Hastings & St. Leonards on-line community newspaper

New museum exhibit central to history of Hastings’ railways

Hastings Museum & Art Gallery has a newly-acquired silver trowel that represents a significant part of the town’s railway history. It will now be on display in the museum thanks to the Hastings & St Leonards Museum Association, writes HOT’s Vanessa Alves.

Who knew that such a small item could represent how Hastings and the surrounding areas have developed over time? The silver trowel was presented to Thomas Farncomb, Lord Mayor of the City of London, on 28 October 1850 by the South Eastern Railway Company on the occasion of his completing the works of the Ashford, Rye & Hastings Railway by inserting closing bricks in two of the local tunnels.

When committee member and local historian, Steve Peak, saw it on an auction site he immediately suggested it should be found a home at the Museum, and the rest of the committee agreed. The trowel was purchased at auction by the Hastings & St Leonards Museum Association.

Richard Street, Association chair explained, “Our Association has been supporting the Museum since we handed it over to the Council in 1905 and we all agreed with Steve that this genuinely historical artifact had to be on display at our Museum, so we put forward the money to enable the Museum to bid for it and were delighted when this proved successful. The coming of the railway to Hastings was so important in the development of the town and this trowel is part of that.”

Museum & cultural development manager Damian Etherington commented: “The presentation trowel is not only a beautiful object, but also tells an amazing story about the development of our town. I am enormously grateful to the Association for donating it to the museum and for their continued support.”


Steve Peak explained that the three Hastings railway lines – Brighton, Tunbridge Wells and Ashford – were built in six hectic years from 1846-52. The first line to open was from Brighton, on 27 June 1846, but only ran as far as a temporary station at Bulverhythe. A permanent station at Bopeep, called West Marina, opened in late 1846, but for several years this was the nearest station to Hastings town centre because of the tunnels that had to be built.

Work on the Bopeep-Hastings-Ashford line started at Ashford in 1846, but soon South Eastern Railway faced major difficulties. From the east they had to dig a long tunnel under the Ridge, and then a shorter one under Mount Pleasant Road, followed by a massive embankment across the Priory Valley to Hastings Station. From the west, the company had to make two long tunnels from Bopeep under St Leonards, with Warrior Square Station (first called Gensing Station) in the gap.

The huge amount of spoil from the 1¾ miles of the two St Leonards tunnels had to be spread wherever possible, creating Grosvenor Gardens, Havelock Road and many of the nearby streets. Although the Lord Mayor of London inserted final bricks in the Ore tunnel and one of the St Leonards tunnels on 28 October 1850, the Bopeep-Hastings-Ashford line actually only opened on 13 February 1851.

Work on the Tunbridge Wells line began in 1847, starting at Tunbridge Wells, and opening on 31 January 1852. However, South Eastern Railways’ lack of finance meant the tunnels were badly built, and had to be made narrower, with unique special diesel trains a foot narrower than normal eventually being made.

Hastings Museum & Art Gallery.

Hastings Museum & Art Gallery will be open  each week  from Thursday to Sunday, 10am–12.30pm and 2–5pm. To manage the number of people in the museum at any one time, all visitors will need  to  book a free timed ticket in advance. This can be done  online up to 14 days in advance  through their website. If  visitors do not have access to the internet, they can book by phone on  01424 451052. Hastings Museum & Art Gallery is a family-friendly museum with amazingly diverse collections; there really is something for everyone! It is free to visit with free onsite parking.

Posted 16:03 Wednesday, Sep 2, 2020 In: History

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