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From 27th August 2004
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Robertson Street, Hastings, 1851 - 1881   PDF  E-mail 

The America Ground & The birth of Robertson Street.

The 'Regent Street of Hastings' 1851 - 1881

Robertson Street, a mid 19th century purpose built shopping development in the centre of Hastings, was, prior to the coming of the railway, a piece of waste land known as the America Ground, but, within a few years it had become the main shopping street for the town and nearby St. Leonards - the exclusive new town created by James Burton.



Past local historians have written that this new development marked the end of Hastings “Old Town” as the commercial centre for the area, as established retailers migrated to the new development, and the Old Town then become an overcrowded working class area largely ignored by the town council - many of whom now had business premises on the new street.

Using primary local sources in the form of Guide Books, Street Directories, Census Returns and Newspapers, documentary evidence was collected and then collated and cross checked to build up a picture of the migration trend and subsequent commercial activities in Robertson Street from its inception in 1850 up to the date of the 1881 Census - which in turn would either verify or question the accepted findings of local historians.

A number of scholarly texts have been consulted that have dealt with retailing in the 19th Century. J.B.Jefferys`s Retail Trading in Britain 1850 - 1950, (on which I have relied heavily for the description of trades) published in 1954, is an analysis of retailing trends based on statistical data, whilst Dorothy Davis`s A History of Shopping, published in 1967 surveys six centuries of retailing, but only briefly covers the modern period. Michael Winstanley`s The Shopkeepers World, published 1983 is a useful account of the social standing of the small retailer, and Peter Mathias`s The Retail Revolution, published 1967 surveyed the rise of multiple grocery chains during the late 19th century, all of which have provided valuable background reading prior to the writing of this book. Other works consulted include Shops and Shopping 1800 - 1914 by Alison Adburgham, published 1964, Town Records by John West published 1983 and Victorian and Edwardian Shopworkers by Wilfred B.Whitaker, published 1973.

NB. All of these works, plus many others, have touched on various aspects of the retail trade during the 19th century, but none contain enough information to enable a comparison with Robertson Street during the period 1850 - 1881.

America Ground.

The America Ground - 1800 - 1849

The growth of Hastings as a Seaside resort (the health-craze for sea bathing and drinking brought the first visitors) from the end of the 18th Century, and particularly between 1815 and the mid 1820`s, (Fig 1.) produced a demand for property and land that forced the town to expand westward out of the Bourne Valley and into the Priory Valley. The development of Pelham Crescent by the architect Joseph Kaye for the Earl of Chichester (started 1820) and James Burton`s new St. Leonards, (started 1828) necessitated importing a large workforce for the necessary construction work, who it was reported “took possession without leave, licence, or interference, and built houses, shanties, warehouses, and other erections, for which they paid no rent or consideration - a ‘No Mans Land` and independent of any law or order, and, who when challenged hoisted the American Flag, very much a symbol of independence at that time, on an area of the Foreshore.

This 8 acres of foreshore now covered by 195 buildings with well over 1000 inhabitants, was first occupied at the beginning of the 19th Century by an enterprising group of local tradesmen. They developed the area into a sort of colony with its own shops, houses and businesses including a coach factory and two rope walks each of 120-150 fathoms in length, used by Messrs. Thwaites & Co. and Messrs. Breeds & Co. for the making of rope. The earliest recorded inhabitants of the America Ground being Thomas Page and John Prior in 1806. They were listed as resident in an old Hulk, now in two tenements, formerly the Brig named Polymina.

This so called America Ground - “an area of land occupying a space of nearly a quarter of a mile in length and 500 yards in width, which from its situation and appearance was without doubt, formerly part of the sea shore, but, by the accumulation of the shingle, the sea has gradually receded, leaving the ground in question waste, and for very many years totally unproductive,” was claimed by the Crown following an inquiry at the George Hotel, Battle on 6th Dec. 1827 as to the legal ownership. The Crown then completed a detailed survey of the Ground before offering a 7 year ground lease at relatively small rents to those who claimed to own property there, after which the ground was to be cleared - only four such leases were taken out, 3 by the same family of Breeds.

The ground was duly cleared of all buildings and inhabitants by Christmas 1835 and then stood empty for the next 15 years apart from the Rock Fair (July 26-27th) and the occasional cricket match, and became known as the `Derelict’ or `Waste Lands`.

A wealthy London Merchant, Patrick Francis Robertson, leased the ground from the Crown for a period of ninety nine years at an annual rent of £500. Mr. Robertson who later twice became a member of Parliament for Hastings had great visions for the development of the town as a seaside resort, as, in addition to the America Ground, he visualized erecting buildings all along the sea-front to the west as far as Warrior Square, and attempted to form a partnership with Charles Eversfield and Decimus Burton - unfortunately to no avail.

