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Victorian workshops linked to the Hastings Workhouse are housed in this building, along with an upholstery repair business.

Heritage protest over Tower Road development

Residents in the Tower Road area have formed a protest group to contest an application by local charity Magdalen & Lasher to build a block of flats in the road, arguing that it will mean the demolition of Victorian workshops which are likely to have been known to Robert Tressell. Nick Terdre reports.

Magdalen & Lasher’s application is for a four-storey block of 14 flats, a mixture of one, two and three-bedroom units,  on a triangle of land at the junction of Tower Road, St Peter’s Road and Cornfield Terrace. These are intended to be offered as affordable dwellings, probably in a mix of tenure, including shared ownership. Lodged in late 2014, the application drew 42 letters of objection and a petition with 172 signatures.

The planning department recommended granting permission, but when it went to the planning committee in October, it was deferred pending a parking report. According to the planning department, it has not yet been rescheduled to come back to the committee.

Aerial view of the site of the proposed block of flats, at the junction of Tower Road (top), Cornfield Terrace (right) and St Peter's Road (left (photo: David Bowie).

Aerial view of the site of the proposed block of flats, at the junction of Tower Road (top), Cornfield Terrace (right) and St Peter’s Road (photo: David Bowie).

A group of local residents including Vivienne Fox, William Third and John Humphries have formed the 35 Tower Road Protest Group to fight the plan. “While researching the history of this site, we have discovered evidence of a unique historical and social heritage with likely links to Robert Tressell and definite links to the Hastings Workhouse,” they say.

“Records show that the site was known as ‘The St Peter’s Labour Yard’. From 1860s onward, labour yards came into existence and were either in the workhouse or on separate premises. Able-bodied unemployed applicants (preference given to married men with families) became semi-inmates of the workhouse, subject to workhouse rules, but lived in their own homes. These were opened and closed as needed.

“Hastings suffered years of deprivation during the years 1902-1910. There had been a building boom in the 1800s and many of the local men were labourers or building workers. This all changed with the recession, with no work – families were starving, cold and many homeless, their only food from the soup kitchen in six locations, including St Peter’s.

“The St Peter’s Labour Yard was run by the Hastings Charity Organisation and in January 1904, the local newspaper reports that the yard was providing 29 men with employment, sawing and chopping up railway sleepers for firewood. Sadly, this was only for three days per fortnight. People were suffering extreme hardship. There were over 2,000 requests for help in 1904 alone.

“It was during this recession that the writer of the first working-class novel, Robert Tressell, was living in Hastings, having previously been employed by Adams and Jarrett and other local firms. In 1907, he moved with his daughter to 241 London Road – no longer able to work due to ill health (tuberculosis).

“Over the next few years he produced the book that was to become a world-wide success, The Ragged-trousered Philanthropists, which is accepted as describing real events in Hastings (‘Mugsborough’), at the time. This address was less than 100 yards from the labour yard. From the rear window of his top-floor flat, Tressell would have looked out directly onto the labour yard.

Tower Road, back in Tressell's day.

Tower Road, back in Tressell’s day.

“In his writing Tressell speaks of the ‘Rev Mr Bosher’, talking of ‘re-opening the Labour Yard’. With his strongly socialist out-spoken views, and deep empathy for working men and their conditions at that time, there seems little doubt that he would have had an intimate knowledge of the yard and been acutely aware of the conditions of those who worked there, in fact, referring to it in his book.

“This historic yard which has been on our doorstep has taken on a new meaning. The quaint, mews-like buildings, in danger of being demolished, have a story to tell. They have been sadly neglected of late but are structurally sound with character providing employment still for hard-working people.

“Rather than destroying them and their social history, we would love to see them refurbished and providing affordable, much needed, workshop space for their present occupants and maybe some of the gifted/artistic/young people of this town – maybe even renamed.”

There are also two long-standing businesses on the site, a car repair business and an upholstery repair workshop. According to the planning department’s report, the developer has offered to help these businesses relocate.

Founded in the late 13th century, Magdalen & Lasher has as its primary objective the “prevention and relief of poverty and the relief of old age among persons living in or near the Borough of Hastings.” Attempts by the protest group to meet or talk to the trustees have been turned down. HOT’s request for a statement about the matter was also declined by the trustees.

Posted 18:15 Friday, Nov 27, 2015 In: Campaigns


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  1. Steve Waters

    I hope the Victorian workshops will remain as they are or that some compromise can be found. Any sites referred to by Robert Tressell in his book ought to be preserved. It goes without saying that people need to be housed but surely there must be other places where these flats can be built. I recently read Tressell’s book for the first time and have been visiting some of the locations mentioned in it. We are fortunate to have had such a gifted writer and artist living in our town.

    Comment by Steve Waters — Sunday, Feb 18, 2018 @ 21:06

  2. David Woolf

    The historic and architectural merits of the existing buildings seem much overstated. I agree that they should not be replaced with ‘cheaply built ugly buildings’ but who says that this will be the result? Affordable housing is in desperately short supply but I suppose the NIMBYs are comfortably housed.

    Comment by David Woolf — Tuesday, Dec 29, 2015 @ 23:48

  3. Heather Grief

    One slight factual error: the Magdalen charity was founded much earlier than 1294, the date of its earliest written record, when Petronilla de Cham left the charity 5 acres to the south of the 50+ acres it already had; the picture of its chapel ruins in Baines’ Historic Hastings shows a window of 12th century design, and a 1780s sketch by SH Grimm, known for his accuracy, depicts the inside of the chapel, looking East at the wall behind where the altar would have been, where there is an arcade of late 11th century design. In Domesday Book, 1086, most of Croteslei manor had been rented out to Godwin, a surviving Saxon, by the Count of Eu, who kept half a hide of its 6 hides in demesne (for his own food), and he had given two of his underlings half a hide each; since a hide was about 120 acres, it is highly likely that one of these Normans left their half hide to found a charitable hospital for the townspeople who became impoverished through old age or infirmity. Somehow, the land was saved from Henry VIII at the Dissolution; I found one reference, in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, to the former prior living in a house the area. There had been brothers and sisters under him to look after the inmates.

    Comment by Heather Grief — Saturday, Nov 28, 2015 @ 13:24

  4. Charlotte Bishop

    Magdalen and lasher is a charity with a long history of helping people currently without resources. I am sure the flats would be used to good purpose and well managed. I think that we need this kind of housing for local residents. I also think we must keep the old buildings and workshops. Can a compromise be found whereby the buldings are incorporated into the development?

    Comment by Charlotte Bishop — Saturday, Nov 28, 2015 @ 00:09

  5. Christine Loveland

    St leonards needs to keep its sense of history and its old buildings .there are so many alternative sites and eyesore buildings that could provide an alternative .Why should our town become just a morass of cheaply built ugly buildings erected with no thought for preserving our heritage and the unique old buildings that make our town special .

    Comment by Christine Loveland — Friday, Nov 27, 2015 @ 18:33

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