Shoreham … a brief history

Shoreham-by-Sea has a long and rich history. This part of the Shoreham Society website, by the late Michael Norman, looks back at the people and events that have shaped what Shoreham is today. It includes a 2,000-year timeline.

Shoreham … a brief history, by the late Michael Norman

Shoreham, by reason of its situation, seems to have attracted habitation from the earliest times. Shoreham Bay has revealed evidence of occupation for thousands of years, the latest finds at Boxgrove being spectacular.

At the north of the town there is the hill-fort of Thundersbarrow, and several other Iron Age settlements. It is not therefore surprising that the Romans found the Sussex coast congenial, as the many villas and associated sites show.

There was a large villa at nearby Southwick, and a pottery and buildings at Kingston Buci. On Slonk Hill at the north of Shoreham was an extensive Romano-British settlement, one of several nearby. It is not impossible that the Roman Portus Adurni was located at the mouth of the river here, its disappearance wholly consistent with the inroads of the sea that took place up to 1700.

New Shoreham’s 13th Century  borough seals. The arms are those  of de Braose ‘impaling England” –  an indication of the status of the port.

New Shoreham's 13th Century borough seals. The arms are those of de Braose 'impaling England' - an indication of the status of the port.

The number of churches in the area with Saxon remains is witness to the continuing popularity of the area, and the Normans were pleased to join them – one of the excuses William advanced for his attack in 1066 was to recover the church at Steyning which Edward the Confessor’s mother had previously given to Fecamp.

Shoreham, being directly opposite the Normandy ports, must have early felt the heel of the conqueror’s men. The castle and church at Bramber were built by 1073, and following a reconstruction of Old Shoreham Church, the Norman lords commenced a fine new church at the harbour with a new town – New Shoreham. – which is the heart of present-day Shoreham- by-Sea.

The new port prospered to become a leading south coast harbour and in the early 13th century became both a borough and a royal port designated by King John, his bother Richard having kept the royal galleys here. In 1346 it was to provide more vessels for the siege of Calais and the Crecy campaign than London, Dover, Bristol or Southampton. Several English monarchs passed through, including Charles II escaping after the battle of Worcester.

Severe erosion by the sea and the Black Death effectively stemmed the town’s rise and what the sea could not reach became a small backwater which survived by building ships of up to 500 tons and selling its parliamentary seats. The promise of an Admiralty contract did a prospective candidate little harm.

Shoreham shipbuilders and seamen continued to distinguish themselves. The Pooles and Fenners against the Spanish, and the Roberts in cartography – Henry assisted Cook twice and his son Daniel charted the West Italian waters. Throughout the 19th century Shoreham-built vessels plied the world trade routes with a fine reputation.

More recently Ricardo founded the automotive enterprise which continues strongly. Hubert Scott Paine was a founder of Supermarines which went on to win the Schneider Trophy outright and produced the Spitfire, and he did as much as any to develop the fast surface water craft which were so valuable here and in the Pacific during World War II.

Shoreham Airport is the oldest licensed commercial airfield in the country – and possibly the world. The harbour continues to thrive in a changing world.

Anyone looking for evidence of this long and interesting past should visit the Marlipins Museum housed in a building dating back to the 12th Century, and should certainly not miss a good look at St. Mary’s Church in the centre of the town. It is one of the finest surviving examples of the transition from Romanesque to Gothic architecture. An illustrated history of this fine church is available on the St Mary’s website.

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