Robertson Street - Work Begins

January 1850 saw Patrick Robertson embark alone on the development of the first part of the America Ground, which, as Crown Property, was governed to a large extent by the need for official approval, and being a shrewd business man, he ensured he had official approval by employing the Crown architects - Messrs. Reeks & Humbert of 7 Whitehall Yard, London, to draw up the plans. Reeks and Humbert later opened an office at 15 Pelham Crescent, and their name appears exclusively on all building and planning applications, maps, etc. for Robertson Street up to December 1856.

The next few years (1856-1864) saw many applications mostly bearing the name of H.Carpenter, Architect, 36 Robertson Street, after which several local and national Architects became involved with various alterations and addittions to premises in the street.

It was announced in the prospectus for the development that “Whilst uniformity of design will ensure the harmony and propriety of the Architectural arrangements, the effectiveness of the Drainage and Water supply, and the completeness of the Shop & Trade accommodation, have been amply provided for. All the houses facing the sea are to be used as private Dwelling houses only, with the exception of Reading-rooms and an Hotel. The main road is available for trade purposes; but no Taverns, Public Houses or Beer shops will be allowed without a special licence from the Crown Lessee; and all trades which may become a nuisance to the surrounding property will be strictly prohibited.” This was followed by an advert in the local press on 25th Jan 1850 inviting tenders to be submitted for the construction of the Roads, Vaults and Sewers (Glazed Stone pipes of 18 ins bore)

Work must have progressed at a tremendous rate as only six weeks later the local newspaper carried the following advert from what is believed to be the first trader in the street :

Provision Warehouse

5 Robertson Street, Hastings

R. Funnell begs to inform his friends and the public generally, that he will open TOMORROW as above, in connection with his other establishment in George Street, and trusts, by adhering strictly to the principle on which his Tea and Coffee Trade has been conducted - viz. first quality, with moderate charges - to receive as great a share of patronage in his New Establishment as he has gratefully to acknowledge in the Old.

Stephen Jones, complying with the conditions of the Crown Lessee, is also reported in Aug. 1850 as applying for a Licence for a house now being built on the Priory Ground called “The Priory Tavern” but this information has not been verified as no mention of an Innkeeper called Stephen Jones or The Priory Tavern have been found todate.

The Coming of the Railway

As early as the late 1830`s, local businessmen together with prominent landowners and builders had been campaigning for the building of a rail network from London to Hastings. It was their belief that this connection with the capitol would increase potential profits in nearly all areas of trade and business. 1842 had seen a regular stagecoach service connecting Hastings and Staplehurst in Kent where a station had been opened on the London - Dover line.

This rail network finally arrived on the western outskirts of Hastings in 1846 when the line from Brighton operated by the London and Brighton Railway Company reached a hastily erected wooden station at Bulverhythe thus providing Hastings and St. Leonards with a temporary terminus until the line could be built to Hastings and then through to Ashford. This last 1¾ miles of track took some 5 years to build as it was mostly tunneled to eliminate the excessive gradients and avoid any demolition of James Burton`s exclusive new town of St. Leonards.

The station where most Victorians began their visit to Hastings , finally opened in February 1851 in the Priory Valley where a massive earth embankment had been built, effectively cutting the valley in two and confining any commercial and industrial development to the south of the railway line. The location of the main railway station in the Priory Valley and not elsewhere in the town possibly confirmed more than anything else that the town centre of the future would be there, although plans, which were never implemented, had been drawn up to continue the track into the Old Town.

It would also appear that the plans of the railway companies were changed as to the location of the station - Hopes pictorial guide to Hastings in 1848 contains a map showing the line coming down Havelock Road to the edge of the Crown Lands whilst Diplocks Guide of the same year shows the same line and site, but labeled ‘Railway Station (building)’. This extension was probably never built because of the difficulty of constructing buildings on the very soft site (below sea level), before the ground was eventually built up by using the spoils of the tunnels.

The Early Years

Local newspapers enabled the piecing together of the construction of the buildings in the street, and the rate at which they were occupied prior to the night of the Census on 31st Mar 1851. This Census only lists 4 buildings as actually occupied in Robertson Street, which is somewhat misleading as several retail premises were operational but the proprietor lived elsewhere - i.e. Robinson Funnell was resident in George Street where he had a Grocery business, but was also listed as a Provisions merchant at No 5 Robertson Street in the trade and Post Office Directories - the actual occupant of No 5 in the census being Ebenezer Trimming and Family as shown in the following census transcription.

