A History of Hastings in 66 Objects
From a 1066 silver penny and part of a Spanish Armada boat to a JL Baird letter and a MOD’s Lambretta
How do you tell the story of a town spanning nearly a thousand years of fascinating history? That was the challenge facing the team at Hastings Museum and Art Gallery as part of this year’s ROOT1066 Festival.
Their answer was get the public to help and pick just 66 objects from the 100,000 the museum holds to tell the story of Hastings – from the Norman invasion, through Tudor, Stuart, Georgian and Victorian periods into the 20th Century.
Inspired by the 2010 BBC Radio 4 series ‘A History of the World in 100 Objects’, the final, free exhibition is now on display at Hastings Museum and Art Gallery.
Hastings Castle was the first to be built by the Normans in England, and that era is represented with items such as an 1100 wine jug excavated at the castle that has been reconstructed from several pieces (the base has signs of blackening, showing that the wine was probably mulled over an open fire) and a set of keys from the castle.
The Medieval period is shown through items such as a seal matrice belonging to a scrivener (a man who wrote letters and other legal documents) called Godfrey the Scrivener who was active in Hastings in the 13th and 14th centuries. On one side it shows St Michael, the town’s patron saint. On the other, a Cinque Ports ship running down another ship.
Serpentine Cannons are just one item from the Tudor era. These guns were dredged from the sea off Hastings in 1905, they are believed to have been lost in a naval skirmish with the French on 15 August 1545 and are similar to cannon found on board the wreck of Henry VIII’s flagship, the Mary Rose. From the Stuart period there is a Popish Plot Tract – Titus Oates is famous for uncovering the Popish Plot in 1678, he claimed that a group of Catholics in London were planning to kill King Charles II and replace him with his brother James.
The increase of smuggling incidents at the beginning of the 19th century has led to a number of items representing the Georgian era including a Smuggler’s barrel and float plus a Revenue man’s pistol, plus gibbet chains & whipping post. One of the more unusual items is the figurehead from the Pelican, a collier boat importing coal from the North-East of England.
The Victorian period saw the rise of the seaside holiday and so we have items such as a swimming cap made by E & S Corps, Milliners of Hastings in around 1900 and Punch & Judy puppets dated from 1860-1939. The darker side of the Victorian era is represented by a pair of children’s Workhouse boots.
From the 20th century we have items ranging from a speaking tube from a U-boat that was swept ashore in 1919 whilst being towed from Harwich to Cherbourg to be scrapped, to a Maltese Cross medal used by John Logie Baird (who arrived in Hastings early in 1923 to convalesce from a bout of ill health) in his earliest experiments in transmitting images that eventually led to him inventing TV.
The museum picked the items by carrying out an interactive survey on its Facebook page where people voted for key events, eras and people who contributed to the developing story of the town, and also explored photos of artefacts from different eras.
Curator Cathy Walling says “The idea was to take 66 Objects that represent key people, places events, both national and local, that have really shaped the town of Hastings. We’ve included some that have national significance such as the Spanish Armada and the two world wars, but we’ve also included events that are very particular to Hastings, such as the annual Jack in the Green festival. As far as possible we have tried to put people at the centre of the story – from local characters like the Medieval Godfrey the Scrivener, to those who have had an international impact, such as John Logie Baird.”