top of page
  • Martin Castle

Fortune and prowess - the Cinque Ports

My silence has been somewhat protracted but not intentional - matters of living just got in the way and in part the habit of sharing was lost for a while. For me there has been much musing but the bonus of not being able to work came to an end as schools reopened and so time was taken by other thoughts (including grand-dad things!). After a trip to friends in Hastings the urge to muse returned - fuelled in part by the wonderful cuisine of our friends - friends that we had not visited for some two years due to circumstances beyond our control - who remembers that message coming up on the TV? Probably due to some clumsy oaf tripping over a cable and pulling the plug from the socket!

Anyhow, a trip to the Hastings area brings back many memories for me as it was a regular days out location from Canterbury when I was growing up. My sister also worked here early-on in her career. It is, of course, famous for the battle in 1066 - an event that I would use to grab the attention of pupils moving from junior to senior school. Rather naughtily, I would refer to William Conqueror by one of his nicknames (William the Bastard) because now we were in big school and were serious historians!

I like Hastings - unpretentious and with a feel of work related to the sea going back into distant times.

Fresh fish has been landed from the Stade in Hastings Old Town for over one thousand years. The shingle beach has always been called the Stade. The word dates from before the 1066 battle of Hastings and means "landing place". Harbours have been built here since the 1500s but all have had short lives, with the current wall dating from 1896. Thus, the boats have always had to be pulled up the beach. Each vessel has a shed containing an engine and winch, operated by a ”boy ashore” and tractors help push the craft into the sea, especially when the tide is low.

According to the Hastings Fish website Hastings has the largest beach-launched fleet in Europe and the fishermen have battled to maintain their ancient rights. As the boats have to be hauled out of the sea after each trip, it limits their size to about ten metres in length. This means that they can only carry small amounts of gear and travel just a few miles and thus fish using sustainable practices such as adapting their nets and fishing patterns to the fish that are in the local area and using safe fishing methods to help maintain stocks and habitats. As a result of this, Hastings has one of the strongest fishing stocks in the country and is regarded internationally as an example of best practice in sustainable fishing methods among professional associations, fishing fleets and chefs.

When we moved to Kent in the late 1960's, I became aware of something called the Cinque Ports - indeed my dad had a flash on his TA uniform (44 (Cinque Ports) Signal squadron - formerly 44 (Home Counties) Signal Regiment) recording his units connection to this ancient organisation and a favourite visit was to the beautiful gardens surrounding the Tudor castle at Walmer-on-Sea.

The Cinque Ports (pronounced ‘sink ports’ in this part of the world - probably to ensure no Frenchification!) were five major ports on the south-east coast of England: Sandwich, Dover, Hythe, New Romney and Hastings. Before the Norman Conquest, they had formed a powerful trading and defensive alliance, enjoying rights of self-government in return for the Crown’s use of their ships and men each year to defend the coast.

The alliance attracted many other coastal towns in Kent (including Deal and Fordwich) and east Sussex (including Rye and Winchelsea), becoming so powerful as to have their rights written into a royal charter in 1155. In the 13th century, the five ports and the two affiliated ‘ancient towns’ of Rye and Winchelsea sent two MPs each to Parliament, which brought great political influence.

The ports were in decline by the 16th century, but continued to hold privileges and rights until the mid 19th century. Today, the Cinque Ports exist as a ceremonial organisation with the Lord Warden at its head. Edward I appointed the first formal Lord Warden in the 13th century to enable Crown control of the Cinque Ports. The Lord Warden was also Admiral of the Cinque Ports and, from 1267, Constable of Dover Castle. These titles gave Lords Warden responsibility for the defence of Kent and Sussex, influence over the appointment of MPs, and powers in regulating maritime business, including pilots, shipwreck and goods salvage. Walmer Castle was and continues to be the home of the Lord Warden.

Previous Wardens have included: HM Elizabeth The Queen Mother, Sir Winston Churchill, Prince George Prince of Wales (later King George V), Arthur Wellesley (of boot and Waterloo fame), William Pitt the Younger (who was also Prime minister), George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham (of Georgie Porgie pudding and pie... fame), Sir Thomas Erpingham (who lived round the corner from me and commanded the archers at Agincourt) and, to name but a few, Harold Godwinson (Harold II - who got shot in the eye with an arrow).

H W Longfellow's poem The Warden of the Cinque Ports reflects upon the passing of a great man - the one-time Warden, Sir Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, who died at Walmer Castle in 1852.

A mist was driving down the British Channel,

The day was just begun,

And through the window-panes, on floor and panel,

Streamed the red autumn sun.

