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.
|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.