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The Artillery Battery at Rock-a-Nore.

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artillery at rock-a-nore
Artillery at rock-a-nore

 

Ion Castro talks about a couple of old photos and some unanswered questions.

I was recently offered an antique stereo photo showing a couple of cannon at Rock-a-Nore and, because I’d never seen that particular image before, I jumped at the chance to acquire it. I already had an albumen print showing the same site from a different viewpoint and examination of the 1873 Ordnance Survey map (updated in 1885) confirmed it as the ‘Battery’. So far so good but I wanted to find out a bit more and delved into Manwaring Baines’ ‘Historic Hastings’ – the bible for all those interested in Hastings’ history. Baines confirms that in 1759 the Board of Ordnance acquired some land in Hastings to build a battery – a gun platform for coastal protection purposes. The land they chose was a little to the east of the western end of George Street – roughly opposite where the Boating Lake is today. As a bonus it also protected the shoreline at that point and survived the great storms of January 1792 and November 1824. In 1831 it was still in use and mounted six 24 pounders only to succumb to undermining by a storm in 1842 after which the board gave it to the Corporation who pulled it down to extend the Parade.

Apart from providing me with some interesting trivia to share with you this clearly wasn’t the battery that I was looking for, and I would have to keep searching because, unfortunately, Baines makes no reference to a later battery at Rock-a-Nore. I could speculate that the battery was moved when the Parade was extended but I have no evidence for this or it could be associated with fears of French ambitions in our direction but that would only be a guess.

Thornton’s ‘Hastings, a Living History’ didn’t cast any light either and neither did Cousins’ 1920 book ‘Hastings of Bygone Days and the Present’. Searching the internet produced Steve Peak’s Hastings Chronology which was more helpful because it notes the existence of the battery at Rock-a-Nore but unfortunately gives no detail but a subsequent conversation with Steve revealed that he had seen, probably at Hastings Museum, an indenture dated 12th September 1860 "whereby the Corporation leases for artillery purposes to the Fourth Company of the Cinque Ports Volunteer Corps a piece of ground up against Rock-a-Nore Groyne sixty feet east to west and forty feet north to south"

It would have been helpful if my pictures had been dated but they aren’t – and the Mann image has very little context to help us apart from confirming that the shoreline steps back to the east of the guns. (The sign on the left of the photo says ‘Caution to Bathers’ so not a lot of help.) but the Albumen print does provide a little more dating evidence, on the extreme left is the church of St Nicholas, opened in 1854 as a ‘chapel of ease’ seating 300, to become, just over a hundred years later in 1956 the Fishermens Museum. This tells us that obviously the picture can’t be before 1854. The Hastings RNLI lifeboat station based in the Old Town was established in 1858 and as it appears in the centre of the picture it suggests that the image may be early 1860’s. By 1897 when maps and plans for the ‘Hastings Harbour Railway’, which included this site, were drawn up there was no mention of the Battery which had probably fallen out of use by then. It seems therefore, if I’ve correctly located the site it is part of the area now occupied by the Southern Water building.

The Battery may have been operated by The Cinque Ports Rifle Volunteers who were formed in 1859/60, they later included artillery in their activities and built themselves a drill-hall which stood roughly on the site of aquarium until it was demolished mid 1980’s so it is quite likely that they did operate the battery but on what basis and with how many guns remains unconfirmed and provides a starting point for research into the volunteers.

This article first appeared in 'Hastings Town' vol 61. Since then further information has come to light (27/9/2013)

Parsons' "Hastings, St Leonards & Neighbourhood Illustrated", 2nd edn, 1891 says, page 13, talking about what's around the 'Fishermen's Quarter "VOLUNTEER ARTILLERY BATTERY For the use of the members of the artillery corps, and where they assemble for great gun practice. The Royal NavelArtillery Volunteers also hold their drills at the battery adjacent. This branchof our defensive forces was mainly organised by Lord Brassey K.C.R. The old lifeboat stationwas formerly at this point. Just beyond the Battery is the open PUBLIC BATHING STATION Over which two officers of the Royal Humane Society keep watch in the season. Great numbes of visitors and residents avail themselves in the summer time of this stationfor a dip in the "briny" "

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