1st Duke of Wellington

It glanced on flowing flag and rippling pennon,

And the white sails of ships;

And, from the frowning rampart, the black cannon

Hailed it with feverish lips.

Sandwich and Romney, Hastings, Hithe, and Dover

Were all alert that day,

To see the French war-steamers speeding over,

When the fog cleared away.

Sullen and silent, and like couchant lions,

Their cannon, through the night,

Holding their breath, had watched, in grim defiance,

The sea-coast opposite.

And now they roared at drum-beat from their stations

On every citadel;

Each answering each, with morning salutations,

That all was well.

And down the coast, all taking up the burden,

Replied the distant forts,

As if to summon from his sleep the Warden

And Lord of the Cinque Ports.

Him shall no sunshine from the fields of azure,

No drum-beat from the wall,

No morning gun from the black fort’s embrasure,

Awaken with its call!

No more, surveying with an eye impartial

The long line of the coast,

Shall the gaunt figure of the old Field Marshal

Be seen upon his post!

Wellington as an old man

For in the night, unseen, a single warrior,

In sombre harness mailed,

Dreaded of man, and surnamed the Destroyer,

The rampart wall has scaled.

He passed into the chamber of the sleeper,

The dark and silent room,

And as he entered, darker grew, and deeper,

The silence and the gloom.

He did not pause to parley or dissemble,

But smote the Warden hoar;

Ah! what a blow! that made all England tremble

And groan from shore to shore.

Meanwhile, without, the surly cannon waited,

The sun rose bright o’erhead;

Nothing in Nature’s aspect intimated

That a great man was dead.

from Birds of Passage 1858 - Henry Wadsworth Longfellow


Two today because fresh fish is the best.

Hastings Fish One Pot Fish Rice


4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

3 onions; finely sliced

1 tsp salt

2 tsp ground cumin

3 cups rice

3 cups fish stock

2 tbsp chopped thyme

400g white fish fillets; skinned and pin-boned

Lemon juice to taste

A handful toasted pine-nuts

Small handful of sultanas

Salt and freshly ground black pepper


1. Heat the oil in a large saucepan or casserole; add the onions and cook over a very low heat until the onions are golden brown. Stir from time to time to prevent the onions from burning.

2. Add the salt and cumin; stir over a low heat for 1 minute before stirring in the rice and stock.

3. Bring to the boil and add the thyme. Cover and cook over a low heat until the rice is nearly cooked and the moisture absorbed.

4. Arrange the fish fillets on the rice; cover and carry on cooking until the fish is cooked through and the rice tender.

5. To serve adjust the seasoning and sprinkle the pine-nuts and sultanas over the top; fork together and serve.

... and to go with it ...

Warm lemon courgettes.

Serves 4


2 courgettes

1 tbsp olive oil

zest 1 lemon, plus juice of the lemon

1 garlic clove, crushed

Small handful of basil, roughly torn


1. Use a vegetable peeler to slice the courgettes into wide strips, discarding the central, seedy part.

2. Heat the oil in a large frying pan, add the lemon zest and garlic, and fry over a medium heat for 1 min.

3. Add the courgette strips and cook, stirring regularly, as it dries add lemon juice, for a further 1-2 minutes until the courgettes are slightly softened. Add further lemon juice and toss through.

ps: you can add shredded basil at the final stage if you desire but I prefer the simplicity.

A recipe from Joanna - a Hastings friend.

Word of the Day is ...

"Gobemouche" [GOB-uh-MOOSH]


  • One who keeps their mouth open

  • Gullible, boorish oaf.

  • One who believes everything he or she hears.

  • A mouth breather.

From French (fly swallower) from “gober” (to gulp down, swallow) + French “mouche” from Latin “musca” (fly).

ps; Perhaps the most iconic sculpture of the Duke of Wellington is the equestrian statue of him located at the Royal Exchange Square in Glasgow, Scotland. It was sculpted by Italian artist Carlo Marochetti and erected in 1844, but it became famous in the mid 1900s after local residents began to cap the statue with a traffic cone to show their humor.

pps; other beach-launched fishing fleets are available - Beer in Devon and Cromer (for crabs) in North Norfolk are two.


"An extraordinary affair. I gave them their orders and they wanted to stay and discuss them.” - The Duke of Wellington's comment after his first Cabinet meeting as Prime Minister!
In a week I will say goodbye (too soon) to the life of a good friend, this quote from Dr Seuss says it all:

"Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened."

76 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All



bottom of page