Section of the poster for the musical designed by Stephen Roberts PrattSection of the poster for the musical designed by Stephen Roberts Pratt
Section of the poster for the musical designed by Stephen Roberts Pratt

New musical tells story of the America Ground in Hastings

A brilliant new musical production written by and starring local people will get its premiere this month.

​What started as a vision by local pub landlord Bob Tipler, shared with playwright John Knowles has become reality thanks to a grant from Historic England and local funding.

It tells the story of The America Ground, a piece of land close to where Hastings town centre is now, that was an open piece of beach, beyond the borough boundary and with no obvious owner. It was gradually occupied, in the early 19th century by more than a thousand who lived and worked there rent free – until they were evicted by the government in 1835. Some of them, lived in upturned boats converted into homes. They had declared they were an independent state and raised the American flag in defiance.

The musical is a romp through the true history of the America Ground, with a sharp satirical eye on what is happening in Hastings now. It features a musical journey through riots, drinking, mayhem and sea shanties in a bid to capture the unique spirit of the town. It features talented local musicians and actors as well as actor and musician Danny Horn, who won acclaim for his portrayal of Ray Davies in hit west end musical, Sunny Afternoon, charting the early years of The Kinks.

Bob said: I have always been intrigued by the story of the America Ground and used to run a business there for a long time. I have also been aware of how difficult the housing situation has become in Hastings in the last five years with rent unaffordable. We have almost 1,0000 empty houses, 500 Air B&B’s and 1,000 people living in temporary accommodation. I am told there is a six year waiting list for a three bedroomed family home. Back in the early 19th century people had the same problems with a shortage of houses and lots of people moving to the town.

"I came up with some songs and spoke to John who then wrote the plot and script. We then had to look to getting funding. Hastings Commons approached Historic England for us and we were able to get a grant. The local Magdalen and Lasher charity also helped and we got some funding from local businesses, including my own business The Albion pub.

It covers a lot of things, some quite dark, including smuggling and a triangular relationship between three people. It is a human story as well as weaving in actual historical events that took place in Hastings.”

The musical takes a hefty wipe at Southern Water and also mentions DFL’s – the acronym for down from London.

John added: “This has been an incredibly creative process that has changed and been adapted as we go, to incorporate good idea. We even have a DFL in the cast who is playing a DFL. It has been hard as we have no set place to rehearse so we have been moving from venue to venue having to transport props and costumes with us.

"The musical shows a genuine love for the town and at the end of the day I think we are still crying out for some revolution and positive change.

Bob and John are offering the songs for local schools to use after the show for a six month period, so they can put on their own version.

Local actress Molly Hemsley said: “I am really excited for this. It’s a great production. I was born in Hastings and grew up here, yet I learned so much about the town that I did not know before.”

It is being performed at the old Observer building in Cambridge Road. The opening night on June 27 has already sold out with tickets still available for June 28 and 29 and a matinee on June 29.

For tickets go here