This (The dark history of a seaside town is brought to light by William Shaw) is from today’s The Observer (UK – 10 April 2005):
There was a big goth scene in Hastings when Reu lived there; they all used to go to the club the Crypt, looking for the dark heart of Hastings, swapping stories about Crowley. There were rumours of animal sacrifices. He’d made furniture out of human skin, they said. And he’d cursed the town. he dark history of a seaside town is brought to light. By William Shaw
Sunday April 10, 2005
Reu Hickman still feels nauseous whenever he returns to Hastings. He had a miserable time. Growing up there, he believed Hastings had been cursed by the occultist Aleister Crowley. He was in his teens when he first heard the story. At the time, Reu (pronounced ‘Roo’) found that easy to believe.
It turned out Crowley, the famous dabbler in ‘sex magick’, had ended his days in a boarding house there in 1947. Reu’s friends pointed to a spooky house built against the cliff where he’d supposedly lived. Actually, the Victorian house known as Netherwood had been demolished decades earlier. Facts and rumours mix easily at that age. A heroin addict, the self-dubbed ‘Great Beast’ had run out of friends and money; he ended his days in Room 13 – appropriately.
There was a big goth scene in Hastings when Reu lived there; they all used to go to the club the Crypt, looking for the dark heart of Hastings, swapping stories about Crowley. There were rumours of animal sacrifices. He’d made furniture out of human skin, they said. And he’d cursed the town. It seemed likely. To Reu, Hastings was the town in the Morrissey song: the seaside town they forgot to close down.
Crowley wasn’t the only heroin addict to wind up there. To this day, Reu believes the place has a higher than average murder rate. Remember Billie-Jo Jenkins, murdered in Lower Park Road in 1997? Or the teenager who killed a retired vicar in 2001 and left his dismembered body behind the Summerfield Leisure Centre? In the Eighties, when the British stopped taking their holidays at home, the guesthouses filled with the unemployed and the mentally ill.
As far as he was concerned it was a stinkhole for people whose lives weren’t going very well. Like him. There was nothing for teenagers to do there; especially in the winter. He left home at 16 – he and his mum were always at each other’s throats – and started dossing at friends’ houses.
It wasn’t nice. At first, all he had was a carpet to sleep under. He wasn’t a nice person, then, either. On the dole, drinking, taking speed, ecstasy and magic mushrooms. Going out on a Saturday night. Getting into fights. Going home. Drinking some more. You can get caught up in a dead-end town. Reu dreamed of getting away.
They said that the Crowley curse was that if you lived in Hastings you could never leave; if you tried you’d always come back. Reu found it a terrifying thought.
It wasn’t until he was 19 that he finally got away; he still remembers driving up to a new life in Liverpool, looking out through the back window past his piled-up belongings at the town, an enormous sense of relief washing over him, mixed with terror about leaving the only people he knew. It was a fresh start.
His mum still lives in Hastings, so he has to go back to see her. At first it used to make him feel physically sick just to go back. These days it’s not so bad. Some of the old crowd are still there. Some have moved on, settled down, got houses. The others – he knows exactly which bar they’ll be propping up. He’d never go back to stay; it would mean admitting defeat.
Recently, he’s been researching the famous curse. He’s done an adult access course at university and has to make a film for it. The story turns out to be a myth. Crowley never cursed Hastings; it just felt that way, growing up in a declining town that seemed isolated from the prosperity of the southeast.
It’s true that Crowley did place a curse on Eastbourne. But that’s another story.