Wild and wet weather at White Rock

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This week, in his ongoing series, Ion Castro takes another look at how the seafront and promenade near White Rock and the Pier was exposed to the sea and elements.

He writes: Hastings and St Leonards are fortunate to have a seafront promenade over three miles long. Much of it was won from the sea so that for many years the protective shingle between the waves and the promenade was rather narrow.. High tides in inclement weather would cause the sea to overrun the beach and attempt to reclaim its former territory.

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Over time groynes, projecting into the sea at right angles to the sea wall, and originally wooden and later stone, managed to retain shingle and form a protective buffer to keep the sea and seafront apart. But a century ago this was not the case.

The groynes were there, but the shingle hadn’t had time to build up and this is particularly true of the area known as White Rock which can feature dramatic waves even today.

White Rock was originally a headland protecting what is now Hastings Town Centre, but in 1834-35 it was demolished with gunpowder to allow a road, today’s seafront, to be built between the bottom of the cliffs and the sea connecting Hastings and St Leonards.

The rubble was used to construct the new promenade and road, with a sea wall that was completed in June 1835 from White Rock to the St Leonards Archway. The original promenade widened out west of the White Rock Brewery (replaced in 1886 with the Palace Hotel) and later widened eastward in the 1870’s, when the White Rock Baths were built on land reclaimed from the sea and the promenade extended on top.

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Sixty years later Sidney Little would extend the seafront even further eastwards to carry the seafront road. All this work of course shortened the beach and created a splash point.

The spectacular waves were a popular subject for photographers and postcard publishers were quick to cash in and supply the market. Post cards had been growing in popularity since the beginning of the last century. They originally had the image on one side and the address on the other which didn’t leave much room for correspondence. This lasted until 1902 when Great Britain was the first country to issue divided back postcards followed by France and Germany, which quickly led to a sharp increase in card sales.

On some of the earliest cards of this period the dividing line was left of centre and often accompanied by printed instructions of what could be written and where. The most obvious affect of this new measure is that it allowed an image to take up the entire front of a card, though some publishers maintained a small border tab for a few remaining years. Older cards also continued to be used, often with a hand drawn line down the middle.

Locally Judges were well known postcard producers, Fred Judge, having arrived in Hastings from Yorkshire in 1902, was producing postcards for sale the following year. Another postcard purveyor was Stengel & Co, founded in 1885 by Emil Stengel and Heinrich Markert and was a Dresden-based German printing company that in the first decade of the 20th century had become the largest postcard manufacturer in the world.

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There were a number of photographers operating in the White Rock/Robertson Street and Verulam Place areas, near enough to dash out and grab a snap. During the first decade of the last century there was another prolific postcard producer of local views, the French publisher ‘LL’ (Levi Fils) whose postcards were produced for a wide variety of locations, from the USA to England, including Hastings and across France. Popular belief suggested they were the work of Louis Levy, but research has shown that nobody of that name was ever associated with the company and the ‘Louis Levy error’ was debunked as long ago as 1991.

All illustrations throughout this series are from Ion Castro’s own collection and he can make available copies of many of the historic images used in this series. There’s more local history on Ion’s website, www.historichastings.co.uk or contact him - ion@1066.net.

Captions:

26 Hastings Splash Point.

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From the French firm of LL this somewhat lurid card was posted in October 1918, probably a decade after the photograph was taken. Notice the crowds and the foolhardy soul on the beach! In the early 1930’s Sidney little would extend the promenade from here to Harold Place.

222 Rough Sea Hastings.

A spectacular image From Judge’s, this unposted card dates from the early years of the last century and captures the waves pounding the promenade at White Rock Baths and the length of Carlisle Parade.

1869 White Rock Hastings.

This albumen print from 1869 show the promenade before the White Rock Baths were built a few years later. Notice the narrow pavement between the road and the sea wall in the foreground a couple of years later work would start extending the width of the Promenade by reclaiming the area from the sea with the building of the White Rock Baths. If the picture had been taken a couple of years later it would have been dominated by Hastings Pier occupying the upper right of the image and the widened promenade on top of the baths on the left. The blurs in the foreground are closed horse-drawn carriages bringing spectators to the site, blurred because early photographs required long exposures.

Damaged Promenade.

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An early ‘Hybrid’ postcard from an unknown publisher, the face of the card has a space for correspondence but the back is divided suggesting the image was take no later than 1902. Posted in September 1903 the writer was obviously confused because there’s no message. The image shows the major damage caused by the pounding of the waves during a recent storm. Is that a perambulator on the right?

Hastings.

The original print by an unknown photographer was simply captioned ‘Hastings’ and dates from the end of the nineteenth century, the shingle lifted by the waves and flung on the promenade can clearly be seen in the foreground and the waves have attracted a lot of attention.

Hole in Promenade.

Caption on this fine Judge’s Photo reads “Hole in Parade, Hastings. 80 feet circumference and 20 feet deep, caused by the gale, Nov 1-2 1905. No 22, so clearly there was a series of photographs featuring this hole. Wonderful image of a man working and the leisured class gawping! The Grand Hotel is on the left and the Hospital to its right. The uncluttered Hastings Pier can be seen in the background. Quarter of a century later Sidney Little’s double-deck promenade would more adequately protect this area.

Record Wave Hastings.

This undated card from an unknown publisher from the pre-first war shows the roof of the original White Rock Baths and, between them and the road the stacks of deckchairs covered with tarpaulins to protect them from the weather. Notice too the tramlines in the foreground, the seafront section of track used the road-mounted Dolter surface-contact system to provide motive power to the trams and seawater in the system frequently caused problems.

Rough Sea Hastings Promenade.

This card by an unknown publisher was posted in September 1909. ‘Violet’ staying at 99 Queens Road writes to ‘Minna’ in Hampstead “Thanks awfully for your lovely letter…” Notice the undamaged harbour arm in the distance. Over time shingle would build up against the harbour and provide a protective shingle buffer zone between the sea and the promenade. Notice the covered stacks of deckchairs on the left between the roof of the baths and the road. The spectators are keeping a safe distance.

Rough Sea, Baths Promenade.

This card, No 151 in the Milton “Artletto” series from Woolstone Bros, London EC was posted in June 1906. ‘Father’ writes to his son in Harrow “On this card the sea is very rough, it is not like that now’

Rough Sea, Stengel.

Posted in May 1903 this card was published by Stengel before 1902 when the post office permitted messages on the address side. Notice the shingle cast up on the promenade, the pavement lights for the baths below and the advert for ‘The Creamery’ in Robertson Street on the railings round the original entrance to the baths. It looks as if there are youths playing ‘dare’ with the waves.

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Thanks

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