fishing beach most days even though he is in his 80’s.”

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Hastings Fishermen’s Museum is holding a special exhibition to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the loss of the Pioneer in on March 31/April 1 1949.

The loss of the boat ‘Pioneer’ was the worst Hastings fishing disaster in the 20th century.

On 31st March 1949 The ‘Pioneer’ RX 255 was a nearly-new Hastings fishing boat owned by Jack and Tom Adams.

Early on the morning of that day, they went trawling in Rye Bay but a thick fog later descended and they lost their way home.

Just after midnight, the coastguard and lifeboat eventually located the men clinging to the wreckage under Fairlight cliffs where the boat had run aground on the Hooks Ledge rocks.

They could hear the men calling for help through the fog but could not locate the exact position of the wreck.

A coastguard lowered down from the cliff managed to talk to the men, but they could still not be found. Their voices grew weaker and weaker until at 2.20 am they were heard for the last time.

It was reported that at dawn the next morning, the wreckage of the RX 255 ‘Pioneer’ was discovered 200 yards off the cliffs.

Most of the boat’s hull had gone. The body of the skipper, Harry Muggridge (49) was entangled in the floating rigging of the mizzen mast and another crewman, Jimmy Williams (27) was nearby.

The third crewman was the mate, James Helsdown (51). His body had been washed away and was found some hours later by his son at Bexhill opposite the De La Warr Pavilion.

The loss of the three men was a huge shock and blow to the Hastings fishing fleet.

The Fishermen Disaster Fund was later set up by the Mayor of Hastings for the bereaved and it raised £1,728.

The free-entry museum is open every day from 11am - 4pm until March 31, then from 10am - 5pm It is run entirely by public donations and purchases.

Hastings Fishermen’s Museum is run by the Old Hastings Preservation Society and is dedicated to the fishing industry and maritime history of Hastings. It opened in 1956 in the former fishermen’s church.

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