Setting the Stage: Hastings

Hastings is a town and Borough on the coast of East Sussex in England. At the time of William’s invasion, the town was an important port, despite its lack of a natural harbor. The town is most famous for the Battle of Hastings between William, Duke of Normandy, and Harold Godwinson, the last Saxon King of England; however, the battle actually took place about eight miles north of the city at Senlac Hill.

The earliest mention of Hastings is found in the late 8th century in the form “Hastingas” an Old English tribal name meaning “Hæsta’s people”, “the family/followers of Hæsta”. An alternative form of the name, Hæstingaceaster, is found in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle entry for 1050.

Life in a Medieval town was crude by today’s standards, but even in 1066 the town had become an important place for trade, especially at a seaport. Land in a town was at a premium, and houses were built close together on long, narrow plots of land. To add living space, second and third stories were often added that overhung the floor beneath them such that in some towns, the houses jutted out over the street in an arch-like fashion with the third stories of neighbors nearly touching over the street.

Merchants and craftsmen would setup shops in the ground story of their home, with living quarters on the floor or two above. The houses were built primarily of wood, and fire was a constant danger. Waste was dumped into open sewers in the middle of dirt roads, making the street a place for pedestrians to avoid. Though sanitary conditions were horrid by today’s standards and disease was commonplace, this was just a common part of life at the time and was given nary a second thought.

Our recreation of Hastings at the Sarasota Medieval fair represents the best spirit of the time without the appalling sanitary conditions! Come see our merchants and craftsmen and meet the townspeople this weekend at the Sarasota Fairgrounds.

 

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Published in: on November 12, 2009 at 1:13 pm  Leave a Comment  
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