Hastings & St Leonards

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It has been estimated that there were only 15 public houses in Hastings in 1824. Obviously there were other drinking places, including unlicensed premises on America Ground, an area of marshland created by a receding sea in the 18th century and inhabited by squatters until 1837, and a few beer houses.

Six years later the 1830 Beer Act saw the start of dozens more beer houses opening in the town, a trend which continued for the next 40 years. In due course many of these became fully licensed public houses. From 1828 the population grew rapidly with the building of St Leonards and the expansion of Hastings into the Priory Valley. Later, with the development of America Ground and the town centre from the mid-19th century more public houses were licensed. By the 1870s the town was expanding outwards and new licences were granted in all districts.

The high point of this expansion was 1860, when Hastings and St Leonards had a total of 128 pubs and beer houses, an average of one pub for every 112 people, indicating a high pub-population ratio.

The Licensing Act of 1904 was the sting in the tail. This Act gave local magistrates the power to close down public houses on the grounds that they were redundant and no longer needed. From 1905 the licensing magistrates applied the new law with indecent haste, encouraged by the chief constable and the local temperance lobby. The St Leonards branch of the British Women’s Temperance Association cheered at its annual general meeting in 1905 as the closure of the first five pubs under this Act was announced.

During the First World War the Lloyd George government reduced the strength of beer by 50% and doubled the price of a pint. Opening hours were reduced by two-thirds and ‘treating’ was banned. These draconian measures affected all of the Hastings and St Leonards pubs, in particular the Roebuck in High Street, the Horse and Groom and the Royal in St Leonards.

Ten years later, in 1928, Hastings had one pub for every 330 people, which compared to Eastbourne (1:574) or Blackpool (1:711), indicated that the town still had a large number of public houses for its population. In 1945 the chief constable reported that 89 pubs had been ‘extinguished’ since 1905, although 53 new licences were granted in the same period. This brought the pub-population ratio down to about 1:450.

On the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, in contrast to the First World War, pubs were seen as an essential element in the war effort. In Hastings they accommodated large numbers of US and Canadian military in, for example, the Moda, York, Clarence and the Palace Bars. Many pubs were bombed, including the Norman and the Warriors Gate, and most notoriously the Swan, the Bedford and the Denmark were completely destroyed. In these conditions 33 Hastings and St Leonards pubs closed ‘for the duration’, especially after the Battle of Britain.

After the Second World War the policy of the Hastings magistrates was to transfer licences ‘in suspension’. Licences of war damaged premises and others which had closed, were transferred to new pubs, mainly in the outlying districts of the town. Among these, the Swan licence was transferred to the Wishing Tree, the Fortune of War licence to the New Broom in Malvern Way, the Denmark licence to the Comet in Harley Shute Road and the defunct St Leonards pier licence to the Pump House in George Street.

The third edition of The Pubs of Hastings and St Leonards, published as a paperback in 2009, is replaced by this updated and enlarged website. The site is enhanced by the inclusion of many new photographs by Lynda Russell and others, and by further research.

More pub histories have been added. These include Coach and Horses, Priory Tavern, Privateer, the first Tivoli Tavern, Plough, Bull, Kings Head and the Swan. The history of all other pubs has been updated. The original appendix on ‘Lost Pubs’ has been removed but a list of all 341 Hastings and St Leonards pubs is now available in a separate publication the Register of Licensees for Hastings & St Leonards 1500–2000. This is out of print but can be seen in Hastings Library and the Museum.  

David Russell, St Leonards-on-Sea, September 2019.

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