Accommodation providers

© Helena Wojtczak
From the time Hastings started to become a resort for visitors, women have supplied them with accommodation.

In the earliest days, this would be a 'serviced' room in a private house. 'Serviced' meant not only that meals were provided, but that the landlady would be on call at the ring of a bell to bring refreshments or provide whatever domestic comfort was required.

Later women owned commercial boarding-houses and lodging-houses, inns, pubs and even hotels.


Pigot's directory of 1823 reveals that one in three of Hastings' three hotels was licensed to a woman. Sarah Smith had been landlady-by-marriage of The Crown, Courthouse Street, since 1794. When widowhood left her with seven children in 1814 she applied for the licence and continued until 1832, total of 38 years. It was a coaching inn, with stabling for 28 horses and room for 12 carriages, extending all the way up Crown Lane to Tackleway. Powell's Guide of 1831 was very complimentary, remarking that Mrs. Smith deserves particular commendation and support, as being the firstů to add to the accommodation of Visitors by every species of comfort, neatness, and domestic attention. In 1840 The Crown was being offered for sale, suggesting that Mrs. Smith had retired or died.

The Conqueror Hotel, one of the earliest in St Leonards, was managed by Mrs. Collins in the 1830s before the license was transferred to Mrs. Sarah Johnson, who was held in high regard: Robert Hollond MP chose to stay there on many occasions, and she was contracted to provide the catering for a huge political banquet in 1841, held in a series of marquees on Priory Meadows. T. B. Brett recalled that, after carrying on the hotel for some time with remarkable energy, [she] converted it into a boarding house. Even then, the success of the establishment was perhaps less thorough than its spirited proprietress desired, and, as this was not the only estate in St Leonards over which she had command, the original Conqueror became a Brunswick in other hands and was further reduced to the rank of a private lodging house, and later run by Mrs. Gates.

The four most prestigious hotels of 19th century Hastings - the Royal Oak, the Swan, the Castle and the Albion - had female proprietors at some point. The first Royal Oak was at Oak Hill, at the southern end of the High Street. After this closed a second Royal Oak opened at Castle Street, with Ann Sargent as licensee from 1825 until 1829; she had been licensee of the Hastings Arms from 1821-2. In 1864 Ann Yates held the license of the Royal Oak but by the end of the year she had retired and moved to London. She retained ownership of the pub, leasing it to subsequent licensees, one of whom was Alice Darke, who appears in the 1871 Census as its licensee at the surprisingly young age of 22.

The Castle Hotel opened in 1807 as Emary's Castle Inn Family Hotel. Both Frances and Susan Emary were listed in directories and advertisements as proprietors. In 1855, for example, Miss Frances Emary was proprietor of "The Castle Hotel & Posting House, Wellington square."

The Swan Hotel had for centuries been Hastings' foremost coaching inn, public house and hotel, enjoying a prominent position in the High Street. Every important social and civic function was held there, including sumptuous dinners, fascinating lectures and glittering musical entertainments.

Among its licensees were at least six women, including Mrs. Hay (1642), Mercy Grove (1726-29), Widow Gurr (1751) and Henrietta Collier (c. 1836-1841).

The hey-day of the Swan was the mid-19th century. Its finest hour came when it was chosen as the venue for a famous banquet in 1850 in honour of the Lord Mayor of London, a native of Hastings.

Secondary sources habitually cite William Carswell's name in connection with the Swan in the 19th century, yet his wife Elizabeth was landlady for over 30 years while her husband was landlord for only 17 years. After his death in 1858 Carswell's estate passed to his wife, who was granted a transfer of license. Under her management, the Swan maintained its high reputation and in 1859 it was chosen to provide a magnificent banquet in honour of the Bishop of Chichester and 80 other dignitaries.

In 1871 Elizabeth Carswell received a special presentation from prominent townspeople on the occasion of her 30th anniversary as landlady. In November 1872, she applied to magistrates for a permit to remain open till midnight for the forthcoming Mayor's Banquet. The Mayor himself heard the application - and, oddly enough, he declined it! Owing to ill-health Mrs. Carswell retired in 1873 and died a year later at her home, 9 High Street, leaving her estate to her sister and nieces.

The Castle Hotel

The Castle Hotel (far left) showing its position in relation to Wellington Square.

Barbara Bodichon

Bessie Rayner Parkes

Marianne North

Dr Sophia Jex Blake

Dr Elizabeth Blackwell

Elizabeth Eiloart

Dr Anna Kingsford

Site map