History Mixes With the Modern in Hastings, England

Fish and chips, cobbled streets and the Jerwood Gallery await in this coastal town southeast of London.
 

Hastings and its historic pier, photo by George Scott

It’s lunchtime at Maggie’s Fish & Chips in Hastings and the pine tables are crammed with diners feasting on plates piled-high with golden-fried cod and haddock. The sharp aroma of malt vinegar splashed on thick-cut chips and tartar sauce slathered on butter-soft fish casts its lure onto Rock-a-Nore Road, reeling in the hungry in a way that hasn’t changed in decades.

“This has always been a traditional fish and chip café,” says Maggie’s co-owner Lindsay Wright, adding locally caught plaice and skate are also popular with regulars. Moving from London 17 years ago, Wright took over the beloved beachfront “chippie” in 2016 with fellow co-owners Stanislav Krezelok and Lionel Copley, and hasn’t looked back. “Hastings is a special place and I’m proud to call it home,” she says.

 

Photo courtesy Maggie’s Fish & Chips

 

Just 95 kilometres southeast of London and with a story stretching back centuries—1066’s famous Battle of Hastings, which kicked off the Norman conquest of England, was fought nearby—the town maintains its vintage seaside feel, while nearby shops overflow with nautical trinkets and neon-pink rock candy sticks.

There are many reminders of Hasting’s rich fishing provenance, especially in the Old Town area, known as The Stade, where Maggie’s sits. It is also home to the Shipwreck Museum and Hastings Fishermen’s Museum—the latter in a former church—and rows of tall, black-painted net storage huts (called net shops) face a school of scuffed boats balanced incongruously on the pebbly shore. Britain’s largest beach-launched fishing fleet still operates from here, as it has for centuries.

 

The old town of Hastings, photo by Jonny Thompson

 

Historically, Hastings’ fishermen lived along the nearby cobbled streets, but these days the gabled buildings are home to browse-worthy bookstores, vintage shops and wood-beamed bars. There’s also the 1902-built East Hill funicular railway, which shimmies up the adjoining cliff like a pair of misplaced garden sheds, providing panoramic views over the town and its wave-licked waterfront.

Back at beach level, a more recent addition has been hooking visitors since opening in 2012. The striking Jerwood Gallery—encased in shiny black tiles that echo the nearby net huts—specializes in modern, mostly British art. Gallery director Liz Gilmore says Hastings is a cultural hub, hosting high-quality, contemporary exhibitions.

 

The Jerwood Gallery, photo by Pete Jones

 

The Jerwood, she adds, isn’t the only spot to check out. The historic Hastings Pier reopened in 2016 after being ravaged by fire, and it’s since won a national Pier of the Year award and—more surprisingly—the UK’s prestigious RIBA Stirling Prize for architecture. It’s very popular locally, says Gilmore, adding that it’s a wonderful place to stroll and allow the briny air to blow your stresses away.

 

[This story appears in the July 2018 issue of WestJet Magazine]

 

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