1851 Census for Robertson Street - HO 107 1635 Folio 487-488

Number Surname Christian Relate Status Age Occupation Born County

04 Polhill Henry Head Marr 39 Pork Butcher Lydd KEN

05 Trimming Ebenezer Head Marr 33 Coach Trimmer London MID

11 Weeks Thomas Head Marr 33 Tailor Hastings SSX

13 Sheraton Thomas Head Marr 39 Drawing Teacher Camberwell LON

The 1st of August 1851 saw the insertion of an advert on the front page of the Hastings & St. Leonards News concerning the release of the 2nd phase of the Crown Estate, “It is intended forthwith to lay out the Triangular Portion of the Estate on the North Side of Robertson Street and the roads, sewers etc. adjoining,” and tenders were invited to be received by the following Monday for this work.

Henry Osborne of George Street, Hastings, publisher of the “Osbornes Street & Commercial Directory” gave the first picture of how the street was developing in his 1852 Directory when some 16 traders were now listed on the South side only of Robertson Street, of which almost 40% (6 of 16) had retained business premises in other parts of the town - possibly not wanting to put all their eggs in one basket.

Four years later the 1855 Post Office Directory gives a more fuller picture as it listed some 44 retail units in the street, only 7% (3 of 44) of whom listed additional premises elsewhere in the town, but 18% (8 of 44) had come from other locations within the town, whilst the 1862 Post Office Directory listed 53 commercial units with 13% (7 of 53) with additional premises. (Appendix A)

The 1848 Post Office directory for Sussex lists 9 traders whose names eventually appear as trading in Robertson Street within the next 10 years (5 are in Osbornes 1852 guide, with an additional 4 in the Post Office 1855 directory).

By extracting the Birthplace of Head of Household from the 1861 Census for Robertson Street , we find that only 10% were actually born in Hastings, 12% were born in other parts of Sussex, but a staggering 76% came from Other Counties with the remaining 2% originating outside of the British Isles. (Fig 2) Taking the same Census and looking at the birthplace of all residents, the figures change slightly with 25% now being shown as born in Hastings, 20% in other parts of Sussex and 51 % coming from other English counties, the final 4% coming from foreign parts.(Fig 3) The main changes in the figures can be attributed to the listing of 73 children (17% of total inhabitants) aged 10 years or under, (i.e. born since the last census) shown as born in Hastings.

The above figures are a clear indication of the size of migration to Hastings, the second fastest growing seaside resort in the mid half of the 19th century (only Brighton was expanding faster) with over two thirds of the listed `Head of Household’ operating commercial enterprises in Robertson Street coming from out of the county during the 31 year period of this study.

Further information as to the Victorian social scene can be gathered by looking at the size of each family and its structure. Taking as the nuclear family only father, mother and children, it is possible to tabulate the following analysis of ‘family plus other occupants’ within the street.

In 1861, 50% of the street had Family plus 1 or 2 occupants, whilst 33% were classed as small (3 to 6 occupants). Larger households accounted for 6.0% and the remaining 11% were staff only accomodation with the exception of James Notcutt (Milliner) who had a family of 5, plus 5 assistants, 3 Apprentices and 3 servants.

By 1881 the picture had changed slightly with 38% now in the first category, 36% in the second and 12% in the larger household; but there was 2 houses containing 16 and 20 persons respectively of ‘staff only’ who were all employed in the drapery trade, whilst 4 other properties in the street also contained drapery staff only.

Comparing the 1881 Census with Parsons 1881 Street Directory, only 23 of the 78 business proprietors actually lived on the premises, but much accomodation had been provided for managers, assistants and apprentices who accounted for 25% of the total street population. It is interesting to note the number of unoccupied properties in 1881 as compared to the preceding 30 years, although commercial activities were still listed in the 1881 trade directories. Further research will indicate the whereabouts of the missing families - two are known to have aquired living accomodation in an upper class residential area; possibly an indication of the success of their business.

The structure of small families with large numbers of supernumeraries and large families with many additional occupants can be calculated from the census returns.

Further analysis using relationship to heads of households indicate the provision for dependent relatives, widows, orphans and other dependants such as servants and apprentices. Lodgers, boarders and visitors will often include journeymen and employees living with their master/mistress and family.

The above figures taken from the 1851 - 1881 census returns indicate that at the beginning of the streets development, 85% of the inhabitants were family, 10% were listed as servants and the remainder shown as lodgers or visitors. By 1881 this had all changed as only 47% were family units, 18% were servants and 27% were listed as assistants in the various trading establishments within the street.

