1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Hastings (Sussex)
HASTINGS, a municipal, county and parliamentary borough and watering-place of Sussex, England, one of the Cinque Ports, 62 m. S.E. by S. from London, on the South Eastern & Chatham and the London, Brighton & South Coast railways. Pop. (1901), 65,528. It is picturesquely situated at the mouth of two narrow valleys, and, being sheltered by considerable hills on the north and east, has an especially mild climate. Eastward along the coast towards Fairlight, and inland, the country is beautiful. A parade fronts the English Channel, and connects the town on the west with St Leonard’s, which is included within the borough. This is mainly a residential quarter, and has four railway stations on the lines serving Hastings. Both Hastings and St Leonard’s have fine piers; there is a covered parade known as the Marina, and the Alexandra Park of 75 acres was opened in 1891. There are also numerous public gardens. The sandy beach is extensive, and affords excellent bathing. On the brink of the West Cliff stand a square and a circular tower and other fragments of the castle, probably erected soon after the time of William the Conqueror; together with the ruins, opened up by excavation in 1824, of the castle chapel, a transitional Norman structure 110 ft. long, with a nave, chancel and aisles. Besides the chapel there was formerly a college, both being under the control of a dean and secular canons. The deanery was held by Thomas Becket, and one of the canonries by William of Wykeham. The principal public buildings are the old parish churches of All Saints and St Clements, the first containing in its register for 1619 the baptism of Titus Oates, whose father was rector of the parish; numerous modern churches, the town hall (1880); theatre, music hall and assembly rooms. The Brassey Institute contains a public library, museum and art school. The Albert Memorial clock-tower was erected in 1864. Educational institutions include the grammar school (1883), school of science and art (1878) and technical schools. At the west end of the town are several hospitals and convalescent homes. The prosperity of the town depends almost wholly on its reputation as a watering-place, but there is a small fishing and boat-building industry. In 1890 an act of parliament authorized the construction of a harbour, but the work, begun in 1896, was not completed. The fish-market beneath the castle cliff is picturesque. The parliamentary borough, returning one member, falls within the Rye division of the county. The county borough was created in 1888. The municipal borough is under a mayor, 10 aldermen and 30 councillors. Area, 4857 acres.
Rock shelters on Castle Hill and numerous flint instruments which have been discovered at Hastings point to an extensive neolithic population, and there are ancient earthworks and a promontory camp of unknown date. There is no evidence that Hastings was a Roman settlement, but it was a place of some note in the Anglo-Saxon period. In 795 land at Hastings (Haestingaceaster, Haestingas, Haestingaport) is included in a grant, which may possibly be a forgery, of a South Saxon chieftain to the abbey of St Denis in France; and a royal mint was established at the town by Æthelstan. The battle of Hastings in 1066 described below was the first and decisive act of the Norman Conquest. It was fought near the present Battle Abbey, about 6 m. inland. After the Conquest William I. erected the earthworks of the existing castle. By 1086 Hastings was a borough and had given its name to the rape of Sussex in which it lay. The town at that time had a harbour and a market. Whether Hastings was one of the towns afterwards known as the Cinque Ports at the time when they received their first charter from Edward the Confessor is uncertain, but in the reign of William I. it was undoubtedly among them. These combined towns, of which Hastings was the head, had special liberties and a separate jurisdiction under a warden. The only charter peculiar to Hastings was granted in 1589 by Elizabeth, and incorporated the borough under the name of “mayor, jurats and commonalty,” instead of the former title of “bailiff, jurats and commonalty.” Hastings returned two members to parliament probably from 1322, and certainly from 1366, until 1885, when the number was reduced to one.
Battle of Hastings.—On the 28th of September 1066, William of Normandy, bent on asserting by arms his right to the English crown, landed at Pevensey. King Harold, who had destroyed the invaders of northern England at the battle of Stamford Bridge in Yorkshire, on hearing the news hurried southward, gathering what forces he could on the way. He took up his position, athwart the road from Hastings to London, on a hill some 6 m. inland from Hastings, with his back to the great forest of Anderida (the Weald) and in front of him a long glacis-like slope, at the bottom of which began the opposing slope of Telham Hill. The English army was composed almost entirely of infantry. The shire levies, for the most part destitute of body armour and with miscellaneous and even improvised weapons, were arranged on either flank of Harold’s guards (huscarles), picked men armed principally with the Danish axe and shield.
