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Rock A Nore : Print by David Saunders 1987, Peny Beale's father.

Rock A Nore : Print by David Saunders 1987, father of Penny Beale Junior.

Hastings Harbour: Penny Beale’s views  

Hastings Harbour: Penny Beale’s views on the marina proposal – and other matters. HOT’s Chandra Masoliver talks with former Labour Councillor Penny Beale about her background in the fishing community, her experience in local government and the Hastings Harbour Proposal. Penny has taken a keen interest in all aspects of local affairs for many years and founded the Penny Beale Memorial Fund in honour of her daughter, also named Penny, who was brutally murdered by her partner in November 2001.

CM: Penny, I understand you’re from an old Hastings fishing family, please tell me about yourself.

PB: I’m from the Foster family on my mother’s side, with generations of fishing history in Hastings Old Town. My great grandfather was called Lazy Jack, and when my grandfather won a place at the local grammar school, or whatever it was called then, he couldn’t go, because his father wouldn’t pay for the uniform. Later he was a young conscript in the First World War.

My grandfather, Alfred Wesley Foster, known as Alf, had the first fish curing business around town. Alf put the profits into subsidising the local fishing industry when money was needed, because keeping our boats going was difficult at times. He was very aware that the local industry was fragile, but essential to the local economy and to the local people. The bulk of the fish came from Grimsby and Hull, certainly from the 1950s. They came in boxes packed with ice – I remember the ice stuck to my fingers. Grimsby and Hull had pretty big fishing industries; their boats made ours look like toys by comparison.

Even then, the Council tried to compulsorily purchase the Curing House, which was where they built the Hastings Wall. But he held out, until he got a good enough price to build a new one. He sold his business to the Adams brothers in 1961 when he retired.

Lilian and Alf Foster with their dogs (1952)

Lilian and Alf Foster with their dogs (1952)

So my mother was a Foster, and my father, Roy Beale, was from Silverhill, thus a ‘foreigner’ in the Old Town. My daughter Penny’s father was Dave Saunders, he won the International Wildlife Artists’ Award shortly before he died, having come runner-up the year before. David Attenborough used one of his pictures for his cards that year too.

CM: You’ve always been very active in local politics. What has your experience been?

 PB: I was the first female Labour Councillor here in Hastings, from 1976-1979. Now I’m no longer a member of any political party – I received more stick from my own side than from anywhere else; that’s how politics is. It’s very difficult to join and not be part of the game. I learnt a lot in those years, but I have no wish ever to do it again.

I had a very lavatorial career. I got free Ladies’ lavatories around the whole town. It wasn’t difficult really, as it was costing money to employ people to collect pennies from the machines. Eventually many of the attendants were sacked as well.

I also took a dog fouling incident to court. I did this when the dog fouling letters were higher on my list of complaints than all the rest put together. I won, but I was ridiculed.

Penny Beale

Penny Beale

Before the Cabinet system was brought in you could win at the Committee level over small stuff. The Cabinet system is a dictatorship. The Council members decide everything before it’s debated. The Leader of the Council decides who is on the Cabinet – Jeremy Birch, the Leader of the Council before Peter Chowney, was a dictator like that.

CM: So what is your opinion of the Harbour Proposal Scheme?

PB: It’s not the first time there’s been a proposal for a Marina. In the 1970s there was a proposal at the old bathing pool site in St Leonards, which desperately needed regeneration then – as it does now. It was owned by an ex-councillor who paid only six pounds a week to run it, and received a huge maintenance grant. He had to resign from the Council because of his interest in the project. Plans were drawn up, with the idea that there would be lots of rich people with yachts, who would spend lots of money. Yet there were to be communal lavatories, which rich people wouldn’t like. It came to nothing.

CM: That’s interesting background information, Penny – and what about the present Scheme, here in the Old Town?

PB: I think it is absolute nonsense. The plan is to build in the sea and under a crumbling cliff. Were it ever to be built it certainly wouldn’t be social housing, because it would be incredibly expensive to build.

Rock A Nore cliffs Photo Chandra Masoliver

Rock-a-Nore cliffs. Photo Chandra Masoliver

CM: They are saying there would be 1,300 houses built there. Actually, there was more mention of affordable housing, whatever that means, than social housing in the Proposal Scheme.

PB: Well, there are already 1,500 people on the housing list. I am also on the housing list, and if I don’t apply each year I would be struck off. You have to do it online, you have to look up all the choices and then bid for the one you want. In fact the figures are false; there are far more people needing housing, but they don’t know how to go online – they would have to go to the Housing Department.

I just think it’s a game they play, like ‘Let’s get a few mates in as consultants.’ It’s a nice little money earner. They’ll spend two years compiling a feasibility study, until they move on to the next load of suckers – gullible people.

Assuming the Council is not corrupt, they tick their boxes looking at housing and tourism options. If they can’t afford to mend a town centre lavatory, what makes them think this can be afforded?

CM: At the Cabinet meeting, and in the proposal documents, they suggest the money will come from the Treasury. What do you think of that?

PB: “We haven’t got a money tree,” says our Prime Minister. And it’s not likely Amber Rudd will run in Hastings again; they’ll give her a safe seat, and Hastings and Rye is not a safe seat.

Closed down WC in Hastings. Photo Chandra Masoliver.

It seems suspicious to me to have a scheme like that when local services are being cut. It seems very odd, and that’s why to me it looks like a gravy train. Given the choice, I’d rather have a lavatory. I love my town, I want it to be ok, and to thrive.

CM: Thanks Penny, for your generosity and forthrightness in sharing your thoughts and feelings.

PB: The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists are still here. As I said, I’ve been interfering in local affairs for most of my life. I’m still waiting for someone to pay me for it.


In her next article Chandra Masoliver asks about the technical aspects of the Hastings Harbour scheme and the problems involved.

See also Hastings Harbour Proposal: a fisherman’s views

Posted 18:04 Tuesday, Nov 7, 2017 In: Home Ground


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  1. Cyril Gould

    Hmmmm. A very interesting and sobering article. I like Penny Beale’s direct style – it all sounds so authentic. And I liked the old public toilets too – they were the best. Perhaps I should start a public urination protest in Pelham Place?

    Comment by Cyril Gould — Thursday, Nov 9, 2017 @ 17:03

  2. Ms.Doubtfire

    What an honest appraisal by Penny Beale – we need more like her in this town. Telling it how it is. Who could support any council who places pie in the sky schemes such as this Marina nonsense over such basic requirements as the provision of public lavatories?
    And whilst we are on the subject of these ‘advisors’ who reckon this Marina will be the most amazing benefit for this town – whatever happened to the guy who rode in on his steed to save the Old Observer Building (look at it now) and then slunk out on his donkey…?? Hmm?? Food for thought here?

    Comment by Ms.Doubtfire — Wednesday, Nov 8, 2017 @ 09:43

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