The Hastings Hermit
The following story is true and I’ll cross my heart; It’s really worth remembering this from the start. There once was a man who we would call brave, not for any one deed, but because he lived in a cave.
His name was John Hancox and he lived on east hill, not because he had to, but of his own free will. He was a good man who helped out a friend, although perhaps he regretted this act in the end.
John worked and done well in the drapery trade, but when a friend was in trouble, he came to his aid. His friend had come to see him with a tale of sorrow, and asked his friend, for some money he could borrow.
John’s life had been good, he earned a good living. And when his friend came to see him, he didn’t think twice about giving. Alas the friend who he had trusted let him down, that’s when he decided to come to Hastings town.
He had little money left and was almost bankrupt, which explains why his resettlement was very abrupt. He left London having realised his trust was mistaken, his friend took more than his money, as he now felt forsaken.
He lived as a squatter when he arrived in the town, although this life didn’t suit him, as he kept moving around. At some point he discovered a cave on Ecclesbourne Glen, although records are sketchy, no one knows exactly when.
So John Hancock decided he’d speak to the owner, because now he determined he would live as a loner. The owner of the cave was happy to rent him the space, and understood John wanted to withdraw from the human race.
John was rented the cave and the plot out in front; it was very sparsely furnished to be very blunt. Possessions were minimal and mainly limited to books, his attitude being, he didn’t care if it raised funny looks.
To avoid intrusion and curious looks over his property’s edge, he decided quite quickly to plant a large hedge. He insisted on privacy when he slept and he ate, so decided to include a large wooden gate.
So he lived in the cave with a stove but no bed. He was an educated man, so he sang and he read. He was said to have been a tidy man of his age, despite his lack of room in what was known as the hermitage.
There was someone who got through the barriers to become a friend. And this one remained loyal right to the end. There’s no record of a name, or when these two met. There were other hermits around locally, and it was one of them I’d bet.
This person befriended the hermit who lived on East Hill, contented to let people think what they will. They must have realised there’d be questions, and what all that entails. This friend, who remains anonymous, with no recorded details.
John was often spotted around town scavenging for food. He would sift through waste and eat what he could. He embraced his freedom to live as he saw fit, and was content to be left alone, just getting on with it.
He was known to be happy and never down beat, although most didn’t know what had caused his retreat. His friend that had caused John to move himself south, was soon forgotten as John didn’t want the bitter taste in his mouth.
He lived til his 70’s without anyone reporting him grumbling, which is hard to believe and somewhat humbling. So if ever you feel that your life has hit the rocks, remember this story of the hermit, John Hancox.
Happiness can’t be measured by any material thing, John was happy with his solitude and his ability to sing. He once had friends, a career and considerable wealth. But the things that mattered most were his solitude and his health.
So whenever you find yourself near Ecclesbourne Glen, think of the hermit John Hancox, who lived way back when. I’m sure that sometimes in the winter when the nights are long, if you listen very carefully, you can still hear his song.