UNESCO World Heritage Status – weaving the many strands of our story together

I thought it was about time to update you on where things have got to with discussions about a UNESCO world heritage submission.

A small group of people have met twice since the public presentation in October hosted by Hastings and St Leonards Society to discuss ways forward and contribute their wealth of knowledge. We are grateful to Steve Mainwaring of Hastings Voluntary Action for hosting these discussions.

Suggestions of themes include:

  • Hastings being a place where the history of this country changed irrevocably, and where the foundations for a governmental framework now adopted throughout much of Western civilisation was created.
  • The connection between the Norman invasion and control of the iron industry around Hastings which became the most important area of iron production in northern Europe.
  • The Bayeux Tapestry shows William’s first action after he landed was to order a castle to be dug on the West Hill. It was also the first wooden castle in England to be rebuilt in stone and where the Norman strategy of conquest by castle building was initiated.
  • Hastings has retained a full range of buildings illustrating the development of the English seaside resort from the middle of the 18th century onwards and it’s changing fortunes. This includes East Cliff House as the first purpose built seaside villa in the 1760s as well as, of course, Burton St Leonards, Sidney Little’s 1930s promenades and up to the present day with the Stirling Prize winning Hastings Pier. The architects that created this seaside resort then went on to design buildings across the empire in the century spanning 1815 – 1915 and so had worldwide influence.
  • The world class status of the Hastings fossil beds off the East Hill cliffs. This has been confirmed by recent discoveries by Oxford University

There are many strands to the story but how do we weave these together to build a convincing case for universal outstanding value when some of the evidence on the ground is fragmented, neglected or undervalued?

Next Steps

In Hastings we have both outstanding sites which are nationally and internationally significant but work needs to be undertaken to enhance the presentation of sites like Hastings Castle and to place some of these sites and events into their broader historical context. In short, the presentation of the broad historical ‘narrative’ of Hastings needs to be improved.

We also have considerable expertise in the form of local groups, societies and individuals who work – often on an entirely voluntary basis – to research understand and present the town’s history. However, it is difficult for them to present or share their work and collaborate with others where they wish to do so.

Therefore four areas of activity have been identified

1. Undertake work to present, in a single place, a broad and accessible written narrative which encapsulates the importance of Hastings as a history shaping space.

2. Research the feasibility of creating an online ‘timeline’ approach to enable local history to be accessed more widely and local practitioners to share key information they have access to and collaborate with others.

3. Work with Hastings Borough Council on a strategic plan to improve the physical presentation and interpretation of the Town’s historic sites/buildings and by doing so enhance the possibility of future funding.

4. The local plan is up for review later this year so there is an opportunity to

Create a better awareness within the local planning system of key buildings, landscapes and views that should be preserved and enhanced as opportunities arise. This would be a key part of any future UNESCO bid anyway.

If you can offer help with any of these ideas then do get in touch with me at hastingsheritagestories@gmail.com. We are planning one more meeting in late February/early March before presenting these ideas to the council. We need people’s energy and action to make any of this happen.

About the author…

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