Monday, 11 May 2015


I travel quite a lot doing research and giving lectures, but it isn't very often I come across a town like Hastings. Admittedly I was only there one night, but the place made an impression. I was there to give a talk on Eric Ravilious at the Beacon Arts Centre, an eccentric and altogether delightful institution that I would recommend as a place to stay; unusually for an arts venue, it also does B and B.

A former boarding school, the Beacon is, as its name suggests, perched on a hillside overlooking the town, with a garden surrounded by trees that made me feel as though I'd wandered into a Paul Nash painting. The audience for my talk was so lively I wondered at first whether I'd be able to get a word in; I also recorded my youngest lecturee, an exuberant 9-month old baby.

The next morning I set off down the hill into Old Hastings, negotiating a maze of alleys and stairways between houses and gardens. With its junk shops, cafes and characterful old buildings the place is a bit like Rye, but more real and less postcardy. In a particularly notable shop called Robert's Rummage I found a copy of 'Pompeii and Herculaneum: The Glory and the Grief' with photos by Edwin Smith; the proprietor described how, on a recent visit to Pompeii, he had stood for hours in a queue for the brothel.

'Crazy,' he said, 'The place had been shut for 2,000 years!'

On down the hill to the seafront, which has been known since pre-Norman days as the Stade. I'd planned to have a look at the Jerwood Gallery before catching the train home, but ended up wandering round for hours. There can't be many other stretches of the south coast where so much is going on, from an impressive array of seaside entertainments - gokarts, crazy golf, etc - to the bustle of an extremely active local fishing industry.

I remembered reading a few years ago that the siting of Jerwood on the Stade had been unpopular with the local fishing community, but I had no idea quite how close the new building is to the fishermen (about twenty yards) and quite how striking the contrast is between the workaday sprawl of huts, boats and gear, and the elegant gallery.

The Jerwood really is a fine building, rather unassuming from the outside and nicely proportioned within to fit a collection of Modern British Art that is generally on a modest scale. There was a small but invigorating exhibition of Edward Burra watercolours upstairs - including two beautiful 1920s landscapes - and a rather grander show of Scottish paintings that featured some lovely work by Anne Redpath, John Bellany and Craigie Aitchison, among others.

Edward Burra, The Harbour, Hastings, 1947 (copyright Burra est/Lefevre Fine Art)

One or two fishing boats had made it into the Burra show, but there were many more out on the shingle, showing great variety in age and design but sharing a robust fitness-for-purpose. With a brisk sou'westerly blowing and the sea crashing on the stones below this was the sort of scene that inspired a number of the artists on show at Jerwood. Let's hope both the gallery and the fishermen enjoy a prosperous future.

PS If you enjoyed this post, then you may well enjoy the one over here.


  1. Hastings was a rather forlorn seaside town, somewhat shabby and abandoned, but then someone had the brilliant idea of putting the Jerwood Gallery there, and now it has soul! I love the place.

    That sounded like a fabulous lecture too. Are you coming to Milton Keynes any time soon?

    1. Hastings had plenty of soul long before the Jerwood was built. It has a thriving eclectic art and music community and popular events such as Jack In The Green, Old Town Week and Hastings Bonfire that draw people in their tens of thousands. All this plus the beautiful surrounding countryside have given Hastings a heart and soul that has made many a visitor become a resident. I have spent many years photographing Hastings events, if you take a look at my photos you can see for yourself what an amazing place this is.

  2. Anonymous12 May, 2015

    Hastings was a great surprise for us too when we made a brief visit in 2012, but I wish we'd known about the Beacon Arts Centre, it sounds like a very lively organisation! Just read your post on Dungeness too and agree with your perceptions of this being a wonderfully curious place! It was after a holiday in this area that I discovered your thoroughly enjoyable blog while reading up on the artists whose work we already knew and loved (one reason for the visit was to go to the Jerwood and Towner galleries). My own responses to Hastings, Dungeness and other spots in SE England are included here More recently we went to the Ravillious exhibition at The Dulwich, a great show, congratulations! I felt I was being dissolved into a different world while looking at his paintings.

  3. nic blog, glad you enjoyed your visit. Not sure if living to work - working to live is on a pun fest but I can say the Hastings is a town with a massive heart and soul - it's that and the sole which drew The Jerwood to us (not the other way round) :-))

  4. Thanks All, I thought Hastings had plenty of soul (and probably sole too), and look forward to visiting again. Liz, I'll check out your blog.

  5. We thought Hastings was fascinating before the Jerwood was there. My friend bought a parasol for a garden party in the little shops, we rode up the cable car for a historic view and it was fine enough to eat our fish and chips on the beach. Glad you enjoyed it too..