Cliff End, Toot Rock & Pett Level aerial view from the south. Date? 1930s; although there are sea defences in front of the houses, the sea wall eastwards has not yet been built. At the eastern end of the groynes is a feature that intrigues me: a pale area that looks like a wash of shingle left by flooding – in fact here it looks as if the (recently installed?) groynes had directed the tide around that end. In another photo (immediately below) there appears to be a new wall plugging the breach perhaps constructed with stone quarried from Toot Rock, from which a clear track runs alongside the canal. In the full-size photo,  quite a few caravans can be seen scattered across the marsh.

Dave Rowlands has forwarded me some old photographs kindly lent to him by Peter Woodruffe. I have a few postcards of my own which I’ll scan (once I find them) and I’m sure there are many others around.

If anyone can furnish information about these images, please write in the comments box, I’ll append it to the photo, credited of course.

Toot Rock & Cliff End aerial photo from the north. 1931. A new wall has been constructed across the fan of shingle. The sea-front houses stop pretty much where they do today.  The canal is full of reeds. Tamarisk has not been built nor has The Smuggler and Toot Rock is of course free of  defensive structures.  Just one house on Canal Bank below Toot Rock must be Whispering Reeds, but there’s a small cabin set well back on the Tawny Pipit plot.

Cliff End & Toot Rock from the south. Date? 70s? The sea defences west of the Old Coastguards have not been built but the caravan site is installed. The whole area is more vegetated then before, with trees along the Canal Bank and thorn thickets on the PLPT land.


All right, it’s not a photo but a drawing from Battery Hill dated 1880. Identifiable features from left to right: Marsham Barn, Martello Towers (distant), Marsham Fm, Stonelink Fm (foreground), Stumblets Wood, possibly the mysterious Jack Straw’s Castle (on cliff-top), Haddocks Coastguard stn.


A similar view from Battery Hill, Fairlight. Date? Early30s? Some houses on the Cliff End estate are in place. Battery Hill has recently been widened. What strikes me about photos from this era is how low and neat the hedgerows are, how few the tall trees.

Cliff End from Chick Hill. Date? 1910? The Boat House, Boulderwall Cottage & The White House to the left. No buildings on the Kiln Field. Behind Catherine Cottage, is that a quarry or a landslip?

Cliff End from Chick Hill. Date? 1910?

Cliff End from Chick Hill. Date? 30s? Sunnyside left of the corner of Chick Hill.

Cliff End estate. 2 pages from “The Studio” magazine. 1930s

Cliff End from Chick Hill. Date? Later 30s?

Cliff End from Chick Hill. Date? Late 30s? (Quite a lot of garden vegetation; Tongs House looking isolated at the top right; Monterey Pines, now huge, just saplings along Cliff End Lane.)

Old Coastguards & Toot Rock. Date? 1910?

Old Coastguards. Date? 1910?

Old Coastguards. Date?

Old Coastguards looking S, Canal Bank, Cliff End & Fairlight in the distance. Date?

Toot Rock. Date? 1920s?

View from Toot Rock looking west, Canal Bank, Old Coastguards, Cliff End. Date? 1920s? (No houses on Canal Bank below the Rock

Pett Level c1920, 36

Pett Level c1930, 26

Pett Level 11-90 301990:

Pett Level 13Jan81 37

January 1981: Christmas Cottage & Tawny Pipit from Toot Rock

Toot Rock, Canal Bank & New Coastguards. Date 1930s? (Toot Rock being quarried; water tank on top; Whispering Reeds – looking much as it does today – Christmas Cottage & Tawny Pipit on Canal Bank.

 Pett Level c1930, 35

Pett Level May79 21979: PLPT land, looking N.

Pett Level c1950, 30

Pett Level May79 34

Pett Level 11-90 18-2



Pett Level c1950, 50

Toot Rock: New Coastguards. Date? All the windows, all the dormers, are identical.

Pett Level Mai85 25 May 1985


March 2012


Pett level Jan 78 17

Chick Hill from Cliff End. Date? 1930s? Sea View Hotel (now Whitelands) to the left.

Pett Level c1910, 31

Cliff End showing the Boat House, the White House and the westernmost extension of the R M Canal, now hidden in the caravan site.




Three postcards from Ken Brooks, showing encampments on the now-vanished landslip at Cliff End, sequenced in chronological order deduced from the sophistication of the structures.


Cliff End: Stonewalls. 1935. Sea defences under construction. Tong House on cliff-top and some of the “camps” in the background.

Postcard view looking west from Cliff End up the Marsham Valley towards Gatehurst.The Ship Inn, towards the eastern end of Pett Level. Late 1920s?