Before this position Duke William appeared on the morning of the 14th of October. His host, composed not only of his Norman vassals but of barons, knights and adventurers from all quarters, was arranged in a centre and two wings, each corps having its archers and arblasters in the front line, the rest of the infantry in the second and the heavy armoured cavalry in the third. Neither the arrows nor the charge of the second line of foot-men, who, unlike the English, wore defensive mail, made any impression on the English standing in a serried mass behind their interlocked shields.
Then the heavy cavalry came on, led by the duke and his brother Odo, and encouraged by the example of the minstrel Taillefer, who rode forward, tossing and catching his sword, into the midst of the English line before he was pulled down and killed. All along the front the cavalry came to close quarters with the defenders, but the long powerful Danish axes were as formidable as the halbert and the bill proved to be in battles of later centuries, and they lopped off the arms of the assailants and cut down their horses. The fire of the attack died out and the left wing (Bretons) fled in rout. But as the fyrd levies broke out of the line and pursued the Bretons down the hill in a wild, formless mob, William’s cavalry swung round and destroyed them, and this suggested to the duke to repeat deliberately what the Bretons had done from fear. Another advance, followed by a feigned retreat, drew down a second large body of the English from the crest, and these in turn, once in the open, were ridden over and slaughtered by the men-at-arms. Lastly, these two disasters having weakened the defenders both materially and morally, William subjected the huscarles, who had stood fast when the fyrd broke its ranks, to a constant rain of arrows, varied from time to time by cavalry charges. These magnificent soldiers endured the trial for many hours, from noon till close on nightfall; but at last, when the Norman archers raised their bows so as to pitch the arrows at a steep angle of descent in the midst of the huscarles, the strain became too great. While some rushed forward alone or in twos and threes to die in the midst of the enemy, the remainder stood fast, too closely crowded almost for the wounded to drop. At last Harold received a mortal wound, the English began to waver, and the knights forced their way in. Only a remnant of the defenders made its way back to the forest; and William, after resting for a night on the hardly-won ground, began the work of the Norman Conquest.
- Freeman called this hill Senlac and introduced the fashion of describing the battle as “the battle of Senlac.” Mr J. H. Round, however, proved conclusively that this name, being French (Senlecque), could not have been in use at the time of the Conquest, that the battlefield had in fact no name, pointing out that in William of Malmesbury and in Domesday Book the battle is called “of Hastings” (Bellum Hastingense), while only one writer, Ordericus Vitalis, describes it two hundred years after the event as Bellum Senlacium. See Round, Feudal England (London, 1895), p. 333 et seq.
- There is still a difference of opinion as to whether the English were, or were not, defended by any other rampart than that of the customary “shield-wall.” Freeman, apparently as a result of a misunderstanding of a passage in Henry of Huntingdon and the slightly ambiguous verse of Wace in the Roman du Rou (ll. 6991-6994 and ll. 7815-7826), affirms that Harold turned “the battle as far as possible into the likeness of a siege,” by building round his troops a “palisade” of solid timber (Norman Conquest, iii. 444). This was proved to be a fable by J. H. Round, in the course of a general attack on Freeman’s historical method, which provoked the professor’s defenders to take up the cudgels on his behalf in a very long and lively controversy. The result of this was that Freeman’s account was wholly discredited, though Round’s view—that there was no wall of any kind save the shield-wall—is not generally accepted. Professor Oman (Academy, June 9, 1894), for instance, holds that there was “an abattis of some sort” set to hamper the advance of cavalry (see also English History, vol. ix., p. 474). Mr Round sums up the controversy, from his point of view, in his Feudal England, p. 340 et seq., where references to other monographs on the subject will be found.