1852 - Number 4 to 19 1854 - Number 1 to 43 1855 - Numbers 1a to 43 1861 - Number 1 to 52 1862 - Number 1 to 58 1862 - Number 1a to 55 1867 - Number 1 to 58 1871 - Number 1 to 61 1876 - Number 1 to 61   1878 - Number 1 to 61 1880 - Number 1 to 61

Trades and Traders

The author of a local guide book to Hastings and St. Leonards towards the end of the 19th Century wrote “Robertson Street is the `Regent Street’ of Hastings; the place where ladies most do congregate when on shopping thoughts intent; and, indeed, there is some excuse, for the shops are of the best, and the wares so tastefully displayed that tis no wonder ladies are tempted when time hangs heavy and purses are well filled. During several hours of the day the roadway is filled with carriages, and the side walks thronged with pedestrians”

How did Robertson Street acquire this tag of “Regent Street of Hastings” and what type of commercial enterprises encouraged the ladies to congregate, etc. ?,

James B Jeffery in his book Retail Trading in Britain 1850 - 1950 wrote that in the first half of the 19th century Britain purchased their supplies of finished consumer goods in four main ways

1. Retail Units proper where retailers bought their goods from manufacturers and sold them from fixed shops. i.e.- grocers, hosiers, mercers, drapers, haberdashers, chandlers, oil and colormen and village general dealers

2. Producer/retailers, the skilled tradesmen who made, produced or grew their wares as well as selling them. - leading examples were boot & shoe makers, tailors, blacksmiths / Iron founders, cabinet makers, basket makers, butchers, dairy farmers.

3. Markets - usually weekly, but sometimes daily, where the farmer and growers displayed their butter, cheese, eggs, vegetables and fruit, plus the fairs where all types of dealers, producers, wholesalers and importers put up a wide range of goods for sale.

4. Itinerant tradesmen and travelling salesmen answering to the names of pedlars, chapmen, packmen, bagmen and Scotch Drapers.

By the middle of the century the first phase of the Industrial Revolution in Britain was complete and Steam power and Iron had transformed the face of the country. At the same time the economy was expanding and with it the numbers and the demand of the well-to-do classes. This rising demand was encouraging the production of a wider range and a greater variety of consumer goods. James Jefferys suggests it is therefore possible to make a broad and somewhat rough distinction between those retailers catering chiefly though not exclusively for the limited demand of the working classes, and those retailers catering more exclusively for the well-to-do.

A careful study of the trades/traders listed in the various directories, indicates that Robertson Street was composed from the first two categories, i.e. Retail Units proper and Producers/Retailers. The second two categories, i.e. Markets/Fairs and Itinerant Traders were to be found in the daily market in nearby George Street (open from 8am till 9pm) and on the seafront, promenade etc.

The following 14 headings taken from James B. Jefferys “Retail Trading in Britain” cover, trade by trade, most of the commodities sold by retail in Robertson Street during the period 1850 - 1881. Many of the trades can be clearly recognized as separate trades, but several retailers carried stock of other traders. e.g. Grocers and provision retailers sold tobacco and cigarettes, chocolate and confectionery, whilst tobacconists began to sell chocolates and confectionery as well as newspapers and periodicals.

1. Grocery and Provisions.

2. Butchers and Meat

3. Bread & Flour Confectionery

4. Milk and Dairy Products

5. Fruit and Vegetables and Fish

6. Chocolate and Sugar Confectionery

7. Tobacco

8. Newspaper and Allied Trades

9. Clothing Trades

10. Footwear

11. Chemists and Druggists

12. Jewellery, Toy, Sports Goods

13. Furniture and Furnishings

14. Household Goods and Storage

Grocery & Provisions

In 1850, the retail grocery and provisions trade was a combination of many types of retailers, consisting mostly of the grocers selling the more traditional grocery items from teas and coffee to sugars and spices, the farmer selling his range of home produced products such as butter, cheese, eggs, and some hams and bacon in the open markets, and the more old established fixed shop retailers such as the cheesemongers, provisions dealers, specialist tea dealer, tallow chandler, plus the oil and colourman and drysalter. The oil and colourman originally dealt chiefly in colours and paints, plus the oils for mixing them, but had widened his range of products to sell a variety of household goods such as candles and soaps, starch, matches, firewood, brushes, baskets and brooms, lamps, linseed and other oils, beeswax, vegetable wax, etc. Very often his range would also extend to some grocery items such as sauces, pickles and jams, and to chemicals and drugs such as soda, salts, quack pills and poor man’s plaster and a miscellaneous mixture of other commodities including hardware, ironmongery, china, lamp-black, size, ochre, chalk, sand, gunpowder and shot.

The grocers were skilled craftsmen who were part manufacturer as well as part retailer, for not only did they chop or grind by hand, according to the customers wishes, cones of sugar into loaf or fine sugar, but mixed the variety of spices, selected and blended the teas using the skill, experience and patience usually acquired by apprenticeship. Their reputation and success usually depended on word of mouth from satisfied customers. The shops themselves were often dimly lit, with rows of sombre looking jars and japanned canisters; tea chests, barrels and drums crowded into every corner and all kinds of imaginable object hung on hooks from the ceiling, which, together with a fascinating range of smells was always a centre of mystery to young children.

