Sad demise of Hastings pub that was railwayman’s favourite and an early cinema

One of the most historic pubs in Hastings town centre could vanish forever and be replaced by flats.

Royal George pub Hastings SUS-200127-120729001
Royal George pub Hastings SUS-200127-120729001

The Royal George, on the corner of Station Road, by Priory Meadow, was once a firm favourite with railway workers and those watching cricket being played at the Central Cricket Ground.

It was also used as a cinema before the First World War.

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The Royal George Pub in Hastings (photo from Google Maps Street View)

Local pub historian David Russell, in his excellent history of Hastings pubs, writes: “The Royal George was a pub associated with Hastings railway station and its employees, and with the former Central Cricket Ground.

“It was originally an ordinary beerhouse serving the staff and passengers of the railway station, which opened in 1851. It was granted a full licence in 1864 and the first landlord was George William Thwaites. In his application he claimed his pub was different from the Old Golden Cross, which opened in 1857. “We cater for the middle class excursionists”, he said, implying a hint of snobbery.

“The pub seemed to have got off to a good start, selling 400 barrels of malt liquor in its first year. But the idea that it was a middle class house quickly evaporated when it developed a reputation as a ‘house visited by tradesmen on tramp’, particularly bricklayers, carpenters and plasterers, who travelled between towns looking for work. Whether they lodged in the pub is unknown.

“Other customers were day visitors who arrived by train and who could legally be served as ‘bona fide travellers’ outside normal hours. The pubs were open to them on the production of a rail ticket. In the 1860s Hastings’ magistrates complained that public houses, particularly those near railway stations, were being kept open on Sundays because of excursionists.

“The Royal George was also a railwaymen’s pub and by the early 1890s it had become the meeting place of the Hastings branch of the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants. The members campaigned for a ‘fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work’ and for a reduction of the long hours worked on the railways at that time.

“In 1899 the pub applied for a 6 am licence, to be extended to 5 am in summer. This was in order to serve the employees of the station and of the goods yard opposite, some of whom worked all night and, as the landlord said, were entitled to an early morning pub as much as the workers in the fish market were. The application was refused.

“Before the First World War, the Royal George was granted a licence to put on ‘cinematograph performances’. A first floor function room, with 70 seats, was used to show early films but this apparently ceased in December 1912.

“During the First World War the government was particularly concerned about the amount of alcohol being consumed and in 1915 announced several measures it believed would reduce alcohol consumption. A ‘No Treating Order’ stipulated that people could not buy drinks for each other, especially soldiers. The following year the landlord of the Royal George was cautioned and a customer was fined a massive £5 for supplying a Canadian soldier with two quarts [four pints] of beer.

“In 1964 Watney’s set up a pub football league in Hastings and customers of the Royal George, the Old England and the Belmont formed the first organising committee. This football tradition continued for many years and was later organised by Roger Povey.

In the late 1980s the pub briefly changed its name to Grace’s Wine Bar before becoming the Priory in 2,000. Since then it was briefly Frank’s Front Room, before reverting to its original name of the Royal George.

In an application submitted to Hastings Borough Council, developers are seeking planning permission to create eight new flats by re-developing The Royal George, which is on the corner of Station Road and Devonshire Road.

According to the applicant, the building is no longer viable as a pub and has been vacant for six of the last ten years. It was most recently vacated in July 2019 and has been empty since.