Hastings is lovely! If you haven’t been before then you should check it out, and an excellent time to do so is during the annual Jack in the Green festival, which includes traditional dancing outside the recently opened Jerwood Gallery by HAT Projects.
The gallery sits on the seafront, which has seen £9 million spent on its refurbishment but which sparked protests among residents during the process. For me, anyone who can’t see the value in having a landmark gallery such as the Jerwood in their town is being naive. I wouldn’t have visited the town had it not been for the gallery, and I would have missed out on the many other delights it has to offer, including excellent fish and chips, lovely views from the hills overlooking the Old Town, narrow streets packed with excellent shops and interesting museums focusing on local history.
The gallery itself has a great deal going for it too. The rather monolithic form is unashamedly modern but not in any way offensive or outrageous. Its surface is covered in shimmering iridescent black tiles that reference the colour of the traditional net shops nearby but also have an oily, industrial quality, which seems appropriate on the edge on a piece of shore that hosts Britain’s largest beach-launched fishing fleet.
Inside, the spaces are quietly decorated in subtle, reliable materials that don’t detract from the Jerwood’s fine and diverse collection of modern British art, while show-stealing views of the beach and the town are exquisitely framed in carefully placed windows. Although some of the spaces feel slightly cramped, these are mainly dedicated to smaller works, which might get lost on larger walls. In all, it is a successful building that works within its context and delivers an experience that is enjoyable and appropriate, with enough confidence to still be memorable.
The space outside the gallery is designated for public use and events, and acted as the hub for the activities during the Jack in the Green festival, which takes takes place over the weekend of the May bank holiday and celebrates the arrival of spring through decorative garlands that appear all over the town and displays of Morris dancing and other traditional dances.
These stylish gents were among the many characters dressed for the occasion and helping to bring a carnival atmosphere to what is otherwise a sleepy seaside town.
These tall wooden structures are the net shops; a building type unique to Hastings that house the gear of the town’s fishermen. Occupying a piece of land between the town and where the tide once reached, they have a small footprint to cut down their rent and squeeze as many in as possible and are built tall so the nets can be hung up to dry at the end of the day’s fishing.
A funicular railway is one way to ascend the hill behind the net shops, from which it is possible to look down upon the town and across the valley to the ruins of the castle.
The Jerwood Gallery and surrounding development have helped to put Hastings on the cultural map and adds to the appeal of this corner of south east England, which already boasts Mendelsohn and Chermayeff’s De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill on Sea and the Towner Gallery in nearby Eastbourne. There’s plenty in Hastings for a good day out and, if the weather doesn’t favour you then head to the Jerwood and enjoy art and architecture working in synergy.