A BRIEF HISTORY OF EMSWORTH.
EMSWORTH is a small town on the Hampshire / West Sussex border. Nestled at the top end of the western inlet of Chichester Harbour, it is still a fishing port though the number of boats has declined as popularity with yachting enthusiasts has increased. Both camps though have a history within the area. Chichester Harbour is a natural harbour of International recognition as a 'Ramsar Site' of outstanding wetland, designated as a SSSI, a Site of Special Scientific Interest, and declared to be an AONB or Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
The town is situated on the old A27 (A259), midway between Portsmouth and Chichester. (CLICK HERE for map). In pre-history there was a coastal route probably skirting the heads of the various creeks. In Roman times the A259 as it passes through Emsworth was a 'metalled' road with a substantial Villa just south of it in the fields between Warblington and Emsworth to the west.
Emsworth was previously a part of the Parish of Warblington, parishioners would have to tramp the old church path down what is now Warblington Road, and across the fields to Warblington's St Thomas a Becket, of a Sunday. The mid section of the tower is said to have been built before the Conquest and to contain Roman bricks probably from a roman structure discovered in the churchyard.
Emsworth became a seperate parish in 1866. The first stone of the Church of St James however was laid on St james's Day back in 1839.
Warblington was re-occupied after the Romans around 500AD., possibly by a man called 'Weorbald' sailing up the creek to found the village of 'Weorbling's Tun'.
Emsworth was founded some six hundred years later, the earliest spelling being being recorded in 1231 as 'Emelesworth' meaning 'Emil's Warp' or farm . The River Ems was called 'The Bourne' until the 16th century, so the town's name is not based on the river's.
A.J.C. Reger suggests that the "The village of Emsworth probably owes its foundation to the general fall in sea level which resulted from an increase in the polar ice cap in the 12th century" (lets hope it doesn't melt as quickly). "This would have caused the the creek at Warblington to become too shallow at most stages of the tide for fishermen and it made the Emsworh site more habitable by uncovering the springs at the foot of South Street hitherto below the high water mark". (From 'A Short History of Emsworth and Warblington').
In a charter of 1239 right was granted "to hold a market every Wednesday and a Fair 'on the morrow of the translation of St Thomas the Martyr' at 'Emmelesworth. in Warblington". (From 'A Short History of Emsworth and Warblington'). Warblington was too close to Havant, already granted a market, to hold one. The market was held where the square is now. From there South Street led down to the Quay where ships could tie up.
In 1341 Emsworth was one of five Hampshire ports ordered to supply a ship for the fleet to protect the Channel Islands against the French, suggesting that it was by then a port of some importance with ships of some size.
References to customs officers in Emsworth in the 14th century suggests that smuggling was a well established activity. There was also a thriving fisheries industry to complement trade. With the market began the drift away from Warblington to Emsworth. The black death of 1348/9 caused a further decline, and the old site was slowly abandoned during the following century. Then during the War of the Roses the remaining inhabitants were moved to make way for a deer park.
So began Emsworth.
The first mill was built in Emsworth in the middle ages where the present one is at the bottom of Queens Street. The miller after 1760 was Thomas Hendy whos name is used for the quay where the Echo ended her days. This heralded the beginning of the Emsworth corn trade. By 1821 there were three mills including the one on the Quay. Flour milled in Emsworth was sent to Portsmouth to feed the Navy as well as to London.
John King the shipbuilder installed one of the first Steam engines in this part of Hampshire in the third mill in Kings Street, using it to saw timber when not grinding flour. Also there was the Slipper tidal mill first mentioned around1735. Thomas Hendy extended its pond to cover what was Norton Common, when he bought it towards the end of the century. Lumley was built in the1760's by Lord Lumley burnt down and replaced with a smaller one at the beginning of the 20th century.
In 1817, thirty vessels were recorded as belonging to the port of Emsworth, most involved in fishing suggesting that those used for trade were owned elsewhere. Some 7000 bushels of oysters is said to have been dredged from Emsworth Harbour in 1788. By 1817 East Coast trawlers in numbers were getting in on the act. Despite fears of overfishing trade flourished up to the the peak in 1850-60, when the native oysters started dying out, and both Emsworth and the East Coast interlopers went further afield in their ever larger vessels.
There were some fifty fishing boats of all sizes at Emsworth by 1870. In the 1880's J.D. Foster arrrived on the scene to build some of the finest fishing sailing craft working any British port. By then the native oyster was almost extinct, requiring voyages to the French and Portugese coasts.
J.D. Foster followed the American style differing from the English practice of vertical stem and 'round bluff bow'. For "better speeds when close hauled a sailing vessel benefitted from a spoon shaped bow (and overhanging counter), which gave a finer line of entry when the boat heeled over", ('A Short History of Emsworth and Warblington'). He built a dozen such between 1888 and 1902, mostly ketches, but culminating in the beautiful lines of the Echo, his largest and fastest, having a deck length of 112 feet with an overhang of 25, nearly a quarter its deck length.
She also had steam powered captsans along with a small auxilliary engine fed from a boiler to help power her in light winds when loaded. Her centre was a 'wet well' supplied with water via lead pipes, a typical feature of the oyster smacks designed to keep the catch fresh. The Echo was the only combined steam and sailing vessel of her kind.
She ended up alongside Hendy's Quay where leaking and covered in slime we played on her as children, where her beautiful lines still cut the incoming tide; went diving off her deck, as did the local children diving off of the deck of her sister ship, the Echo II, alongside 'The Ark'.
