How to spend a weekend in Hastings
Explore the history of this coastal town by way of its quirky shops, housed in buildings that are just as intriguing as the curios that line their shelves. Feature Judy Cogan
You would be hard-pushed to find a more atmospheric backdrop for a weekend’s antiquing than the pastel-washed streets of Hastings Old Town. Tucked between two hills, it’s home to continental-style cafes, pocket-size eateries, cool concept stores, bric-a-brac shops and vintage co-operatives.
The whole town is characterised by its architecture, which stretches from medieval – the ruins of the Norman castle date from the infamous battle – to the unabashedly modern. Hastings Contemporary, the town’s black tile-clad art gallery, was inspired by the local Victorian ‘net shops’ (towers used for storage by fishermen), while the beautifully restored Victorian pier won the RIBA Stirling Prize in 2017. This is a creative place on the beautiful south-east coast, where grey weather is more poetic than gloomy, and delightful surprises can be found at every turn.
Where to shop in Hastings
AG Hendy & Co
Walking into AG Hendy & Co is like stepping back to the Victorian era. Which is exactly what food photographer and stylist Alastair Hendy intended when he bought and renovated this Grade II-listed Georgian townhouse 12 years ago. Downstairs is an ironmonger, selling vintage and new kitchenware – with purchases wrapped in brown paper and tied with string, naturally. The top two floors are filled with antique, vintage and salvaged furniture and accessories, all chosen with a stylist’s keen eye.
This elegantly rustic lifestyle store was once a hardware shop and the building itself dates back to 1832. Happily, a large proportion of the original cabinets and fittings remain and now display owner Rose Ratcliffe’s meticulous edit of homeware – everything from Turkish linen to simple and chic white ceramics, cosmetics and fashion accessories.
The Clockwork Crow
This kaleidoscopic shop on George Street specialises in antique homeware, architectural finds and rare houseplants – all of which sit under the glow of fairy lights and are surrounded by musky wafts of incense.
Creative trio Ellis Collins, Paula Bush and Harris Woodcock have filled this small but airy space in the Old Town with vintage designer clothes (think Vivienne Westwood and Missoni), antique toys, vintage furniture and locally made jewellery and art. Look out for rolls of antique Indian fabric and a room showcasing a troupe of china and plastic dolls.
The Antique Warehouse
It could be the bold, letterbox-red shop front, the signs shouting ‘gold wanted’ or the life-size mummies lounging in the large windows that make this antiques and collectables shop stop you in your tracks as you’re walking past. Enter through the front door and you’ll find traditional antiques and jewellery, alongside vintage school posters and industrial lighting. It’s the domain of dealer and TV antiques expert Clive Attrell, who also offers free antiques valuations.
Where to visit in Hastings
Since it opened as the Jerwood Gallery in March 2012, the gallery has developed a reputation for its support of modern British artists. Sir Quentin Blake is the artist patron, and current exhibitions include ‘Victor Pasmore: Line & Space’, which explores the work of this celebrated figure in the abstract movement.
The Flower Makers’ Museum
Located in a 14th-century pharmacy building in the Old Town, this is a small workshop making and selling artificial flowers. The basement reveals a flower museum housing 10,000 cutting tools, flower irons and moulds, made from the casts of leaves sourced from all over the world. The owner, Brenda Wilson, has created petals for Ridley Scott’s Gladiator movie made in 2000, Lady Gaga’s stage costumes and many royal outfits. The museum itself chronicles a fascinating history of 110 years of making blooms.
West Hill Lift Cliff Railway
For those with a head for heights, the West Hill cliff railway retains its original Victorian wooden coaches and gives access to Hastings Castle and St Clement’s Caves – plus spectacular views over the seafront.
Where to eat in Hastings
There’s been a pub on the corner of All Saints’ Street – a picturesque stretch lined with 15th-century houses – since 1758. Today, it’s home to The Crown, where you can expect a menu built from locally sourced ingredients, a buzzy atmosphere and an artistic interior (an entire wall is dedicated to a rotating monthly exhibition of local art).
It’s all very hip at this cafe where, within the exposed brick walls, you can find resident sausage dog, Baxter, lounging on 1960s sofas. The food is just as pleasing as the interiors – as well as cake (don’t miss the banana bread with cheesecake swirl), they also serve sandwiches, salads, ice cream and cocktails.
Where to stay in Hastings
Interiors are a focus in this boutique guest house. The building itself is beautiful – a Georgian Grade-II listed townhouse that has retained much of its character, with high ceilings and views of Hastings Old Town. Each of its five bedrooms feature bright colour schemes, large sash windows and stylish furniture.
The Old Rectory
The Old Rectory was built in the 15th century, but today is all soothing neutrals, delicate Georgian furniture and artistic flourishes – one of the rooms features a wall covered in Wedgwood calendar plates. Another draw is the beautiful, and sizeable, walled garden.
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