1852 - 1855 - Robinson Funnell at No 5.(Tea Dealer, Prov Merchant) 1855 - 1871 - Joseph Amoore at No 1 (1a) Grocer and Tallow Chandler 1876 - 1878 - Mrs. Amoore 1880 - Amoore & Son 1853 - 1881 - Alfred Shotter at No 34 (Tea Dealer and Grocer) and George Wood ?

Butchers and Meat

In the middle of the 19th century, the retail meat trade was dominated by the skilled butcher who not only slaughtered the animals he had purchased from the livestock markets in his own slaughterhouse, but also dressed the carcass, disposed of the waste products, and then finally cut and sold the meat to his customers. Very often the butcher himself would own a farm or had grazing lands where it was possible to fatten the livestock before slaughter, thus ensuring that his meat was always fresh and he was always able to meet customer demand. He was a first class tradesman, combining all of his skills in the three tasks of buying, slaughtering and cutting. The butcher’s shop and slaughterhouse played a very prominent part in the retail network of any town, and as one butcher would often serve all sections of the community the differences in the tastes and pockets of his customers had to be matched by his ability in buying his animals, in cutting and in pricing. The replacement of sailing ships by steamships and the development of refrigeration and refrigerated ships meant that from 1880 onwards, imports of frozen meat from such places as South America, New Zealand and Australia rose by leaps and bounds causing a radical change in the retail structure and organization of the meat trade and opened the doors to the multiple meat retailers who only cut and sold, often at a lower price than the private butcher.

1851 - 1862 - Henry Polhill (pork) at No 4 1867 - 1881 - Thomas Dalgleish (pork) then Poulterer at No 4 1852 - 1881 - William Wellard at No 13 1854 - Thomas Waghorne, 27 Robertson Street

Bread and Flour Confectionery

The baking of bread by the housewife in the 1850’s was a common feature in most households especially in the rural areas, but in the rapidly expanding towns the baker selling his bread in the retail sector was growing in importance. Virtually all these bakers were independent master bakers who prepared, baked and sold their bread on the same premises - a very strenuous and skilled job. The bakehouse would either be at the rear of the premises or under the shop where the entire preparation of the dough, including the heavy job of mixing was all done by hand as, until 1881, there were practically no mechanical devices that could be used. Most of the bread and wheat products such as flour, biscuits, bran and provender were offered for sale in the shop, usually by the bakers wife, and very little delivery or ‘hawking’ of the bread from hand-carts was undertaken. Bakeries were usually located in relation to the spread of the population in the area they served rather than in a shopping street where they would be dependent on the passer by or casual customers. It was the practice in many areas for the housewife to take dough she had mixed herself to the baker to be baked in his ovens.

1854 - John Streeter, 26 Robertson Street

Milk and Dairy Products

Farmers in the 1850’s were totally responsible for the production and retailing of dairy products, usually direct from their own farms, and in rural areas were the only source of supply. Towns also depended on the farmers from the surrounding countryside for their supplies which were supplemented by some stall-fed cows kept in the town.

Fruit & Vegetables and Fish

Small-scale retailers were entirely responsible for the retail sale of fruit / vegetables and fish in the 19th Century. It is interesting to note that according to the 1871 Census returns, the largest employer in Robertson Street with a staff of 22 men, 4 boys, plus 3 family ‘assisting in the business’ was Joseph Golding, Greengrocer, Seedsman and Gardener. Is this an indication of seafront properties now being few and far between, and that houses with large gardens etc. were being constructed further inland ?

1852 - 1854 James Meadows at No 13 (Fruiterer G/Grocer Seedsman) 1855 - James Meadows at No 10 1861 - 1878 Joseph Golding at No 12 (Fruiterer & Greengrocer)

Chocolate and Sugar Confectionery

his was a continuously expanding trade in the second half of the 19th Century, and a number of very small ‘factories’ sprang up making sweetmeats of various kinds, supplemented by the baker producing a small range of goods as a by-product of his flour confectionery trade. There was also an increase in the production of chocolate confectionery as against sugar confectionery. Products were sold in four main types of retail outlet :- 1. Grocers and general food shops selling cocoa and drinking chocolate, rose in importance as a retail outlet for eating chocolate and other manufactured sweets. 2. Bakers made and sold sugar confectionery such as marzipan and fondants as well as there flour confectionery 3. Sweetie shops of all types who catered for a wide range of different price markets, sometimes making a number of their lines at the back of the shop, and retailed them as ‘home-made’ products. 4. Other retailers such as tobacconists, newsagents, chemists etc. selling a very small range of the more popular lines.

1854 - John Streeter, 26 Robertson Street

Tobacco and Cigarettes

An expanding trade during the last half of the 19th century, mostly of small scale specialist independent retailers whose knowledge and skill of the industry was important to the consumer.

