Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Hastings, East Sussex

The orthodox story goes something like this. Technologies such as the production of cheap steel and the first safety elevators (pioneered by Elisha Graves Otis in 1852), combined with the effects of the devastating city fire in Chicago in 1871, stimulated the demand for tall buildings that were quick to build. The skyscraper was born, and this kind of tall, functional, frame-structured office building now dominates land-strapped cities everywhere.

But here’s a different story. In 1834 the first groynes were built on the coast at Hastings, bringing about a movement of shingle that created a small new beach near the Old Town. Fishermen who needed somewhere to store their nets colonized this beach, but their numbers were so great and the area of shingle so small that they each had an area only eight feet or so square to build on. Their solution was to build upwards, using a wooden framework structure to create these netshops, tall and black and functional. They have been a unique part of the waterfront at Hastings ever since.

So remember how elevator-inventor Otis, steel man Bessemer, and Chicago architects like William Le Baron Jenney invented the tall office building. But remember also how the fishermen of Hastings invented their own, very British, kind of skyscraper, as right for the job as the Empire State or the Seagram Building are for theirs – and rather better than Canary Wharf.

With thanks to Marcus Weeks and Ann Kramer for reintroducing me to the netshops and to their marvellous town.

1 comment:

Peter Ashley said...

And just a pebble throw from these huts is a delightful cliff railway with strawberries-and-cream coloured cars. Amazingly not used as yet in Foyle's War.