Archive for the Hastings Category

The Sweet Shop & Tobacconist, Hastings

Posted in Hastings, History with tags on November 14, 2012 by mysearchformagic

We’re back in Hastings Old Town this week, one of my favourite magical hunting grounds. Despite becoming increasingly fashionable, particularly with Londoners looking for a quieter, more characterful place to live, much of Hastings is stuck in time. On a recent visit I came across the charming Sweet Shop and Tobacconist,  located at 15 George Street.

Even from the outside it is obvious that the Sweet Shop and Tobacconist is something special, but its colourful window display only hints at the wonders which lie within.

Sweet Shop and Tobacconist, Hastings

The interior is an Aladdin’s cave of confectionary, filled to the rafters with jars, boxes, tubs and cabinets, all of them brimming with candy. Most importantly, the shop fittings are a wonderful reminder of days gone by, a trip back in time not just to my childhood, but to the childhoods of generations before me. Every inch of spare space is decorated with bright labels and logos, many of them dating back decades. Even the idea of selling tobacco and sweets in the same shop now seems quaintly outdated, and certainly wouldn’t meet with the approval of today’s healthy lifestyle puritans, but this shop is a temple to indulgent pleasure. It’s not a museum,  and it’s certainly not a ‘heritage’ reconstruction, this Sweet Shop and Tobacconist is a working business which has thankfully resisted the pressure to modernise. It stocks an astonishing range of products, some of them run of the mill, some of them decidedly unusual. As well as the normal chocolate bars that you might find in any local newsagents, its walls are lined with jars of delicious sweets which many of today’s children will never have encountered. Its cigarette range is luxury, featuring exotic brands such as Sobranie Black Russians and Ziganov Vanilla and there is a large selection of snuff,  while the wide array of cigars is stored in a large, richly scented humidor.

Sweet Shop and Tobacconist, Hastings
‘An Aladdin’s Cave of candy’

A visit to the Sweet Shop and Tobacconist is a trip down memory lane for many, and a wonderfully evocative experience even for those too young to remember the days of sweetie jars and quarter pound paper bags of sugary delights. So far I have tried to avoid nostalgia on my search for magic, but this week I have jumped in head first, and relished the chance to wallow in my own past. Nigel Slater explored the magical potential of sweets to bring back long forgotten memories, both good and bad, in his recent TV show Life is Sweets. After a visit to Hastings’ Sweet Shop and Tobacconist, you’ll know exactly what he means.

In case you are wondering, I plumped for a bag of Rhubarb and Custard.

Tasty, nostalgic magic!


Bonfire Night, Hastings

Posted in Hastings, Sussex with tags , , on October 17, 2012 by mysearchformagic

With its steep, winding lanes, ruined castle and rickety old houses, Hastings is an atmospheric, if rather sleepy town every day of the year. But for one night every October the residents of the ancient  fishing port and many of the other towns nearby get together to celebrate bonfire night in an orgy of noise and flame. The resulting torch-lit parade, beach bonfire and firework display are loud, smoky, colourful and most definitely magical.

The Hastings Guy

The best place to catch the long parade is on one of the narrow streets in Hastings Old Town. All Saints’ Street has the benefit of a raised pavement which gives a great view over the passing revellers. At the head of the procession stands the huge, rather spooky Guy, followed by a long shambling line of locals,  most in fancy dress of some strange sort or another. Many also carry burning torches and some let off terrifying fire crackers and flares that burn with a hot pink glow.The  noise of marching drummers is almost deafening. The stink of burning torches mingles with the town’s normal aromas of sea breeze and chip shop grease, and burning embers and smoke fill the chill night air. The crowds cheer on the procession from the pavement and from packed windows above, gasping at the theatrical antics of a tattooed fire eater or waving at passing friends.

Burning Flares in the Hastings Bonfire Night Procession

Down by the seafront the crowds are even larger, filling the wide promenade as the procession reaches its destination on the pebbly beach. The huge pyre has taken days to build, and despite a few hours of intermittent rain during the afternoon, it doesn’t take long for it to catch light as the torch-bearers pitch their burning sticks onto it. Within minutes it has grown into the largest, hottest, and most scary inferno I have ever seen, the long flames leaping high into the night sky.

The Bonfire, Hastings Beach

An impressive fire works display is a spectacular end to a truly magical evening. If you are wondering why the people of Hastings can’t wait until the 5th November along with the rest of us, the answer is that the celebrations also mark the anniversary of the famous battle which took place nearby on the 14th October 1066. With its pagan imagery and wild atmosphere, the Hastings bonfire night is an event like no other. And while many of my previous posts have featured my solitary search for magic in quiet places which lie forgotten and off the beaten track, this weekend I discovered it in a town filled with noise and people.

Magic, it seems, can take many forms and be found in diverse, often surprising locations.