Did William the Conqueror land his horses in Hastings?

Did William the Conqueror build a mound called The Hallaway as a way of landing his horses?

That is the question asked by reader Peter Reynolds after spotting an article from the Hastings Observer on the early days of Wellington Square.

That nostalgia piece was part of an ongoing series by Ion Castro, published in July 2017, and it contained a contemporary sketch map from 1798, one of the earliest maps of the area.

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Peter said: “I noticed your map of 1798 Hastings has an area marked as ‘The Hallaway’. I also noticed the same structure on a print of the castle looking down on the beach.

A contemporary sketch map from 1798, and one of the earliest maps of the area - today’s town centre does not exist

“On a 1770 map of Hastings by Yeakell and Gardner, the beach area is very specifically marked with two lagoons - not Priory Water, which is also shown as a separate area of water.

“I have a painting of the area at high tide from White Rock in 1797 by Joseph Farington looking like the whole area is covered by sea and another similar 1784 painting by Hieronymous Grimm showing The Hallaway as a mound in front of the buildings shown on your map.

“On maps by John Speed c1600, the area is called ‘Hastings haven’, implying it is still used. The area around the houses is also marked on Yeakell map as ‘Ruins Of Hastings’, marked on the beach at exactly the site of The Hallaway.

“I wondered if William the Conqueror could have either built it, or having seen it in person prior to 1066, could have identified it as a way of landing his horses. The site looks perfect for his landing - in the 1797 painting, the sea is calm on the beach, whilst to seaward, boats are heeling in the wind, so a sheltered haven.

Peter Reynolds' adaptation of the contemporary sketch map from 1798

“Has anybody excavated this Hallaway? Could it go back to Saxon or even earlier times? There is another lithograph showing the area at the foot of the castle as a series of steps, presumably natural. Could they have been a part of a port structure? On your map, a ‘Boum’ is also marked. Could this be a part of the same technology?

“What’s against William landing here? He might have kept the landing site to himself, personally, built his navy specifically to use this beach, unchanged since 1066 in 1797, later under the America Ground. It would have been unexpected at the time and unopposed, perhaps too shallow for regular large warships.

“For all the reasons it might not have been, or might not now be assumed, suitable, would have made it an unopposed landing site in 1066. Moreover, he wouldn’t want anybody to know where it was after 1066. Hence Pevensey being mis-information.”

Peter has also seen a map from 1827 where the cliff is marked ‘Cut’ and wonders if the spoil was being used to reclaim the seafront and beach.

Hastings on Yeakell and Gardner's map of Sussex 1778-1783 is shown to be largely confined to the Bourne Valley

He added: “Also of interest is that the area occupied by The Hallaway is marked ‘Ruins of Hastings’ and not ‘Ruins of Castle’, as it also refers specifically to another castle to the west, implying the ruins of Hastings were in fact at the foot of the castle hill, on what is now beach, before Hastings was extended circa 1800.

“Could William have unloaded his horses there, possibly having seen it done there in person prior to 1066? What is the main objection to William having landed at what today is Hastings?

“I am thinking that all the logical reasons why William would not have landed on Hastings beach would make it all the more likely that he did, given that the most important aspect of his invasion would have been that he landed unopposed and, moreover, he must have been absolutely sure of being able to land his horses.”

Peter Reynolds has marked up this 1786 print of Hastings Castle, published by Alex Hogg, to highlight The Hallaway