Hastings, East Sussex: A Brief Tour of Three Local Museums

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I’m finally done with the long run of Denmark posts, and back in Britain (at least for now, hint hint).  I’m sure everyone knows by now that I love a day at the English seaside, mainly so I have an excuse to eat cheesy chips and ice cream.  When the weather was starting to turn a few weeks ago, we thought it would be an auspicious time to head to Hastings, as it would probably be the last good seaside weekend of the year.  Besides, Hastings seemed to abound with quirky free local museums, so I imagined I’d come back with plenty to write about.

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Interestingly, Hastings isn’t where the famous 1066 battle took place – that would be a few miles up the road, in the aptly named Battle.  But, they have made the most of their coastal location with a variety of maritime themed attractions.  We skipped the expensive ones, like the “Smugglers Adventure” and instead headed straight for the Shipwreck Heritage Centre.

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It was not very big, and unfortunately, not that good either.  Most of it was devoted to the Shipwreck of the Amsterdam, but I think I would have rather just gone to see the ruins.  There was a mildly amusing computer game where you had to make decisions as a sea captain; unfortunately, I based my decisions on what would have been historically accurate, and not on what was best for my crew, so I didn’t do very well.  You can see the highlights in the pictures I’ve posted – a chunk of the original London Bridge, and Captain Jazz Hands up there.  Amusing mannequins aside, it was nothing special.

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So we moved next door to the Fishermen’s Museum, with cholera-ridden Dick van Dyke.  He’s not a Pearly King, as it might appear at first glance, but is wearing a suit decorated with shells.  Although the Fishermen’s Museum was similarly petite, the collection was far more eclectic, and thus, more appealing.  The room was dominated by a replica ship that you were welcome to climb aboard, and the walls were absolutely crammed full of paintings, giving it the air of a Victorian parlour gone mad (carrying on with the Mary Poppins theme, I’m picturing the interior of the home of that admiral who spends all his time on the roof firing off his cannon (which is for once not a euphemism)).

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There was even a fish-themed stained glass window, and a taxidermy collection including an albatross, and a giant lobster that gave me the creeps.  I have a definite phobia of crustaceans and arthropods.  Arthrophobia?  Is that a thing?  Anyway, I loved learning about local characters like Biddy Stonham, the Tub Man, and admiring the winkle trophy.  I also enjoyed the collection of photographs of 1890s Hastings.

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If you have to choose between the Shipwreck Heritage Centre and the Fishermen’s Museum, I definitely think the Fishermen’s Museum is the way to go, but they are both free, so there’s really no reason you should have to limit yourself.  After finishing there, I wanted to go to the Flower Maker’s Museum, as flower makers came down with some pretty horrible diseases as a result of the arsenic used to colour the leaves green, but I didn’t write down the address before we left, and it wasn’t in the main stretch of Old Town with everything else.  So, we popped into the Old Town Hall Museum of Local History instead, which we had passed during our search.

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The Town Hall was spread over two floors, though it was still only two rooms.  It was mainly full of posters that tracked the history of Hastings, though there were a few wax figures, figureheads, and other random objects. The set-up was a little odd, as there appeared to be no way to progress chronologically through the collection, no matter which end you started from upstairs, but I suppose it didn’t matter a great deal.  I did learn a few interesting titbits, but it didn’t take much time to look around here either – I’d say we didn’t spend more than half an hour at any of the three museums, and probably less in some cases, so I’m glad we didn’t have to pay for any of them (though I did leave a donation at the Fishermen’s Museum, as I think they’ve got a good thing going).

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When it comes to rating them, I’d give the Shipwreck Heritage Centre 2/5, Fishermen’s Museum 3.5/5, and the Town Hall Museum 2/5.  None of them are anything I’d go out of my way for, but they’re not a terrible way to pass an afternoon in Hastings whilst you’re building up an appetite for chips.  Speaking of chips, I was dismayed to see that cheesy chips did not feature on any of the local menus (why is it some places in Britain have cheesy chips everywhere, but they’re as hard to track down as Bigfoot in other towns?) though we did have a large portion of the non-cheesy variety that were surprisingly tasty. I still don’t know what is so difficult about keeping cheddar cheese on hand though, as the combination of greasy chips and cheap cheddar slightly melted by the heat of the chips is magical. Excitingly, Hastings had one of my favourite American treats for sale: Hawaiian Shave Ice, but the shaver they were using wasn’t quite right and it came out more like a snow cone.

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Hastings has a number of other attractions, from the cliff railway to arcades, and even a waterfall, but other than a stroll along the pebble beach, we didn’t partake of any of them (it was already late afternoon after visiting the museums).  I’m glad I finally went to Hastings, as it’s another seaside town to add to the list, even if they need to get some cheese for their bloody chips!

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5 comments

  1. Hiya,

    Enjoyed the write, I wanted to make the same trip, but my old man friend said Hastings was grim. In the English psyche it has a grotty reputation that any resident would surely/rightly rebuff, eh? I dunno…you should have jumped in the sea, softie 😉

    As for cheesy chips – you’ll find those in kebab shops and such. NEVER in as proper fish n chip shop.

    1. Glad you enjoyed it…Hastings is pretty grim when you get away from Old Town, but so is pretty much every other small seaside town.
      I don’t want to start a whole thing here, but I’ve had cheesy chips from proper chippies from Torbay to Devon, with pictorial evidence to prove it. They seem to be a thing in some counties and not at all in others; they’re everywhere in Devon and Norfolk; Sussex, not so much.

      1. I did say I didn’t want to turn this into a thing, but…I have definitely enjoyed cheesy chips from Mary Jane’s Fish Bar in Cromer, which is unarguably a “proper chippy,” as well as from a place called Fryday’s in Great Yarmouth, which again, as the name indicates, is indeed a chippy, as well as countless others. Typically in these sorts of establishments, said chips will not be listed on the menu, but on a handwritten sign on the wall, and are only available in one size.

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