Battle of Hastings Anniversary Celebrations
The date in history that is most deeply engraved in the minds of generations of British schoolchildren – more so even than the start of World War II or the Coronation of the Queen – is 1066. Nine hundred and fifty years ago, on 14 October, the Battle of Hastings took place: the last time England was successfully invaded by a foreign power. If you want to get an idea of how far-reaching the impact of the Norman Conquest was, try reading Beowulf in the original Anglo-Saxon: ‘Hwæt! We Gardena in geardagum, þeodcyninga, þrym gefrunon, hu ða æþelingas ellen fremedon,’ is the first line. Baffled? This was what was spoken in England until French became the official language of the court, and thereafter started to merge with the indigenous tongue.
When you see the rolling green fields and vineyards of tranquil East Sussex, two hours from London, it’s hard to imagine this as the site of the most important conflict in British history. But this year on 15-16 October, in the town now known as Battle just outside Hastings, you can see the focal point of the celebrations, when more than 1,066 Norman and Saxon ‘soldiers’ gather for a huge re-enactment. If it seems strange to celebrate being conquered, remember that the Norman invaders became, simply, the British establishment, and their descendants united to repulse Spanish troops, Napoleonic troops and Nazi planes.
An Eventful Weekend
On 14 October itself, the Concorde 1066 commemoration includes a parade by schoolchildren and re-enactors at 2.30pm, a church service at 3pm and a marching band at 5.30pm-6.30pm. Activities on 15 Oct, including archery, longboats and storytelling, culminate in a procession, bonfire and fireworks.
On 16 Oct, cheer on the runners in the Race to Battle, 17 miles from Pevensey Castle along the 1066 Way Footpath, and see the unveiling of the People’s Tapestry – a huge patchwork quilt with each panel designed by a local resident, echoing the great Bayeux Tapestry which vividly captured the Battle of Hastings.
Sights And Attractions
You don’t have to visit during the 1066 weekend to appreciate the area’s rich history. Battle Abbey was built by William the Conqueror on the site of the battle; its high altar marks the spot where the vanquished King Harold fell, supposedly struck in the eye by an arrow. Nothing remains but a plaque on the floor, but the abbey’s outbuildings still stand, and the ruins are so atmospheric that Black Sabbath filmed a rock video here. Go to the visitor centre, part of the displays at the award-winning exhibition about the Battle of Hastings.
This is an area that also looks to the future. Nearby Hastings is a thriving seaside community which has seen a big influx of young artists in recent years, drawn perhaps by the opening of the Jerwood modern art gallery in 2012. The spectacular Victorian pier, damaged by fire in 2010, reopened better than ever in April after
a £14m redevelopment, with 3,000 loyal locals buying shares at £100 each, while a derelict space by the seafront was turned into the world’s largest underground skate park, the Source Park, this year. Even the Old Town, despite its historic black timbers and ‘twittens’ (narrow lanes), has boutique shops, such as Shirley Leaf & Petal, which specialises in artificial flowers and masks.
Where To Eat
You’re by the sea, so it’s got to be seafood. Under the guidance of chef Paul Webbe, Webbe’s Rock-a-Nore sources its fish locally, where possible, from Europe’s largest fleet of beach-launched fishing boats. It also has a lovely outdoor terrace for when the weather is fine.
Where To Stay
You’re spoilt for choice when it comes to B&Bs with a designer twist. The Printworks, a studio space for artists, has four beautiful bedrooms.
A little more upmarket is the stylish boutique Zanzibar Hotel, which has rooms with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the sea. Rooms are themed on different countries – book the South America one if you are having a romantic getaway. Its restaurant Pier 9 serves award-winning duck, sea bass and plaice; you can dine while listening to live music.
How To Get There
London Victoria to Hastings takes two hours.