1854 - George Hiams, 7½ Robertson Street

Newspaper, Periodical and Magazine,

Stationery and Book Trades The reading of newspapers and books until the latter part of the 19th century was practically confined to the educated well-to-do classes, apart from some badly written/printed novels and single page news sheets, and only the upper classes had the literacy or available leisure time for reading or letter writing. The sale of newspapers, magazines and periodicals did not provide enough trade to enable a retailer to make a living just by selling those items, so many retailers in fixed shop premises supplemented their turnover by selling stationery, books, tobacco, cigarettes and sweets and chocolate.

1852 - Thomas Griffin, 19 Robertson Street. 1852 - 1854 - Edward Pierce at No 9 1854 - Charles Ayles, 35 Robertson street 1871 - James Parsons at No 5 (Stationer, Travel bags) 1876 - 1881 E Christopherson at No 5 (Fancy Stationer)

Clothing Trades

The clothing trade in respect of production and distribution depended entirely upon the bespoke tailor and dressmaker for the mainstay of the made-up trade, and the draper, mercer and haberdasher who sold all manner of goods to the housewife to make up clothes for herself and her family.

1852 - 1871 Thomas Weeks. (junior in 1852) at No 11 (Tailor) 1876 - 1881 H Weeks at No 11 (Tailor / Liveries to order) In addition to the above, there was the specialist retailer and clothier such as hosiers, shirtmakers, hatters, milliners and glovers who sold mostly made-up goods, although there were some bespoke goods which had been manufactured in workrooms at the back of or above the shop, or by outworkers or home workers who sewed materials supplied by the merchants. Also supplementing these outlets were the second-hand clothes shops.

1853 - 1870 - Edward Saul Barnes at No 1and 2 (Linen Draper & Milliner) 1871 - Bright & Barnes at No 1 and 2 1876 - 1878 Barnes & Goldsmith at No 1 and 2 1880 - Roddis & Goldsmith (Draper, Silk Mercer, Milliner) at No 1 and 2 1853 - 1862 - John Bevins at No 3 (Clothier & Hatter) 1867 - Jacob Naitor at No 3 (Linen Draper) 1871 - 1881 William Plummer at No 3 (Silk Mercer) 1867 - 1881 James Francis at No 8 (Draper) 1853 - 1855 Anstie Harwood at No 12 (Hosier, Haberdasher & Lace) 1852 - 1855 Mrs. Lye at No 14 (Linen Draper & Millinery) 1861 - 1881 William Bowerman at No 14 (Linen Drapers) 1852 - 1855 - Thomas Jager at No 15 (Baby Linen Warehouse) 1854 - Mrs. Pegge, 31 Robertson Street 1854 - Harwood & Co, 12 Robertson Street - Milliner 1854 - William John Syrus - 43 Robertson Street 1861 - 1876 Benjamin Thorpe at No 10 (Linen Draper)

Bespoke tailors and dressmakers worked either on materials supplied by the customer or on material selected from within their shop where all the sewing was usually done by hand, and although the invention and development of the Singer sewing machine just after the middle of the 19th century was later to transform the clothing trades, it was not until 1879 and the invention of the oscillating shuttle, that it started to have any impact. (mostly because sewing machines could now be powered, instead of treadle operated) Drapers, mercers and haberdashers on the other hand had been a feature of the retail structure for more than two centuries, many of whom sold all manner of goods to the housewife who then undertook to make up the garments for herself and family, but who also carried a wide range of piece goods of all descriptions whilst others specialized in particular goods such as silks or linens In addition to the above were the specialist retailers such as shirtmakers, hatters, milliners and glovers who sold goods which had been ‘manufactured’ in workrooms at the back or above the shop - by far the largest commercial enterprise in Robertson Street. (25% in 1852, 33% in 1862 and 35% in 1880).

The 1881 census contains over 120 persons (36.5% of total) whose occupation is listed as connected with the clothing trade and resident in the street; but many of the proprietors would have had outworkers , and assistants who did not live on the premises, so the actual figure could be even higher.

Footwear Trade

Boot and Shoe makers, cordwainers and clog makers were the producer / retailers of this handicraft trade in the middle of the 19th century, but between the middle fifties and the seventies, a series of inventions revolutionized the trade leading to the replacement of the handicraft methods by machine manufactured goods.

1852 - Henry Hibling, 13 Robertson Street 1854 - Jon Reeves, 23 Robertson Street

Chemists and Druggists

The chemist and druggist evolved from a number of different trades such as apothecaries, dispensers and physicians, and grocers who for years had sold medicines alongside herbs and spices, and it was not until the end of the 18th century that it could be classed as a distinct entity. 1841 saw the formation of the Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain which in 1843 secured a Royal Charter, and with the Pharmacy Acts of 1852 and 1868 the use of the titles ‘Pharmaceutical Chemist’ or ‘Chemist and Druggist’ or ‘Chemist’ or ‘Druggist’ was limited to persons who, after examinations conducted by the Society, had there names entered in the official register of the Society. A Schedule of Poisons was attached to this 1868 Act and the keeping of substances named within that act were restricted to registered chemists and druggists and to pharmaceutical chemists.