Female Great Bustard shot on Pett Level by Charles Cooke 6th January 1891. Photo by G W Bradshaw of The Memorial, Hastings (his gallery is still there) (but unfortunately Great Bustards are not.)

pl 77


35 Responses to “PETT LEVEL IN OLD PHOTOS”

  1. […] see it and wondered if it had all been a trick of the light, a suspicion confirmed by a 1931 aerial photo which showed the bank to be smooth and regular. Rather […]

  2. Rukhsana Mosam Says:

    Hi there, great photos, I live in Pett Level now and so it’s fascinating to see how the area used to look. I wonder if you’d mind telling me where you found these and if there are any more as the area developed and more close up shots, or images one can increase in size to get a better look. It’s very very interesting indeed.

    • Thanks for your interest Rukhsana. A lot of the images on this blog were sent to me as jpegs scanned from the original photos. Since the size for posting on the blog is limited, the detail you can see is restricted but if a particular photo interested you I could email the full-size file.
      In fact, Pett Level is very well documented since Judge’s postcards of Hastings produced hundreds of images between the wars. These can be quite easily found in antique/junk shops and on eBay. I believe one can get access to Judge’s archive but have never got around to trying this. In addition, since it has been a holiday destination for decades, there are many family photos but these are dispersed.
      John Goodman, former warden at RSPCA Mallydams Wood, has a large collection of old photos of the area, many of these views re-photographed in the 70s and by now meriting an update.
      Mike Saville amassed many postcards of Winchelsea Beach, some of which appear in his book “A Changing Shore” (available from Lime Kiln Cottage & Martello Bookshop), but I’m not sure where these have ended up since his death. It was he who put me onto the Luftwaffe photos.
      A little further afield, there’s a wonderful Rye Harbour Image Library.

      • Hi Cliffdean, great photos! I have recently moved into the area and can see my house appears on several , would you be able to forward these to me in a larger file ad you kindly offered to Rokshana? its Tong House on Cliff End. looking forward to hearing from you.
        all the best


      • Keith, if you could give me an indication of the images you want, I could have a look for larger files.
        Even better, if you are able to attend the PLPT Lunch, at the Dower House on Saturday 29th August at 12.30pm, Phil Stringer will be there with his incomparable archive of old Pett Level photos. (The price of a ticket is £10 to include lunch, drinks and optional tennis.)

  3. I used to own the Whitelands in the 80s and I wish I had seen the postcard of the SeaView Hotel then. We always were curious about the history of the house, Thank you for posting.

    • Was my daughter at playgroup with a child of yours? I recall going to a firework party then at Whitelands. It has changed hands a number of times since then. In a vigorous campaign of chain-sawing and bonfires, the latest owners have eradicated all the previous garden planting down to bare earth in order, it is rumoured, to keep horses there.

  4. Terry Howard Says:

    Interesting to see the cricket ground,it doesn’t look as if it had the biggest boundarys in the area.I wonder if they had sixes.I played at Battle for 18 years we only had 4s even if you hit the ball out of the ground. Great to see all the images.

    • The size of the seaward plot has been disguised in recent years by the extending blackthorn thicket. Now that some of this has been cleared, people are surprised at the extent of the land, which will regrow into grass and reed, some of it at the eastern end to be grazed in the medium term.
      Phil Stringer has an impressive collection of old photos of the level, some of which he has sent me but I’ve just not had time to put them on here.

  5. Does anyone have any photo’s of the flamingo that used to frequent Pett Level in the 70’s? I am part of a group examining the occurrence of invasive and exotic species in the UK and I used to live in Fairlight when I was a small boy and remember the flamingo well, I just can’t prove it was actually there! any help gratefully received

    • You’re not imagining it Jason! But it’s mentioned in neither Shrubb’s Birds of Sussex nor the new Sussex Bird Atlas and I can’t lay my hands on the Sussex Bird Reports for the relevant years. It must have turned up in 77 or 78 and stayed more than one year. Though there was concern whether it would survive the winter (they were colder then), it came through and was later joined by a second bird, arousing speculation that they might breed. However the second bird was of a different species. (Breeding this far north not such a completely stupid idea since a colony existed for some time on a heathland lake near the Dutch/German border). A flamingo still features on the cover of Pett Parish News, the design for which was created about that time.

    • I also saw the Flamingo on the lakes.. Was a Beautiful sighting..

      • That was a long, long time ago…’77? ’78? There were two at one point, leading some optimistic locals to hope they might breed. Not such a crazy idea as you might imagine since there was, for some time, a breeding population (birds of escape origin) on the Dutch/German border.
        These two were different species however.

