East Sussex TN34 3DW
Any visitor to the Hastings Old Town in south-east England cannot fail to notice that one of its main industries is fishing. The fleet, pulled up on the shingle beach, is surrounded by old tarred 'net shops’ and fishing paraphernalia.
Tucked away amongst the jumble of buildings is a modest little Victorian chapel. This is the Fishermen’s Museum – a gem not to be missed.
Hastings’ important fishing and maritime history is revealed in this fascinating museum. Find out how the unique ‘Net Shops’ were used, climb aboard the oldest locally built sailing lugger still surviving, and learn why Hastings and fishing are synonymous.
The museum is in the former Fishermen’s Church of St Nicholas built in 1854. How this little missionary church came to be built on the beach is quite an interesting story.
The Chapel Building
In medieval times fishing had made the town very prosperous and Hastings was thriving. It had seven churches but by 1801 only the two parish churches All Saints Church Hastings and St Clements Church, Hastings were viable.
Life for the fishermen was hard; they worked seven days a week and rarely attended the two parish churches. In fact they were seen as local ‘aborigines’ in ‘a state of great mental darkness’.
The parish rectors decided a missionary should be based amongst this ‘godless’ community and a church should be built amongst them in Rock-a-Nore. The missionary church was not attached to a parish and was designated a ‘chapel of ease’.
At first the community was hostile to the church and it closed in the 1870s but by the 1880s a popular new chaplain had re-energised the community, re-opened the chapel and the building was full at every service.
Not very much money was spent on building the chapel so it is very plain. The chancel and nave are all one space with narrow lancet windows. It is built of Kentish ragstone with a gabled slate roof. A small cross adorns the east gable and the west gable is surmounted by a bellcote.
Inside it had a pulpit, a communion table and seating for 290 people. In 2000 a beautiful stained glass panel was added to the East window as a memorial to lost seafarers. It is a very striking tribute.
The little Fishermen’s Church served the fishing community for nearly 100 years until it was requisitioned by the military during the Second World War. Unfortunately the building was damaged and its future as a church vanished.
1956 Chapel to Museum
The building was in danger of being demolished but in 1956 the Old Hastings Preservation Society acquired it to display the last Hastings sail-powered lugger, the Enterprise RX 278, and other artefacts. So began this fascinating museum, its collection growing ever larger.
The Fishermen’s Church was never formally consecrated, but it is still used today for religious events, including baptisms, harvest festivals and carol concerts. In 1917 a font was donated to the museum for christenings and it is now located next to the sales counter.
On display is a Book of Remembrance in tribute to all the local fishermen who have lost their lives at sea.
The largest object inside the chapel is the 1912 Enterprise RX 278. It is the last of the old clinker-built sailing luggers to be built in Hastings. Before the First World War these craft were the standard boats in the Hastings fishing fleet. Part of the south wall of the building had to be demolished to allow the boat to be pulled in.
- Climb aboard 'Enterprise'
Visitors can clamber aboard the Enterprise and join the helmsman, in his sou’wester and oilskins, on the deck.
There are lots of artefacts, old and new photos, paintings, drawings and model ships on display. Many of them are half-models of local boats made by Hastings boat-builders as prototypes of the full-size vessels they were making.
- The Great Harry
There is an incredible 14-feet long fully-rigged model of the 1514 warship Henri Grace A Dieu (The Great Harry), built in 1922; the ship’s bell from the Royal Navy sloop HMS Hastings; and a ‘winkle king’ suit and hat of silver-painted winkle shells.
Other unique artefacts include the last of the many horse capstans that used to be on the beach for hauling fishing boats out of the water.
A large extension, the Vestry Gallery, has been built to hold permanent objects on display and special exhibitions.
The Net Shop
The Museum is set amongst the unique net shops, the tall black sheds in which Victorian fishermen used to keep all their fishing gear dry. Displayed in the net shop next to the Museum are old nets, ropes and chains. You can also see two net shops made from a cut-up Hastings boat.
Several old fishing boats are also on show on the adjoining beach. The 1919-built ‘Edward and Mary RX 74’, is one of the first Hastings boats to have an engine.
Plan Your Visit
Accommodation - Search & Book through Expedia here: External Link
All year except 25 December
Summer (Apr-Oct): 10:00 to 17:00 hours
Winter (Nov-Mar): 11:00 to 16:00 hours
Donations are more than welcome. The Museum is run by a local charity, the Old Hastings Preservation Society, and relies heavily on donations and gifts.
Shop selling gifts, local history books, postcards of items on display and scanned copies of some of the pictures.
Contact & Further Information
+44 (0)1424 461 446
Fishermen's Museum External Link
The Museum is at the east end of Hastings seafront amongst the fishing fleet and close to the historic Hastings Old Town. There is a public car park behind the Museum.
Google Maps - Fishermen's Museum