Fishwives and knitted herrings

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Swan House is classic Hastings. Go past the Tourist Information centre and Iceland, keep walking to Argos and George Street, then climb up some narrow, cobbled steps to Hill Street. Swan House is adjacent to the 15th-century St Clement’s Church. The house itself dates back to 1490. Its Sussex-tiled roof, wattle and daub walls, inglenook fireplace with carved stone Tudor arch, oak panels and beams continue the trip back through history. There is even 15th-century built-in shelving for DVDs and books. Contemporary touches bring back to mind the vintage boutiques and organic delis that proliferate in the old town. On fair days, breakfast is in a courtyard that houses bananas, ferns and succulents that suck up the mild seaside air.

©Ioana Marinescu

Jerwood Gallery – Photograph by Ioana Marinescu

There is a decidedly DFL (Down-from-London) feel. The stained-glass skylight in my attic bedroom and chandlery-rope light pulls hint again at the tumble-down houses, pubs and junk shops that continue the trompe-l’oeil effect of olde-worlde dilapidation. But they are clever design features figuring an approach to regeneration and restoration that is unobtrusively modern. The owners of Swan House, like the developers of Jerwood Gallery, my next stop, are sensitive to history.

Dining Table

Dining table

“The best thing about the Jerwood is the views,” said the waitress as she handed me my locally-sourced omelette. Even the artists on display would not argue with that. The architecture has allowed for the picturesque surroundings to come to life along the gallery walls. It is like watching a video installation. The miniature railway that snakes along the beach can be seen puffing past the Grand Union Canal by Prunella Clough and Brighton Pier by Edward Bawden.

The current show Drawn Together: Artist as Selector celebrates the 20th anniversary of the Jerwood Drawing Prize. The exhibition focuses on Michael Craig-Martin, Cornelia Parker and Rachel Whiteread. Quentin Blake steals the show with his own responses to his favourite artists from the collection. His drawings gaily sketch in the stories of artists like Walter Sickert and Prunella Clough.

Church Room

Church room

Outside the gallery is another nod to the past. Fishwives and herring lasses who worked as gutting crews are honoured in a full-scale, knitted boat. Shoals of knitted herrings fill a massive knitted wave that lies alongside it. Over 1,000 hours of knitting power created the exhibition. Across the knitted wave, I reached Strade beach.
The sky had resumed its morning greyness, and the sea was like pewter. Boats and the tide were coming in. intrepid bathers led the way, and once inside it, the sea lit up like silver.

The sun had found its whiteness. I looked back to the fishing fleet, timber net huts and smoke houses. Up above and in the distance was the chalky cliff face and West Hill lift that leads to the castle. I only needed fisherfolk dressed in period costume to saunter past in order to complete the scene. At moments like this, Hastings has not left its past behind it, and yet is keeping up with the townies. The English seaside resort is far from dead.



by Lilian Pizzichini

Drawn Together: Artist as Selector and Quentin Blake: Artists on the Beach, run until Wednesday  October 15. Both exhibitions are part of the summer Jerwood Drawing Festival at the Jerwood Gallery, Rock-a-Nore Road, Hastings East Sussex TN34 3DW

Swan House, Hill Street, Hastings TN34 3HU