Historic Ports and Seaside Towns – Eastern Hampshire & West Sussex

In this article, I cover a section of the south coast of England, starting at Southampton and ending at Shoreham. This covers the eastern half of Hampshire and the entirety of West Sussex, with the coastline bordering Southampton Water, the Solent (the channel of water between the English Mainland and the Isle of Wight) and the English Channel.

Located at the westernmost point of this section, Southampton is a large town at the neck of Southampton Water, in between the mouths of the River Test and River Itchen. Although today it is a typical large British town, with shopping centres and office buildings making up the town centre, it is a very prominent British town in terms of its shipping and maritime history. In 1620, a group of pilgrims set sail from Southampton in order to escape religious persecution. Named The Mayflower, this ship landed on the American shoreline, and it is thought that over 30 million United States citizens are descended from the pilgrims who travelled on this ship [1]. Since the 19th Century, Southampton has housed a liner port, and it is from here that, in 1912, the RMS Titanic embarked on her only voyage [1]. Today, the town contains a large shipping port as well as a local ferry terminal, with routes to the Isle of Wight to the south.

Moving eastwards, the coastline is generally quite urbanised, with various suburban towns between Southampton and Portsmouth. However, there are occasional woodlands and farmland that border the coast. One of these is at Brownwich Cliff, a low-level cliff no more than several metres high where fossils can be found. Common fossils at this location include molluscs and brachiopods [2]. There is also a nature reserve adjacent to this location named Titchfield Haven, which contains a marshland habitat.

Eastwards of here are two port towns located opposite each other – both separated by Portsmouth Harbour, these are Gosport to the west and Portsmouth to the east. Both towns contain artillery forts and batteries – the reason for this being that Portsmouth has always been a very important British naval hub, helping us to ward off invading ships from as early as the 15th Century. A British Navy Base still operates in Portsmouth to this day. Of the several examples of historic batteries on the Gosport side of the harbour, Fort Monckton is perhaps the best example of this – built between 1781 and 1790 to defend the western approaches to Portsmouth Harbour, this is one of eight remaining true bastioned artillery forts in the country [3]. On the Portsmouth side of the harbour, however, more examples of fortification exist. Perhaps the most striking example of this is the Round Tower – built in around 1418, the tower is also joined by an adjacent battery and another tower, known as the Square Tower [4]. There are also several other fortresses and defence structures, such as Southsea Castle located 2 km (1 mile) to the south-east.

The town of Portsmouth includes various tourist attractions beyond fortresses. The Mary Rose shipwreck, which was used by King Henry VIII to fight wars against other countries, is housed in the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard [5]. Another attraction is the Spinnaker Tower; designed so that it looks like the sail of a yacht or a ship, this striking 170 metre (500 foot) tall viewing tower offers great views of the surrounding area and beyond. Clarence Pier also serves as a great amusement park, which includes a fun fair, amusement arcade and numerous food outlets.

Moving eastwards from here, past Southsea Pier, Eastney Beach and Fort Cumberland – the latter being a large pentagonal artillery fortification rarely open to the public – we reach the outlet of Langstone Harbour. This is one of three natural harbours – the other two being the aforementioned Portsmouth Harbour and Chichester Harbour. These were formed by the sea level rising at the end of the last Ice Age and creating a flooded valley or ‘ria’, in a very similar fashion to that of Poole Harbour, located around 60 km (40 miles) to the west.

Around here, the coastline is very flat – although the South Downs are located to the north, these do not intercept the coastline here, and the mudflats meet the mainland due to the absence of cliffs. Much of the marshland here has been declared a nature reserve, such as Farlington Marshes at the northern extent of Langstone Harbour. Much of the land surrounding the north and eastern parts of Chichester Harbour, as well as the various channels located within the marshy parts of the harbour, have been declared an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The eastern edge of Chichester Harbour marks the boundary between Hampshire and West Sussex; it is also around here that the coastline borders the English Channel rather than the Solent, as the Isle of Wight is now located to the south-west.

Between Chichester Harbour and Shoreham, the coastline is quite uniform in comparison with other parts of the coastline around southern England. It consists of rather flat land – often with marshes or farmland – that borders the coastline, with some occasional low cliffs. For example, marshes can be found between Chichester Harbour and Bognor Regis. Two rivers also punctuate the coastline – the River Arun and River Adur both meet the English Channel near Littlehampton and Shoreham respectively. It is also notable that, moving eastwards towards the West Sussex and East Sussex border, the coastline becomes increasingly urbanised, with the size of seaside towns becoming larger and more populated. This is not only due to their popularity as resort towns, but also due to their relative proximity to London, meaning that some of these towns have small business centres, and even contain some commuters who travel (usually by train) to the British capital every day. Worthing is a great example of this: not only is it a seaside town, but it also contains office buildings and large residential areas.

However, some of the towns along this stretch of coast still manage to function as relatively small resort towns and are quite historic in places. Bognor Regis, for example, has a large holiday park and a promenade, whereas Littlehampton has many quaint Victorian guesthouses. The small seaside town of Shoreham-by-Sea, which marks the eastern extent of this article’s coastline, contains quaint townhouses, old pubs and the picturesque Saint Mary de Haura Church, which all make Shoreham feel more like a market town than a seaside port. However, this is also a rather industrial town: not only does it contain Brighton City Airport, an airfield on the western outskirts of the town, but it also includes warehouses, a small port and even a power station located to the east of the town, where the border between West Sussex and East Sussex lies.




[1] https://visitsouthampton.co.uk/southampton-city-history

[2] https://ukfossils.co.uk/2011/02/02/brownwich-cliff/

[3] https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1001844

[4] https://www.visitportsmouth.co.uk/things-to-do/round-tower-p267631

[5] https://maryrose.org/about-the-mary-rose/


Image Portsmouth:  Marius Mangevicius on Pixabay

















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