1852 - 1855 William Wakeman at No 16 (Chemist & Druggist) 1861 - 1862 John Alderton at No 16 (Pharm. Chemist) 1867 - 1881 Todd then Edward & Todd at No 16 (Chemist)

Jewellery, Toy, Sports, Fancy and Leather Goods

Real Jewellery and the watch and clock making trades are of great antiquity, and were in the hands of specialists; and the sale of their products was confined to the more wealthy section of the population, that is until the fancy or imitation jewellery industries developed in the late 19th century. The toy making, fancy and leather goods trade were similarly restricted to the wealthier population. The sale of these goods to the general public only developed in the 20th century.

1861 - 1862 Edward Wenham at No 15 (Saddler / Harness Maker) 1867 - 1881 W.G Hallett at No 15 (Watchmaker/Jeweller) 1852 - 1881 George Curling Hope at No 17 (Fancy, Repository) 1852 - 1854 Ebenezer Dobell at No 18 (Jeweller & Watchmaker) 1854 - Moor & Son, 32 Robertson Street 1861 - 1867 - John Murray at No 5 (Jeweller) 1878 - 1881 William Latimer at No 10 (Jeweller & Goldsmith) From the beginning, Ebenezer Dobell - later to become a councillor, occupied number 18, moving to number 21 within 3 years, after which the business stayed there for almost a century. By 1881 the street boasted no less than 8 Jewellers/Watchmakers.

Furniture and Furnishings

The demand for new furniture in the first half of the 19th century was almost exclusively by the well-to-do classes, and the production of the goods was in the hands of the craftsman retailer - the cabinet maker, who made the furniture himself and then sold it to the public. Working class people relied on furniture made by themselves, or acquired by inheritance, or by the purchase of second hand goods. In the second half of the century certain goods like iron bedsteads began to be mass produced by the iron mongers and were sold mainly to the working classes. They also purchased chests of drawers, tables, chairs and sideboards which were well constructed from wood, and were meant to last for generations.

1854 - Henry Went Tree, 41 Robertson street - Carpenter, Coal & Timber 1854 - Thomas Mann, Robertson Street,

Carver & Gilder Household Goods and Storage

Household goods are classed as articles purchased for household use and come under the general description of hardware and ironmongery, cutlery, pottery, glass and china, paints, wallpaper and brushes, oils and colours. In the second half of the 19th century, retailers handling the above range of products both for retail and wholesale were ironmongers, oil and colourmen, chandlers of various types, drysalters, blacksmiths, china and glass retailers, cutlers, plus some travelling tinkers and pedlars.

1855 - 1881 - Alderton & Shrewsbury at No 1b, 1862 at No 2 1852 - Prideaux & Co. at no 6 ( China,Glass, Earthenware) 1853 - 1855 Richard Hawkins at No 6 (Glass & China) 1861 - 1871 Robert Lye at No 6 (Glass & China) 1876 - 1881 Lye and Wheeler at No 6 (Glass & China) 1854 - Richard Hawkins, 6 Robertson Street Eating Houses & Hotels 1852 - 1855 William Smith at No 8 (Eating House) 1862 - Jabez Rogers at No 8 (Dining Room) 1854 - William Smith, 8 Robertson Street

Other prominent business’s premises include Carver & Guilder, Photographer and Artist, Boot & Shoe Maker, Ironmonger and Hardware, Chemists, Booksellers and Stationers, Pianoforte and Music warehouse, and the usual range of Butchers, Bakers and Grocers / Fruiterers, giving both a wide variety and mixture of wares and a good selection of traders to tempt the purse.

The Victorians were obsessed with death and mourning, and Hastings had now become a smart place in which to die. It was a sensible idea to simplify shopping for the bereaved by concentrating all the necessary items for complete mourning under one roof as at Bright, Barnes & Co, of numbers 1-2, and Plummer, Roddis & Beecroft of number 7 Robertson street respectively, where they both had a ‘mourning warehouse’ and declared that ‘Family and Servants Mourning’ would be conducted with ‘strict regard to ceremony combined with respectability and attention.’

The industrial wealth of England, so proudly on view at the Great Exhibition of 1851, was creating a new spending population, a middle class in which enormous importance was attached to the signs and symbols of prosperity : expensive clothes, handsome household furnishings, carriages, servants, a large establishment and a prodigious number of children - all of which were evident in Robertson Street.

Advertisements in the local newspapers and commercial / street directories indicate the clientele the traders were hoping to attract, plus they also give a good indication as to the range of goods stocked and the standing of the business in the community.

