It is the most famous date in British history, when Duke William swept in from Normandy and brought England to its knees, seizing the throne and replacing the Anglo-Saxon elite with a French-speaking ruling class.
Now, 950 years on, Hastings is finally saying adieu to what the majority of the town feels was another European invasion.
“I like it, it’s bloody good, it’s brilliant. Theresa May is our best prime minister for years,” says Vic Young, 78, a builder.
“I can’t wait, I’m very excited,” says Paul Joy, 68, a local fisherman who campaigned for Brexit.
“About time, I don’t know why they’ve procrastinated for so long,” says Rob Smith, 50, a carpenter.
But his daughter Devonne, 17, is not so sure: “I think it will be quite hard for me. Prices will go up to start with but as time goes on it will get better. It will be better for my children, I hope,” she said.
Chef George Rolph and his mother Marianne, a nurse, both voted leave. They don’t think it’s a day of celebration, just a step in the right direction. “It will affect employers, but I think it will help European workers get a better deal and send a statement out about cheap labour,” says George.
Joy proudly tells of how his family goes back all the way to Hastings in the 11th century. “The concept of being governed by an unelected body would have been absolutely abhorrent to anyone in those days. It’s almost like the state has been lost. It was like another takeover, we relinquished our law and power to an unelected body,” he says .
A majority, 55%, of Hastings people who voted, did so to leave the EU , rejecting the arguments of local MP Amber Rudd who campaigned to remain before becoming home secretary under Theresa May.
What happens now that article 50 has been triggered?
The list of grievances is familiar: unemployment, immigration, the destruction of the fishing industry. Disenchantment with politicians is also on the tip of tongues in 1066 country, among both young and old .
“If I could guarantee that my voice was heard and things could change I would vote, but it doesn’t. Amber Rudd? The only view I have on her is, she chose this town where there is a big divide between rich and poor, but where is she? She’s never here. She’s too busy,” says Emily Bishop-Suitters, a 24-year-old single mother and gymnastics teacher.
She says she is struggling without any financial help to get a start in life while others, including “foreigners coming into get expensive operations on the NHS” play the system and reap the benefits. “My mum is on a zero-hours contract as an agency nurse. If I don’t contribute, the rent doesn’t get paid. I worked in McDonald’s for six years on 13, 14-hour shifts. I went back to work when my daughter was eight months old because I had to. I was scrubbing floors, cleaning toilets, working my ass off for what? I missed her first steps. No wonder people fiddle the system.”
Down on the shore, Joy, chairman of the Hastings Fisherman’s Protection Society, says fishing in the English channel was “decimated” by Europe. The fishing industry has been vocally campaigning for changes in the quota system to stop European boats landing catches from British fishing waters. It sees Brexit as its moment. Joy fishes cod, plaice, sole and skate. The quota system is totally unfair, he says, with British boats allowed to catch 155 tonnes of cod from the English channel while the French were allocated 1,880 tonnes.
“Last year, we had a monthly quota of 50kg for cod, that’s 1.5kg a day, the equivalent of half a fish a day, for three men on a commercial vessel. You have two options: hide the fish, or tie up and go bankrupt,” he says. “We were a bargaining chip back in 1972. I hope we’re not used as a bargaining chip again,” he says.
History weighs heavily on many in Hastings, a target of the Germans more recently. Joan Hunt, 87 on 13 April, recalls the bombing of the town in the second world war. Her father narrowly escaped death. She thinks Europe and Germany have “got a lot better” since then, but like Bishop-Suitters she has no faith in politicians. She supports Brexit, but says: “Nothing’s going to change. What they want to do, they are going to do, we don’t count.”
In a recent BBC series on the Battle of Hastings, historian Dan Snow told how the Duke’s triumph echoed down the centuries, shaping Britain and Europe. Is there any symmetry with Brexit?
“Hastings is one of those great moments in the last 2,000 years,” he says, adding that Britain has always been “bound closely to the continent” because of its geographical position “perched” off Europe. He cites Elizabeth I’s attempt to expand England’s trade beyond Europe after being excommunicated by the pope from the Catholic church, followed by James’s “massive re-engagement with Europe”.
The Elizabethan discovery of trade in Africa, Constantinople and beyond may have been in Theresa May’s mind when she declared in her article 50 speech that she wanted Britain to be “a best friend to our European partners, but a country that reaches behind the border too”. Snow says isolation from Europe would spell disaster. “Britain has always oscillated and yo-yoed with Europe. These attempts by the English, the British, to get around the geography of Europe and reach around the continent have ended up not working,” Snow says.
“Is Brexit a rejection of 950 years? In a way, yes, it’s a nativist rejection of foreign, super-natural force, but ultimately it’s doomed to failure,” he says.
Labour supporter Alwyn Paul, 37, who voted for Brexit, is more optimistic. “We are not losing our ties with Europe, I think we will lose initially, but not long-term – give it 10 years and our economy might be great again.”