[This document comes from Helena Wojtczak's English Social History: Women of Nineteenth-Century Hastings and St.Leonards. An Illustrated Historical Miscellany, which the author has graciously shared with readers of the Victorian Web. Click on the title to obtain the original site, which has additional information.]

Blind flower seller at Hastings Nancy Page

Left: A poor blind woman selling flowers on the steps of a shop in Hastings.

Right: Nancy Page (1767-1849) was All Saints' Carnival Queen in her 70s.

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 washerwomen.

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.

A poor family at the East Well, Hastings. Photo: George Woods

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.

Last modified 2000