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Steve Peak in Robertson Street. Yates’ bar used to be a venue for fierce political debate.

Steve Peak’s America Ground book tops best-seller list

Since Steve Peak’s eagerly-awaited The America Ground Hastings was published, it has been high in the top ten chart for The Hastings Bookshop. HOT’s Erica Smith explores the book, the ground and the author.

Steve Peak writes about his home ground. He grew up in Hastings and, apart from a critical period from 1969–1980 when he lived, studied and squatted in London and wrote for Time Out, and a short but memorable time working on a deep-sea trawler in Iceland, he has lived in and documented the history of this area.

Previously, Steve has produced many publications through The Modern History Workshop organisation, and his Fishermen of Hastings publication has sold over 10,000 copies. He has also written acclaimed texts on the history of Hastings’ newspapers, Hastings Pier and Robert Tressell.

Peak’s long-awaited book on the America Ground has been published with the support of Historic England as part of the Trinity Triangle Heritage Action Zone initiative. The history of the America Ground is really a history of Hastings – and the book begins by telling us about the 12th century Priory that was sited just north of the America Ground – where ESK now sits.

The shingly strip of land that became known as the America Ground has a remarkable history – as well as being the home to smugglers living in half-boats, it was where many of the workers who built the ‘new’ town of Hastings in the 1800s lived.  It was also the home to many of the anonymous ‘Captain Swing’ followers who rebelled against the appalling employment conditions for impoverished rural workers in the winter of 1830–31.

The America Ground was the 19th century equivalent of Christiania – Copenhagen’s anarchist micro-state – an autonomous zone with no taxes or governance from the local authority. It is ironic that this tax-less state provided a low-cost work-force which enabled the expansion of the old fishing port into a modern seaside resort.

This book documents the history thoroughly, in an engaging and accessible style. It is well-illustrated with historical maps and photographs of the area and there are appendices dedicated to the people who lived in the America Ground, the houses that were moved stone by stone to St Leonards, and later history of the area including the Rock Fair.

Like The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, The America Ground Hastings is a book which everyone who lives in Hastings should read.

You can buy your copy for £9.99 from The Hastings Bookshop in the heart of the America Ground at 5 Trinity Street, or the Hastings Fishermen’s Museum at Rock-a-nore, or the Hastings History House in Courthouse Street. Steve Peak will be leading tours around the America Ground on Friday 10 September as part of the Eagle House Open Day. He can also be found at The Netshop Museum – the smallest museum in the world, nearby the Fishermen’s Museum.

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Posted 20:59 Sunday, Aug 29, 2021 In: Heritage

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