There are two crazy things about Hastings that make it unusual for the UK, and still a place of some wildness more like an American Wild West town than some sleepy English suburb. In fact I call Hastings the Wild East!
One is the beach dock and the other is its crazy history of smugglers, vagabonds and misfits, many who, in the 19th century, created something called ‘The America Ground.’ More shortly.
When Amoda and I, misplaced and alienated English people who don’t feel like they belong here, discovered something rebelliously in common with this town, the declaration of independence, we laughed! It made sense that we had moved here. It is probably one of the only really wild places left in England in many ways. Its got history which it still celebrates. For example there is a ‘Jack in the Green,’ festival every year to celebrate May fertility. There are always parades, drums and fireworks, all marching proudly and defiantly through the town.
First the beach port.
Hastings still supports the largest fleet of beach-launched fishing boats in Britain.
They tried to make it a port with some building projects, but all to no avail. So a beach dock it is. Numbers of boats has dwindled over the decades. In the 1850s there were 85 or so fishing boats registered here; now there are some 20 or 30 with the RX registration mark. Tractors push the boats into the water, and drag them back out. Its quite a sight. Hence some of my pictures.
More here: http://www.ports.org.uk/port.asp?id=103
Second, and this is a crazy story. I will give you the short version:
In central Hastings is an area covered by Harold Place, the Queens Hotel, Robertson Terrace, Carlisle Parade, White Rock, Robertson Street, Trinity Street, and Claremont, this area to the West of the Priory-Stream was outside the Hastings Borough boundary and was the result of the sea receding in the early 13th Century. This land was settled by squatters who named it “The America Ground” and planted an American Flag (a contemporary symbol of freedom) and declared themselves independent of Hastings. They built houses shops and warehouses and paid no rent rates or taxes. The borough suggested that lawlessness was rife and the government should take steps to get rid of the nuisance.
The America Ground was not the haphazard collection of squats that officialdom liked to imply. It was a properly organized community supplying most if not all of its own needs.
It took the authorities some 3 centuries to reclaim the land and remove the ‘squatters.’ This is the whole story http://www.1066.net/america/history.htm
Pretty cool huh?