In a traffic island marooned off the messy 60s junction that guillotines the town centre in two, there is a block of diddy modern granny flats plonked incongruously between the grander remains of the Regency front, with an even more incongruous Blue Plaque hidden behind the wheelie bins that nobody is able to read. Michael Faraday, it tells you in very underwhelming and matter-of-fact language, stayed in a cottage on this site the summer before he presented the Royal Institution with his discovery of electromagnetic induction in the autumn. I think this deserves a bit more of a song and dance about it on the part of Hastings Borough Council, and maybe even a replacement for the sea-battered blue plaque going rusty round the screws. His insights in that cottage helped usher in the modern world, right here in Hastings.

During a summer of quiet contemplation, going for long thoughtful walks along the beach, luminous evenings saturated in soft seaside light, the idea came to him that electricity, the mysterious power observed in awesome natural phenomena like lightning, might be a manifestation of an invisible, as-yet unharnessed forcefield propagating the universe… he also suspected that magnetism must be a complimentary manifestation of this same mysterious force, and crucially, that the presence of one could be used to generate the other… he worked out how to induce an electric current in a wire by moving it through a magnetic field, which is still basically the same way that all the electricity lighting your home, boiling your kettle and charging your phone is generated in power stations to this day. Faraday’s demonstration of this at the Royal Institution caused such a stir the prime minister of the day visited his laboratory to have a look. “And what use do you think this will have?” he asked Faraday. “I know not, but I’ll wager one day your government will tax it.”

Generating electricity via magnetism from an invisible cosmic force field no one had imagined was even there before… and as if this wasn’t enough, Faraday’s insight that summer by the sea ran even deeper: staring out at the immensity of the English Channel, watching how the waves marched in across the blue, then observing them breaking and lapping against the solidity of the pebbly shore, he also wondered whether light might be another manifestation of this electromagnetic force field, a perturbance rippling through it like a wave across the vastness of empty space.

Light and electricity as ripples in a cosmic field. It’s hard to overstate the impact this revelation has had on the modern world. Without it, we’d still be relying on steam power and candlelight. Almost a hundred years later, John Logie Baird harnessed these two manifestations of Faraday’s invisible field with the invention of television, giving public demonstrations of the first ever television picture in the old Edwardian arcade I sometimes buy my clams and crab claws from, a street or two from Faraday’s Blue Plaque.

He’d been trying and failing to broadcast wireless images for years by the time he arrived here in 1923, stony broke and in poor health. Before his public demonstrations in the Queen’s Arcade, he managed to create the world’s first working television set with bicycle light lenses, knitting needles, a pair of scissors and an old tea chest in his lodgings at 21 Linton Crescent. He gave himself a 1000-volt electric shock in the process, escaping with only a burnt hand, and got asked by his landlady to vacate the premises immediately as a result. Strange to imagine, these dreamers drawn to the same inconsequential seaside resort, visionaries trying to discover and harness the invisible forces of the cosmos on this eccentric pebbly strand beside the endless blue. Though he might seem like the odd one out, I would include Aleister Crowley in this club. There is no Blue Plaque to him, and when he died he had to be cremated in Brighton because our council refused to have anything to do with him, but for me, the patron saint of Hastings has to be Aleister Crowley. He casts a long, Nosferatu-shaped shadow over the town.

The Great Beast 666 saw out the end of his days in a boarding house here in the 1940s. Scarecrow-thin in his worn out tweeds and his satyr’s white goatee, they say in his final days he’d pretty much given up on magick and evoking forces from the vasty deep, but he still practiced one key ritual every day, invoking the energies of the sun, looking up into the golden light with hands cupped to receive its warmth:

“Its light is mine, its rays consume me, I have made
a secret door into the House of Ra…”
Faraday’s insight was that the energies of
light, electricity and magnetism were different
manifestations of the same fundamental field
that permeates the universe. Crowley believed
that Light, Love and Liberty were different
emanations of the same fundamental Law:
“Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law.
Love is the Law, Love Under Will. Every man and
every woman is a Star.”

He believed this Law was revealed to him by an entity named Aiwass, emissary of the god Horus, unintentionally summoned when Crowley performed a rite in the King’s Chamber of the Great Pyramid with his wife Rose. The next day Rose fell into a strange trance, and in a non-human voice dictated The Book of the Law to him in their room in Cairo for an hour a day at exactly mid-day for three days running in April 1904, an advent that marked the Equinox of the Gods, which ushered in a New Age for humanity. Convinced as he was of his role as prophet of this New Age, he died obscure, penniless and spent in Hastings in 1947.

Only a handful of people turned up to his funeral. His last possessions were meagre, and they say his wallet had an amulet inside it that contained a folded up magic square drawn on calf’s skin, soaked in menstrual blood. This particular magic square was supposedly a spell to help him discover buried treasure. The Logos of the Aeon died a pauper nonetheless. Another dreamer at right angles to the world, coming to the edges of our small, familiar realm to ponder the secrets of the infinite blue beyond it. It’s comforting to think these thoughts, standing with bulging Morrisons bags on the road to nowhere that guillotines the town centre in two, over the road from Faraday’s forgotten Blue Plaque, waiting under a scowling sky for a bus
that never comes. ⚫