From The Neolithic To The Sea: A Journey From The Past To The Present

Hastings Castle

East Sussex
50° 51' 21.1" N 0° 35' 6.7" E

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Hastings Castle is a Norman castle situated in the town of Hastings in East Sussex. It is one of the first Norman castles in Britain.

When William of Normandy landed in England in 1066 he built three castles in quick succession. The first one was at Pevensey, which is thought to be close to the original landing site of William. Next he built the castle at Hastings just before the battle. The third castle was built at Dover just after the battle. These were a simple Motte and Bailey castles and were prefabricated in Normandy. Built on a simple mound in a prominent position these wooden structures provided protection in a hostile countryside as well as providing a status symbol and show of strength to the native population.

William was crowned King on Christmas Day in 1066 and by 1070 he had the castles built in stone. When Hastings Castle was rebuilt in stone, a chapel, called St Mary's was built. The Count of Eu was given the castle which he and his family kept for most of the Norman period. King John ordered the castle slighted to stop it falling into the hands of Dauphin Louis. It was rebuilt and re-fortified in 1220 by Henry III.

The next sixty years the castle flourished but in 1287 after the south coast was battered by storms for many months the soft sandstone cliffs collapsed taking the southern side of the castle with it. The stormed forced many of the mediaeval cinque ports along the coast to be abandoned as the storms changed the coast line causing the harbours to silt. Hastings suffered dramatically and was never a successful port again. The castle was abandoned as a fortification but the chapel continued to be used.

During the Hundred Years War the town of Hastings was attacked by the French and almost decimated. Somehow the town survived but the fate of the castle was grim. The cliffs the castle sat upon continued to erode, more of the castle was lost to the sea, including the main keep.

When Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries the castle was raided for its valuable materials. The remains were stone mined, the church has its bells removed, lead taken from the roof. Nothing of any value was left. Even the land was sold off to the Pelham family who left the remains to overgrow and fall further into disrepair. Eventfully the castle was lost from memory, a poor end to one of the first castles of England.

A chance rediscovery of the castle caused the remains to be excavated in 1824. Fragmented walls were repaired and a surviving vault investigated revealing coffins with human remains inside.The north wall and an archway of the church were restored. Victorians visiting the seaside has an interest in the castle and it became a tourist attraction.

In World War II, Hastings castle was in the front line, German bombs causing more damage to the frail structure and the town around. An Anti Aircraft Battery was set up close to the castle drawing fire from the German Bombers.

The castle was to survive the war, and in 1951 the Hastings Corporation bought the site to preserve it for the future. Today the castle can be reached by a funicular railway up the side of the cliffs.