Memories of Hastings came flooding back as I read the reminiscences told so well by Gwyneth Arnold in “This England”, Autumn issue 2018, and my own recollections of holidays in the south-coast town in the immediate post-war years.
I had been evacuated with my mother and older sister to Berkshire from South London, and my father succeeded in getting a transfer from his city bank to join us to become village bank manager. But when hostilities ceased, we once again headed for Hastings as our holiday destination just as other south Londoners had done before the war.
In the 1950s, Hastings was packed. My father booked months in advance to get a hotel room. We stayed in a Warrior Square hotel as all the sea-front accommodation was booked (and I suspect we couldn’t afford sea-front premium!) And as a lad, my train ride from Reading was spent sitting on a suitcase in the corridor of the Southern Railway second-class compartment.
As soon as we arrived and had put a quick unpacking behind us, it was off to the prom and any one of the many attractions that for a little boy were absolute magic.
Hastings Pier was, of course, central to that magic. World-famous brass bands played on the bandstand each day, and long before the train arrived at Warrior Square Station, Dad would announce, “It’s the Coldstream Guards this year.” And they would entertain us every day for the next two weeks.
After a hurried breakfast we set off to secure deckchairs as close to the bandstand as we could. Was it sixpence for a morning session and a whole shilling for the whole day?
When the bandmaster laid down his baton, it was off to the arcade – much of my pocket money was spent on the slot machines. No juke-boxes on the pier in those days!
As Gwyneth did, we had to visit the castle and St Clements caves – we went year in, year out, but they never lost their magic. The caves had been used as shelters from the bombs (Hastings got quite a pounding as German planes emptied their bomb-bays before fleeing back across the Channel), but the tales of smugglers still held sway for this little boy.
But even the caves paled into insignificance compared with a ride on the narrow-gauge steam railway – still running, I am pleased to say. Is it any wonder I ended up a train spotter and great fan of the Great Western Railway?
I even saved one of the last locos built at Swindon – a diesel-hydraulic, D1013 Western Ranger. My love affair with railways all started in Hastings!
In later years I took my own holidays down at Hastings and had my first kiss on the ghost train! Even later, holidaying with my Australian wife and daughter, we made Hastings our first destination.
Like Gwyneth Arnold, I had learned to swim in the White Rock baths – now I taught our daughter to swim in the Summerfields Leisure Complex up on the hill behind the town.
Yes, Hastings holds many wonderful memories for me, brought back so vividly in “This England”.