Hastings & St. Leonards on-line community newspaper
John Knowles in Bottle Alley

John Knowles in Bottle Alley

Closer, concrete cancer and a colossus

Bumped into HOT’s John Knowles at Stuart Griffith’s ‘CLOSER’ private view at Sussex Coast College, writes HOT’s Zelly Restorick and discovered some interesting news about the town and a new meaning to a well-used word. 

Concrete cancer 

My eyes were drawn to the T shirt that John was wearing, stating loudly and clearly, ‘Bottle Alley For All’. What’s that about John? Apparently Bottle Alley, famously created by Sidney Little, aka ‘The Concrete King’ and the borough engineer in the 1930’s (who, having discovered the wonders of concrete, decided to cover as much of the town in it as he could, before someone told him to call it a day), is in need of some T.L.C.

Concrete cancer in Bottle Alley

Concrete cancer in Bottle Alley

Bottle Alley is unique, according to local historian, the wonderfully named Andre Palfrey-Martin, “in the sense that it is one of the first examples of recycling’. Back in the 1930’s, unemployed people went along to the local tip and collected glass, which was then broken up and inserted into the pre-made concrete panels of the lower promenade.

The acoustics on Bottle Alley are fantastic for any singers who feel they need to move on from the shower. Bikes can race down it [as recently reported by Bev Francis, whose adrenalin rush and competitive nature kicked in at the recent Bottle Alley Bike Bomb, overwhelming her fears of tangled wheels and mashed up mudguards]. When raining, you can walk between Hastings and St Leonards without getting soaked and when sunny, you can bask on a bench in one of the semi-circular alcoves.

Concrete, like humans, can, according to John, suffer from cancer – and unless treated, it can be terminal. And John is part of a local team who would like the Council to stop mucking about with a bit of cosmetic plastering here and there and restore Bottle Alley to its former glory, including various little shopping outlets and wooden shutters, which in days of yore, protected both vendors and shoppers from inclement weather and lashings by wind whipped waves.

Hastings Borough Council are currently consulting on a new seafront strategy – and you can register your opinion on Saturday 27 September between 10am and 4pm at a public drop-in event at The Pier Hub, White Rock Baths on the seafront. Make your voice heard!

Cartoon by Zelly Restorick

Cartoon by Zelly Restorick


And another thing… John and other local residents are trying to get a statue erected of Robert Tressell [a.k.a. Robert Croker a.k.a. Robert Noonan], who wrote The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, setting it in Hastings disguised as the town of Mugborough. John’s vision is of a giant Tressell, standing astride the old A259, wielding a huge paint brush in his hand – think New York’s Statue of Liberty – which would light up at night, as a beacon shining down on the wonderful multi-cultured, multi-lingual, multi-layered society of Hastings and St Leonards on Sea.


You’ll be reading more about Robert Tressell in HOT, as his day – 2 October – is fast approaching, so watch out for that!


British soldier, blinded in Iraq. Photo 2007 by Stuart Griffiths

British soldier, blinded in Iraq. Photo 2007 by Stuart Griffiths

By the way, photographer and author, Stuart Griffith’s reading from his book, Pigs’ Disco, offered his audience an ear-opening commentary on 1990’s military life in Northern Ireland, including his experience of being on parade whilst on acid, where someone much higher in his chain of command barked something along the lines of ‘if only all soldiers could be as well turned out as this man here, it’d be an army of which Britain could be truly proud’. (Since then, the Ministry of Defence have introduced drug-testing, so there are now fewer acid-plus-adrenalin fuelled British soldiers wandering the planet, although, as Stuart’s photos demonstrate, still plenty of injured and maimed ones.)


Bottle Alley For All!

Bottle Alley For All!

As I was writing down some of the philosophical quotes from one of Stuart Griffiths photos – where he was considering quitting the army to become a Hari Krishna follower – a postcard fell out of my notebook. Picking it up off the floor, I discovered it was some marketing for ‘Fetch’ and their Buskers’ Fair Weekend at the Stade a few weeks ago, on which I’d written ‘what is Fetch?’.

‘Fetch’ as John had explained to me only a few minutes earlier, is a company he’s set up. [Synchronicity! Serendipitydoodaa! I just love it when that happens!] And it doesn’t mean the sort of ‘fetching of a stick by a dog’, nor is it a descriptive term, as in ‘that’s a rather fetching evening gown, dahling’, rather it’s  ‘the distance a wave can travel uninterrupted before it reaches land’. Interesting, n’est-ce pas?! 

John Knowles isn’t  just HOT’s John Knowles, he’s one of the ‘Table Talk’ duo with Kate Tym; part of the Murder Mystery crew who keep diners guessing as to ‘whodunnit?’, as well as being co-creator with Brett Lampitt of the ‘Salty Old  Seadogs’, where there’s less singing and much more swinging – of buckets of water by children in the audience at their sou’wester clad heads. If you want to find out more about any of the above projects, contact John via the Fetch website here.

Or email John at

More about Stuart Griffiths’ exhibition, ‘CLOSER’, here.

Posted 20:13 Tuesday, Sep 23, 2014 In: Home Ground

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