Hastings has a wonderful Victorian cemetery. Covering 87 acres, it was opened in 1856, and its position on the Ridge gives fantastic views over the surrounding countryside and the sea, as far as Rye. We have been there several times but a few days ago we went on a guided walk with Anne Scott from the Hastings History House, with an old friend from Birmingham. Battleaxe would totally recommend the guided walk, or even just a stroll round the cemetery….
There is a very good website about the cemetery, and a book, ‘The grave’s a fine and private place’, produced by the Old Hastings Preservation Society, available from the History House in Courthouse Street. Although the book only has stories about the inhabitants of the older part of the cemetery, it is very interesting.
|Get the book from the History House…. it’s free!|
As well as the Victorian core area, the cemetery also has acres of more recent burials, various Gardens of Remembrance, war memorials, an official War Graves cemetery with sections for both world wars, and a natural burial ground – where I plan to end up, hoping that Philosopher will join me.
The walk concentrated on the older part of the cemetery. There were so many interesting stories. Many people buried in Hastings in the nineteenth century came to the town hoping for a cure for their ailments – frequently consumption. They often never left. Others came to recover from war injuries or from service in the far-flung corners of the Empire. Many of the most prominent memorials belonged to the families who feature significantly in the political and social history of Hastings – names like Breeds, Butler, Mastin, Mason….
We also heard about the symbolism in memorial stonework. For example, who knew that a half-draped urn – found on many gravestones – signifies the soul rising upwards to heaven, or that an urn with a serpent coiled round it signifies immortality.
|Urn with serpent. Robert Tubbs, Indian army – clearly an Indian style memorial.|
Several suffragettes are buried at Hastings, among them Titanic survivor Elsie Bowerman.
She died in St Leonard’s in 1973. Here she is:
Even better known than Elsie, suffragette Muriel Matters also ended her days in Hastings – her ashes are scattered in the cemetery.
I won’t go into the stories attached to the burials – look at the website.
Some graves are overgrown and hidden in the undergrowth, and some had huge trees growing out of them. Apparently some of these may be the graves of suicides, who were buried away from the main paths.
This first one is specially spookily poignant – or poignantly spooky, the way the tree embraces, or smothers, the stone.
Many of the memorials are beautifully carved, usually by local stonemasons.
After a while we peeled off the walk to show our friend the views, and the war graves.
|View down to the WW2 memorial|
As well as the cemetery walk, we did all sorts of things with our friends – Coastal Currents Open Studios, a Pier Walk, and the somewhat anticlimactic laser light show at the Pier – it poured with rain and you couldn’t see anything unless you were on the Pier.