The 'lower' working class were distinguished from the 'upper' by having less education, no
pretensions to gentility, fewer resources or opportunities and, in some cases, simply less luck.
Unlike many other towns, Hastings had no large industry except fishing,
a male occupation. Some women prepared and sold fish, or made and repaired nets, but most
lower-working class women were engaged in servicing the wealthy residents and visitors in
one way or another. Roughly half of all employed women in Hastings were in
domestic service. Others were barmaids,
waitresses and chambermaids. In 1860 there were strikes by some of the town's
While 'upper' working class women rented shops, the 'lower' hawked on the streets and
beaches. They sold flowers, toffee apples, ice cream, cold drinks, shrimps, oysters and
whelks, and offered donkey and goat rides and even fortune-telling, sometimes by budgerigar.
For some late nineteenth-century photographs click here.
For recreation they crowded into taverns, the women joining in the noisy revelry.
Drunkenness was a problem, as was violence. For examples see the Hastings'
newspaper reports from the 1850s.
One of the problems in Hastings was the seasonal nature of women's work in the town: in the winter
months many who made a living from selling goods and services to visitors
had no income. A good number were obliged to accept charity or to
rely on almost-as-poor relations. Some slipped permanently into the underclass.
Low-class prostitution was rife throughout the mid-century and Hastings
had its share.
Top - A poor blind woman selling flowers on the steps of a shop in Hastings.
Middle - Nancy Page (1767-1849) was All Saints' Carnival Queen in her 70s.
Bottom - A poor family at the East Well, Hastings. Photo: George Woods