Fishing in Hastings
A History of the Local Fishing Industry
Hastings in south-east England was a key member of the Confederation of Cinque Ports from 1050.
In return for certain privileges the Cinque Ports supplied the King with ships and men for a number of days each year, for the defence of the Sussex and Kent coastline. Hastings supplied 20 merchant ships which could be turned into warships by the building of ‘castles’ on each end.
Accommodation - Search & Book through Tripadvisor here: External Link
This arrangement worked very well until the severe storms of 1286-7 started to erode the port away. Eventually large ships could no longer use Hastings and the once important Cinque Port degenerated into a small fishing town.
Over the centuries attempts to build a harbour at Hastings were unsuccessful. The stormy seas would either wash the sea walls away or the entrance would be blocked by shifting shingle. Boats were forced to land on the shingle beach.
The shingle beach in Hastings Old Town has always been called the Stade. This is the ancient name for ‘landing place’ and it is here that the largest beach-launched fishing fleet in the country can be found. The fleet has launched from this spot for over a thousand years.
The boats have to be hauled out of the sea after each trip, which stops them being more than about 33 feet (10 metres) long. This means that they can only carry small amounts of gear and travel just a few miles, mainly in Rye Bay. As a result the fleet has always fished in an ecologically sound way. All Hastings fishing vessels are registered at Rye and thus bear the letters "RX" (Rye,SusseX).
The fishing boats are normally pulled well up onto the beach with the aid of power winches and sometimes a caterpillar tractor. In the past they were winched up by wooden capstans turned by horses. The horses were stabled in the building that now houses the Shipwreck and Coastal Heritage Museum. Web: Shipwreck Museum External Link
Originally the Stade was only a small area of beach with limited space available for storage sheds. This was not a problem to the early 19th century Hastings fishermen; they invented the ‘net shop’. These tall, black weatherboard structures are now unique to Hastings.
Until fairly recent times fishing gear was made out of natural fibres which would rot if not laid out to dry. Drying was done on the beach but then the equipment had to be stored.
Because of the lack of available beach the net shops were laid out in narrow rows with very limited ground space. They were built up to 30 feet (almost 10 metres) high, and many had cellars. Scores of nets would be hung up inside, along with ropes and chains. The fishermen built the sheds the same way their boats were built – a clinker (lapstrake) construction with tar waterproofing.
The building of the 1887 groyne at Rock-a-Nore and the 1896 harbour stopped shingle moving east along the coast. The result was that the Stade then steadily grew out to seaward, providing new room for the fishing fleet and many amenities.
Weather permitting, boats go out daily and, depending on the season, return with seafood such as Sea Bass, Dover Sole, Plaice, Red Mullet, Brill, Herring, Mackerel, Pollock, Lobster, Prawns, Scallops, Oysters, and Mussels.
Accommodation - Search & Book through Lastminute here: External Link
Seafood Cafés & Restaurants
There are plenty of shops selling freshly caught seafood, and cafés selling freshly cooked fish, particularly the Fishmarket Café.
The Fishermen’s Museum
Llocated amongst the net shops this is a fascinating place to visit. It tells the story of an industry that is treacherous and has claimed many lives, yet generations of families have continued to be fishermen – the sea is in their blood. On display in and around the museum are examples of old boats and a net shop open for inspection.
Follow the instructions for getting to Hastings in this website.
Goople Maps - Shipwreck Museum