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East Hill as painted by William Henry Brooke in the mid 1800s.

Two men’s perspectives on Hastings

An exhibition of paintings by two unrelated artists which is now drawing to a close at Hastings Museum and Art Gallery throws a fascinating light on how the Old Town looked in the 19th and early 20th centuries, writes Nick Terdre.

William Henry Brooke (1772-1860) started the ball rolling when he decided to record how the town looked in his day. At the time what we now call the Old Town was the centre of Hastings, populated by fishermen and other working folk, while the better-off classes lived at a remove, up on The Ridge for example.

Brooke’s paintings, totalling more than 100, eventually came into possession of the museum, and in 1922 E Leslie Badham (1873-1945), who was a lecturer at Hastings art college and a friend of the museum curator, was invited to study them and compile a comparative record of Hastings, painting the same views as Brooke to show how things had changed, or stayed the same. Both men painted in water colours.

Badham worked prodigiously through the 1920s and 1930s and into the war years. At this time Old London Road had not been built – the southern section, from the sea-front to Courthouse Street, was then Bourne Street. Much of the area between High Street to the west and All Saints Street to the east consisted of run-down and slum housing, which would soon be knocked down to make way for new buildings.

In a talk on the exhibition,

Alison Hawkins stands by the frieze created from Badham's paintings of All Saints Street (photo: Nick Terdre).

Alison Hawkins, Keeper of the Local Archives and History, showed photos taken from the same spots as the two artists. Despite the slum clearance and rebuilding programme, it is notable how much of the area remains recognisable from Brooke’s day.

Badham eventually produced some 250 works, including many painted from locations not used by Brooke. In particular he meticulously reproduced a whole stretch of the west side of All Saints Street, in a series of joined paintings which fold up concertina-like within cardboard covers. Alison has copied the paintings, making a frieze which runs 30 feet along two sides of one of the display rooms. Those familiar with the street will quickly spot which of the buildings have disappeared and which have survived.

Both men painted the view from the Stade looking up to East Hill. Badham’s shows the funicular railway which was built in the early 1900s. For the contemporary observer

East Hill, including the funicular railway, as Badham saw it.

the foreground is dominated by the Jerwood Gallery. The cliffs themselves are changed, as parts were knocked in the course of building the railway and others because they were dangerous.

Various of the paintings show fishing boats on the beach, sail-boats in both men’s times, and in Brooke’s case the wooden capstan used to haul the boats onto the beach.

Ever the pub

As is still the case today, some pubs come and go and some endure. Paintings by both Brooke and Badham testify to the staying-power of several, including the Royal Standard at the bottom of the High Street, the Dolphin Inn on what is now called Rock-a-Nore Road, the Stag Inn at the top of All Saints Street and the Kings Head on the corner of High Street.

Badham's view of the Stag Inn and upper All Saints Street.and Courthouse Street.

Strangely, when Brooke painted the view looking along Courthouse Street to High Street, he put what appears to be the pub on the north side though it stands on the south side. How did this come about? A member of the audience at one of Alison’s talks suggested this may have been another pub, the George. Local historical sleuths might want to investigate!

Brooke's view of Courthouse Street looking towards High Street. His human figures are insubstantial.

Brooke’s interest appears to have been limited to the buildings he was painting – the few people who are depicted are insubstantial, shadowy figures. Badham, on the other hand, included people and animals, especially horses drawing carts, as a natural part of the scene, though he seems to have had an aversion to the motor car, which although part of the urban reality of his times, rarely appears.

A major difference in the urban view between both Brooke’s and Badham’s times and our own, as Alison pointed out, is how much street furniture has sprouted up in recent decades – it does not usually strike us, but looking at their paintings makes us vividly aware how cluttered today’s streets are with lamp posts, road signs, traffic islands, zebra crossings, litter bins and so on.

Brooke died in Chichester in 1860. Badham was one of Hastings’ war victims – in 1944 his house took a direct hit from a bomb and he and his daughter were killed. His wife, who survived, later sold his paintings to the museum.


Brooke and Badham: Observing Hastings. Hastings Museum and Art Gallery, John’s Place, Bohemia Road, to 7 July. Tues-Sat 10am-4pm, Sun 12-4pm.

Images: Hastings Museum and Art Gallery.


Posted 15:11 Monday, Jul 1, 2013 In: Visual Arts

Also in: Visual Arts

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