I Hope (Berlin Wool’s, Silks Etc.) of 17 Robertson Street “respectfully solicits the ladies, visitors to Hastings and St. Leonards, to favour him with a call at his new premises which he has built and fitted to the requirements of his business and has rendered replete with every necessity for the lady’s work-table” whilst John Lye (Silk, Shawl and Millinery Warehouse) of 14 Robertson Street “begs leave to apprise the residents and visitors of Hastings and its environs that he has just returned from London with a new and fashionable stock of Silks, Satins, Shawls, Parasols, Millinery etc., together with a splendid assortment of dresses which embrace every novelty, fashion, design and manufacture” and Mr. G A Thorpe, Family Boot and Shoe Depot had “The largest and best stock of boots and shoes in Hastings & St. Leonards” at his Robertson Street premises.

James Burton in the design for his new and exclusive town of St. Leonards had allowed for a parade of 15 shops on the seafront called “The Colonnade.” The range of goods available between 1848 and 1871 were mostly the normal day to day requirements consisting of Butchers, Grocers, Fismongers, etc, with non of the specialist shops (except 1 Jeweller/Watchmaker and 1 Straw Bonnet Maker) that provided the refinements required by the Nobility and Gentry, including members of various Royal Households, that now had summer and winter residences in fashionable St. Leonards. This failure on the part of the Burtons to provide adequate shopping facilities, helped to ensure the commercial success of the traders in Robertson Street, where a large range and variety of shops was available to meet the needs of both residents and visitors alike. Several “By Royal Appointment” notices were now appearing in advertisements in commercial and street directories as well as the Royal Coat of Arms appearing above retail premises. Conclusions

It would appear from the evidence collected todate, that the few established traders who moved to the new shopping street adjacent to the railway station, were wary of how they would trade, and therefore kept open existing commercial premises in other parts of the town including St. Leonards. Many established family surnames were evident in the new street, but comparing street and commercial directories with the census indicate that they were in fact sons, brothers, or other relatives.

Comparing Osbornes 1852 guide with the 1861 Census we find 16% of commercial enterprises came from the old town, (10 of 64) and 11% came from other parts of the Borough (7 of 64) with the remaining 83% migrating from other parts of Sussex and elsewhere. Of those 10 traders, only 4 had long established business’s, the other 6 arriving in the town at about the same time as work began on Roberston Street, but the 7 other establishments had been in the town as early as 1817 and at the latest 1838.

Further research would need to be done using guides/directories etc. on a yearly basis as against relying on only 7 over a 30+ years period, (1848,52,55,62,67,71 and 81) coupled with the 4 Census returns over the same period, to further verify the findings. Would further research into the trading patterns of the Old Town indicate they were waiting for the railway extension to reach them, or did they just fail to adapt quickly enough to the changing pattern of trade?

On a final note, two of the first traders in Robertson Street were, William Wellerd - Butcher, and Thomas Weeks - Tailor, followed at a later date by Mark Boykett Breeds - Merchant. They were all listed in the 1828 Crown survey document as having established premises on the America Ground prior to its clearance in 1835. Are they now classed as migrants to the new Robertson Street or have they just “Returned Home”?.


For Sale - Lot 2 - 30 Robertson Street (3rd August 1852) Dwelling House and Shop in the occupation of Mr. Dickinson, as lessee for a term of 14 years from 29th September 1852, determinable by the lessee at the end of the first seven years of the said term, at the low rent of £80 per annum. This lot is leasehold, for an unexpired term of 96 years, from the 24th June 1852 at a ground rent of £14. The premises are in thorough repair, and are well drained; they command a first rate situation, and one that is likely to improve for business. This lot is sold subject to a mortgage thereof for securing £600, and interest at 5%, and another mortgage for securing £300 and interest at 5%.

For Sale - Lot 3 - 31 Robertson Street Dwelling House and Shop let to Mr. E.M.Pegge, on lease for a term of 14 years from 25th Dec 1852, determinable by the lessee at the end of the first seven years of the said term, at the low rent of £80 per annum. This lot adjoins Lot 2, is leasehold, under a lease similar in all respects to that of Lot 2, and is in every respect equally advantageous. This lot is sold subject to the same mortgage for £600, and to another mortgage for securing £200.

For Sale - 30 Robertson Street (4th June 1863) The property comprises in the basement, Housekeeper’s room, large kitchen, washhouse, two good cellars, yard and back entrance. On the ground floor, excellent shop, with plate-glass front, back sitting room, spacious hall and private entrance. On the second, third and fourth-pair floors, a large drawing room and seven lofty bed rooms. The premises having been built but a few years, are in excellent repair. They are held for the residue of a term of 96 years, commencing the 4th June 1852, subject to the yearly rent of £14, and to the conditions contained in the Lease, a copy of which will be produced at the sale. The premises are let to a good tenant, at the yearly rent of £120, who holds the same for a term of 14 years, commencing 25th December 1859


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