  6. Bob Davenport Says:

    The artist William Roberts painted a ‘country scene’ while staying with his dealer John Knewstub at Pett Level in the early 1920s: see It’s not a naturalistic picture, and details may have been relocated or perhaps even invented, but if anyone does recognise that configuration of roofs, hill, gate and pump I’d be delighted to know where it occurs. Info on exactly where Knewstub lived in Pett Level (I believe he died there in 1959) would be useful too.

  7. Alfred Pig Says:

    God the Ship Inn looked like a sure-fire venue. Alf Red Pig from The Red Pig

  8. It would appear one of my great great great uncles, Joseph G Davis and his wife Matlida ran The Ship Inn from sometime before 1851. Would love some more history and photos of the place, but I get nothing from Google. Any thoughts?

  9. Lindsay Akerman Says:

    Hi Cliff, There are 6 photos including 1 or 2 you seem to have in sepia, on this weblink, high resolution and zoomable, keep up the good work ;-}

    • Thanks Lindsay! I have seen these before but they are particularly relevant just now since they show so clearly the field which is now Marsham Reedbed. The longitudinal ditch seems to have entirely disappeared but might be usefully re-established.

  10. cheryl horsman Says:

    hi cliff we used to live in the house on the top of the cliff in 1960s it was called tree tops , its on the left of the house with the flag pole on the you have any photos of the old block house that sat on the beach opposite stone walls

    • Hi Cheryl. there are a few houses on the cliff top – maybe now a bit closer to the edge than when you were there! Which one exactly? There are certainly photos of the block-house in existence. I’ll look for one among the huge collection of photos of Pett Level compiled by Phil Stringer.

  11. cheryl horsman Says:

    hi cliff our house was level with stone walls its the one at the very back on your photo ,of houses on the cliff it went over the cliff in 1966,

  12. cheryl horsman Says:

    hi the photo showing the now vanished land slip at cliff end ,its the house at the back with the flag pole on the side we had to move out in 1966 as it was to near the cliff edge

  13. brian rose Says:

    i holliday,d in pett level from 1947 1956 and still visit often

  14. Mavis Froud Says:

    In the 1931 aerial photo you mention shingle. When I first stayed at Pett Level in 1951 there was very little shingle. The beach comprised soft red sand – now obscured by the pebbles dumped to reinforce the sea defences. To me Pett Level will always remain a very special place.

    • I think what happened was this: in the early 30s the reconstruction of the Hastings sea-front included the present harbour-arm which for c50 years prevented he eastward longshore drift of shingle. This accumulated a big broad beach for the town, which prevented flooding (up to a point) and which allowed expansion in the shape of amusements & car parks. Further east, however, the coast was starved of this protective band of stones which led to accelerated erosion. In the early 80s, either gaps were created in the harbour arm or the shingle started to flow round the end of it.
      Can anyone confirm what happened?
      When I first lived at Pett Level much more of the seawall was exposed and the beach at Cliff End was, as you describe it, composed of red sand – no shingle at all. When it did start to move eastwards once more it arrived in about 18 months to form a barrier all on beneath the cliffs.
      This is not sufficient to protect the Pett seawall though, so “beach-feeding” has been the practice for at least 25 years.

  15. John Jones Says:

    I used to go down to Pett Level practically every weekend in the summer from 1960 to 1968. Initially by coach or train from London then latterly by motorcycle. Spent hours in the round thatched café in beach road during the day drinking coffee and smoking then in the evenings drinking in the New Beach Club. Have lots of lovely memories.

  16. Gill Sutton Says:

    Interesting photos – our family visited Pett Level beach many times during the 50’s and 60’s. We used to sit on the beach by a square concrete bunker and as kids climbed on the top of it – does anyone remember it or what happen to it ?- There were also rounded cylindrical oblong shaped concrete pieces – someone once told me they were old tank traps ?? We used to walk up a path just off the main road that went through the hedge and past the caravan park – this was long before the sea wall was built – I think the path is still there . Good times and memories – still visit and walk along the sea wall in both directions but so much has changed.

    • Thanks for the comment Gill. I’ve located a 1956 postcard showing that bunker but am unable to insert it here. perhaps I’ll put it on the Old Photos page (done that – it’s the last photo). I’m not sure whether it was demolished (difficult – designed not to be) or destroyed by wave action. As for the cylinders, yes, there are lots of those around and the conical obstacles too. One you get your eye in they’re everywhere around here too heavy to move!

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