The black huts of Hastings

(C) Jon Smalldon 2014 - All rights reserved

There’s a recurring nightmare that people who visit Hastings as children have.  These are children who were on a family holiday to Kent, or the Downs, or somesuch, and whose family popped in to Hastings.  They were driven there, half interested.  They didn’t pay much attention but, later, sometimes much later, visions began to haunt their dreams.  These are visions of towering, raven-black, structures that loomed over them as they made their way into or out of Hastings.  Mention these and the nightmare sufferer will look at you in trepidation and ask: Are they real?

They were and are real.  They are part of the working life of the beach-launched fishing fleet though their historic use for fishing nets is not quite so necessary since the advent of more modern nets (or so it says on the web page I was just reading).  The reason for the height is a council diktat about the square footage a single hut could occupy.  These days the remaining huts are either used for storage or for show.  If you want to see the fishermen do fancy things with nets then it’s an occasional cabaret as they unroll and re-roll them on the open space on the Stade.

As well as the huts themselves there is now a growing vernacular architecture in response to them.  Sometimes it’s incongruous as when you’re walking in Ore village and, looking across the valley, spot some houses set up to mimic the seafront design, sometimes it’s obvious such as the Jerwood gallery’s attempt to modernise the aesthetic only in dark, polished stone.  There are also some new flats on Rock-a-nore Road that rise above the huts like children that have outgrown their parents.

The nightmare are presumably less now that the main car parks in Hastings are elsewhere but still you see families who turn down Rock-a-nore Road and whose children in the back seats are only half following where they are being taken.  They will one day wonder about those giant towers and ask, “Are they real?”

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