Bottle Alley in Hastings – deco delight or derelict disgrace?

The Coastal Currents Arts Festival is underway, and Bottle Alley has been transformed into an art installation. I thought I’d take a break from cleaning the kitchen (yes, really, a rare occurence in Battleaxeland) and go and have a look.
     Non-Hastingas may ask, what is Bottle Alley? Well, if like us, you’d lived far too long with crumbling sixties Birmingham concrete, you’d expect a very dodgy pee-smelling subway inhabited by cider-bottle-flinging street drinkers.
      To be honest, Bottle Alley is not that different. It’s a very long covered walkway that runs along the seafront from the Pier up towards St Leonard’s, below the raised promenade. It is so long, that looking along it from the end, the perspective almost reaches a vanishing point. It got its name from the inner walls, which are covered in a mosaic of broken glass bottles embedded into the concrete. It is actually a splendid piece of modernist/deco architecture.

Mosaic broken bottles

View along Bottle Alley
Sidney Little

       The remodelling of the sea-front in the 1930’s, including Bottle Alley, was one of Sidney Little’s most significant projects. Little, ‘The Concrete King’ was a true visionary. He designed the enormous, now demolished, Bathing Pool, created an entirely new water supply and sewage system for Hastings, and later worked on the design of the Mulberry Harbours in WW2. However, we should probably be grateful that his most ambitious plan, which would have involved the demolition of much of Hastings town centre, came to nothing.
        Once, Bottle Alley looked very elegant, as this 1935 postcard shows.

Bottle Alley in 1935

        Today it is certainly dodgy. Battleaxe is very intrepid when it comes to stomping around on her own at night, but even I might be a little intimidated by Bottle Alley.  Little’s innovative underground car park, which fills the gap between the raised promenade and the town centre, is even dodgier – the exit routes always seem to be occupied by quite cheerful, but undesirable, street drinkers.
        Bottle Alley is desperately dilapidated. I read that £160k has been set aside by the Council to repair it, in line with general improvement of the seafront and the re-opening of the Pier, but from what I can see it would be a massive, and very expensive job to restore it to any semblance of decency and safety.  Great chunks of the supporting columns have fallen away, the ceiling is scabrous and leaky, and rusting ironwork can be seen everywhere.

Crumbling ceiling

Rusting ironwork

        So, I thought, the art can only be a good thing. Cheer the place up, bring it to people’s attention, attract visitors etc.

        A group of local artists have decorated all the columns with black and white images. It’s a great idea, and was quite interesting, but to be honest, it didn’t totally float my boat. I’d have preferred a bit of colour. Some images form some sort of connected sequence if viewed from the right angle, like this wolf in New York, but getting the right angle is hard. To see this, I had to bend right down near the ground, dangerously close to a choice deposit of dog poo.

        Other images reminded me of those adult colouring books that are all over the shops right now. Has anyone ever tried one?  I can’t really see colouring as a valid way of wasting time, even though it is supposed to promote mindfulness, reduce stress etc. Give me a large G & T any day. Anyway, someone could go down to Bottle Alley with their crayons and get stuck in.

         Finally, here’s a picture of Little’s underground car park – the first ever, I understand. Another structure worth protecting. The shelter/seat on the surface above is actually a ventilation shaft for the car park.

Carlisle Parade underground car park

Shelter/seat/ventilation shaft


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