Landing in England in 1066, William of Normandy erected two castles on the south coast in quick succession. Pevensey Castle was the first, with Hastings Castle being constructed shortly before the great battle that changed the course of English history. Originally Hastings Castle would have been a simple wooden fort built on an earthen motte, and it is believed that these basic structures were transported by William, in pre-fabricated form, as part of his supplies.
William was crowned on Christmas Day 1066, and by 1070 had issued orders for Hastings Castle, together with the new St Mary's Chapel, to be rebuilt in stone. The Count of Eu held Hasting Castle for most of the Norman period, although at one time King John ordered the castles destruction to stop it falling into the hands of the Dauphin Louis. Henry III was to re-fortify the castle in c1220, and Hastings Castle flourished until fate took a hand in 1287.
For many months the south coast had been ravaged by violent storms until eventually the soft sandstone cliffs succumbed to the elements, and large sections of the face collapsed into the sea taking parts of Hastings Castle with it. At the same time many of the traditional coastal ports were being abandoned as the coastline changed, and this caused the harbours to silt up. Hastings suffered the same fate, leaving the castle abandoned and the town poor, with only the church continuing.
In 1339, and again in 1377 during the Hundred Years War, the town was attacked by the French and severely damaged. Many houses were burned to the ground and buildings were robbed and decimated. Throughout the next century the cliff erosion remained unchecked, and gradually more of Hastings Castle was lost to the sea. In the mid 16th century Hastings Castle received its final blow when Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries. His commissioners seized the land, lead, bells and anything else of value, leaving the now exposed buildings to decay. The land was purchased by the local Pelham family and used for farming until the sparse remains of the castle and church became so completely overgrown that they were lost from memory.
In 1824 the fragmented remains were rediscovered and excavated. Finds included several coffins and well-preserved remains within a surviving vault. Repairs to the structure were carried out, a section of the north wall and a church archway rebuilt, and the site became a favourite attraction for the many Victorians visiting the revitalised seaside towns of southern England.
Hastings was a target during the Second World War, with bombing raids causing further destruction to the town and the castle. In 1951 the Hastings Corporation purchased the site and consolidated it to become the historical attraction that remains today. The ruins, along with the Smugglers Caves and Victorian cliff railway, make Hastings a typical seaside town with a difference, and a great family day out.