By John Hodges
Over the years many small pubs and beer houses have come and gone in the Old Town of Hastings, none more so than in All Saints Street and the twittens that run in to it from both sides. Some of these premises have a very complete history, of some virtually nothing is known, whilst others never aspired to being identified by a name. However since the time of Henry VII a form of license had been around to control such premises, and a name or description would have existed if for no better reason than to give an understanding to Parliament where potential billeting for troops existed in a town. Beyond this very practical reason the two main objectives of licensing law were to control the amount of drinking, and to protect the public from any monopolistic exploitation that might be associated with the granting of licenses. Justices have always held wide discretionary powers in the administration of the licensing laws, and only in the period 1830 – 1869 were their powers partially removed.
An act of 1830 provided for a beer house to operate merely on the payment of an excise license, and without an accompanying Justice’s licence. This legislation provided only for a house selling beer, as those selling wines and spirits still required a Justice’s licence. By 1869 the Beer House Act was repealed, and in 1904 further legislation was introduced to enable the reduction of such drinking establishments. But one such public house in All Saints Street predated this legislation by some two hundred years this was The Chequers that existed on the same site of what is today The Cinque Ports Arms, since at least 1642. Its doors as a public house have not remained open all of that time, and in the first quarter of the 1800s it is first mentioned as The Cinque Ports Arms. A change of name quite often signifies an attempt to change the reputation of a public house, and as smuggling was one of the pre-eminent “trades” during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, this may have prompted a change of identity for a new landlord.
All Saints Street was originally known as the ‘Kings Highways leading from the Pulpitt Gate to the Minnes’. It was not till sometime after the building of the present All Saints Church during the 15th Century that All Saints Street received its present name despite being known for a period as Fisher Street, a name consistent with the calling of many of its inhabitants. It was this fishing community that comprised much of the original business for The Cinque Ports, and with the often unpredictable life and earnings of this community , an accommodation over payment was very often necessary. Fishing has always played a large part in the life of Old Hastings, and its many traders. Never more so than when the “allowance system”, a method of credit based upon a crew’s earnings and settlement by the employing skipper on the appointed day, was prevalent with most Old Town traders, including the pubs and beer houses that supported them through the days that they could not put to sea.
When The Chequers existed on this site it is quite probable that beer was brewed on the premises, as this was the case with many such small beer houses. Even as early as the seventeenth century many small brewers existed in the Old Town of Hastings, prior to the formation of the more famous local brewers such as Burfields and Breeds. Hops, malt and even “water” were available locally, certainly until the Bourne was culverted in the 1830’s. The demise of the Bourne as a supply of clean water probably did more to influence local innkeepers to look to the large brewers with ready access to wells for their supply of ale, than anything else.
The first of the “larger” brewers to own The Cinque Ports would appear to be Edward Hewett of the St. Leonards Brewery of Shepherd Street, this purchase was made some time after about 1860. There was however a short period at some time prior to 1872 when a Richard Chandler held the licence at the same time as The Pelham Arms, this may of course have been a multiple tenancy rather than a brewery ownership. The St. Leonards Brewery, which itself had a tied estate of several local public houses went into liquidation in 1907, by this time its estate had been reduced to just seven tied houses. During the period 1907 until 1913 the brewery was being run independently whilst the seven tied houses were transferred to the considerably larger Breeds’ estate. At this point the brewery itself ceased to function, whilst the leasing of the public houses continued until 1930 when Breeds finally purchased the freeholds of these houses ready for the sale of their own empire in the following year, to George Beer & Rigden of Faversham. The Cinque Ports continued to trade in the colours of George Beer & Rigden, under their famous slogan of “, Kent’s Best”,until 1949 when they were bought out by Fremlins the large Maidstone brewer. In 1967 the huge conglomerate Whitbreads acquired both Fremlin’s brewing interests and its tied estate, but continued to market both product and some of their public houses under the old Fremlins label. This remained very much the case until Lord Young’s report saw the dismantling of these huge brewing and pub chains into the smaller companies under whose ownership the Cinque Ports continues to trade to this day.
Over the many years of its existence The Cinque Ports has seen considerable changes in its fortunes. At one time, via an annex at the rear, it served as a common lodging house, whilst at another time it was run as a part time public house with the landlord working at another occupation, all of this was to scrape together a living in what was then a poor part of Hastings. Needless to say all of these “deviations” from a normal existence as a licensed premises provided ample opportunity for the Police to seek its closure, which they did on several occasions, but thankfully The Cinque Ports bore a charmed life and weathered all of these storms. But as the twentieth century progressed so did the fortunes of Old Hastings and The Cinque Ports with it to a point of trendiness that attracted the second home buyers, and those who just sort its old world charm. The pub itself could boast both entertainment for music lovers, and quiz nights for the “intellectuals” all in what must surely be the smallest pub in the Town. Today attitudes have changed towards old pubs and cottages in what was a poor working class district, and conservation and restoration are now thankfully the order of the day. It is just a great shame that such enlightened attitudes did not prevail when the heart was torn out of the Old Town, where our heritage was destroyed just to build a road that could have taken several other alternative routes and left Hastings with what could have been the finest old town in these islands.
“Hastings Town” December 2015
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