- Strange Exits from Hastings
- Vol 2
- by Helena Wojtczak,
- published by Hastings Press, 2021
The first volume of Helena Wojtczak’s Strange Exits from Hastings was a best seller with some local experts telling her they think it might be the biggest selling local history book ever!
The book was on sale at various outlets around the town and beyond and of course Helena did a great deal of her own marketing; first she got her Pedlar’s licence and then she loaded up her mobility scooter and got out on to the streets of the town making sure that everyone who wanted one could buy a copy of her book.
Not one to rest on her laurels Helena is back with volume two of Strange Exits. At the weekend we will be publishing one of the stories from the new book but in the meantime here’s a review of the new book written by David Green who is a reviewer for Ripperologist Magazine.
Death comes to all of us, but some endings are more bizarre than others. In this second volume of Strange Exits, Helena presents another collection of weird farewells gleaned from newspaper archives.
Volume 1 was an instant local bestseller and Volume 2 follows the same winning style — and believe me, it is just as good!
The 30 true tales of accidental death, suicide and homicide are beautifully written and packed with local flavour.
As gripping as any crime fiction, they have the added piquancy and thrill of having really happened, and in local buildings and streets that still exist.
Arranged chronologically, the book begins with a gruesome murder and gibbeting on Fairlight Down in 1740 and concludes with a baffling ‘asphyxiation experiment’ in a cellar in 1958. In between you will find a drowning in the Hollington farmlands, a poignant vignette about a depressed dog, a lady cyclist killed by X-Rays, a chimney pot disaster, a frenzied chopper attack worthy of the Chamber of Horrors, a deeply moving tale of a harmless, terrified, elderly ‘alien’ and a detailed account of the harrowing and tragic Ore starvation case of 1885 that shocked the nation to its core. Rounding off this varied collection a special report exposes a century of local infanticides, shining the spotlight on a grim subject that, although once a hot topic, has been hidden away like a dirty secret.
As with volume 1 the author meanders into several eccentric ‘digressions’, examining diverse topics such as pubs, photographers, mid-Victorian businesswomen, and the long-demolished Royal Concert Hall. The anthology is enriched and the stories elucidated by an abundance of historic illustrations. The local history component is presented in bite-sized chunks that never overwhelm.
Despite the morbid subject matter the book is an absolute joy to read, because Helena has dug deep to find the human stories behind the headlines. She honours the victims by recounting their lives and deaths and giving them a kind of immortality by including them in the permanency of a book.
In Strange Exits no one lives happily ever after and yet, although the two books are about death, ultimately they are more about life, focussing as much on the back-stories of this diverse bunch of unconnected people, as on what links them: their strange manner of exiting this world.
This quirky pair of volumes are a must-read for everyone who takes an interest in this old town and its past inhabitants. In addition they provide a wealth of interesting facts and intriguing snippets that can be thrown into future conversations in the local pub.
How to get hold of a copy
Available direct from the author via www.hastingspress.co.uk/se2.html
- Penbuckle’s Delicatessen, High Street.
- Sweet Selections, Robertson Street.
- The Old Butcher Shop, Pett.
- Order via ‘click and collect’ from the Book-Keeper, King’s Road or Book Busters, Queen’s Road.
- Also on Ebay and Amazon.
- When lockdown ends it will be in stock at all the local museums and bookshops.