The Echo's sailing days ended with the outbreak of the War in 1939. There is a photo of her moored in the channel downstream from her berth taken in the 1930's in David Rudkin's book: 'Echo, the Queen of the Oyster Fleet". Her maker, J.D. Foster, died in 1940. The Echo was towed across the channel and burnt in the sixties.
The EchoII remained for over fifty years standing unfinished in the channel along side 'The Ark', the large square structure used to store the dredged oysters. Though at its height in 1897, the oyster fisheries was decimated by the great oyster scare just five years later. All work on the Echo II stopped and there she remained unfinished, never used except by us children and some tired gulls.
The Echo II was dismantled and burnt in 1979 along with the Ark.
Within the Harbour, the port of Emsworth was well placed, and trade thrived. Nearly every outward bound ship carried carried a cargo of unmilled grain up until around 1730 after which more and more flour began replacing it, reflecting the rise of local milling. Another important export was malt, (Emsworth had two breweries towards the end of the nineteenth century). By 1836, 40 percent of all such cargoes from Chichester Harbour were handled at Emsworth.
Coal had been coming into the Harbour since the mid-17th century with Emsworth being the most important landing. In 1884, half of the 20,000 tons coming into the harbour came into Emsworth. The town was at the height of its prosperity by the middle of the 19th century.
The Cosham Chihester turnpike came in 1762, and the canal to Arundel in 1823, the latter allowing barges to reach the centre of Chichester. A new channel, the 'New Cut' breached the wadeway to Hayling so barges could take much needed flour through the new Milton locks right into the heart of Potsmouth to supply the Navy, without having to leave the safety of the Harbours. Salt water however started to contaminate wells, and alternatives were looked for.
Thorney was still an Island until the dykes were built in 1870. The course of the canal was through the 'Great Deep', which can still be seen cutting across the low flat land now walled off from the sea. The wadeway to Thorney started from the bottom of Sware Lane later named King Street after John King the shipbuilder, and passed by Eames Farm then a small Island. The Wadeway followed the course of the present road.
By 1838 the Portsea Island end of the canal was abandoned as was the Arundel section in time. The South Coast Railway had reached Chichester by 1846 and Portsmouth a year later taking the path of the old canal from Fratton to Commercial Road. The Railway Company had to ask permission to cross the Parish road of North Street. The condition was that the company built a station. Emsworth got its station.
By 1864 a spur ran to Langstone Wharf, by 1867 the line was completed to South Hayling. As a child I remember trips to the beach on the 'Hayling Billy', a memorable experience across the bridge and down the east side of Langstone Harbour. Havant museum has film footage on video for those interested.
Commercial traffic in the Harbour increased for a while with the advent of the railway, but then as ever since, went into decline. Emsworth was more fortunate than most as long distance fishing took its place towards the end of the 19th century, but that too had disappeared by the 1920s.
Emsworth had many workshops during the expansion of the 19th century including boot making, furnirure making, tailors, coachbuilders and smiths, to accompany the trade in corn, coal and timber. There were two large sawmills, ship building, rope, twine, fishing net and sailcloth making.
Tachell's of King Steet who made textiles, sacks, ropes, tents and tarpaulins continued until the 1980s under the name of John Lewis. My grandfather worked for them when he first came to Emsworth around 1911. At the end of the 19th century there was even a plant for manufactuing bicycles.
John King the shipwright is believed to have come to Emsworth in the 1780s and built the House called 'The Hut' in 1795. The wooden sections had been prefabricated in the shipyard further down the road, and assembled around the ready built chimmney stacks. It still stands to this day in King Street.
It is said during the Napoleonic wars a press gang come to take his men for the navy. He and the men held the gates of the shipyard while one rode to Portsmouth to get an exemption, they being engaged on naval contracts, from the commander in chief. Apparently the man returned in time, causing the press gang left empty handed.
St Peters Chapel in the square was built in 1789 by the people themselves as the Bishop would not agree to a seperate church. Built on the site of a shipyard, though its facade has changed it still stands with its original and distinctive clock tower. Now a tea shop it once served as the town hall. It also served as 'The Pavillion', Emsworth's only cinema, managed by my own grandfather George Gale before the war.
The chapel at the rear was constructed in the shape of a coffin as could be seen from the School lane entrance to the rear when it served as store and offices for Reeves builders. A block of modern flats replace it now.
The town that grew in the 18th century changed in the 11th, its expansion coming to a halt with the coming of the railways. The population however still continued to increrase in the 1880s and 90s due to the expansion of Havant eastwards and because of the railway to Portsmouth. Some of that influx can still be seen in the remaining large Victorian houses that once lined the Havant Road. Emsworth was becoming a Dormitary Town.
The roads began to be tarred in 1909. Bus Services started running in 1916. Before that The Crown Hotel was the stop off point for stage coaches. Portsmouth to Chichester took from two to three hours along the much improved turnpike roads by the time of the Napoleonic wars.
Gas came to light the town in 1854
Piped water first came in the 1870s supplied by the Portsmouth Water Company at Brockhamton springs. Before that most relied on their own wells, the pump in the square, or on the springs at the foot of South Street.
The Sewerage system was develpoed in the 1880s discharging directly into 'Westbrook' or millpond, and Dolphin Creek, then into the harbour where the oyster coves suffered from the considerable pollution. The remains of the oyster coves can still be seen on the foreshore between South Street and Kings Street.
In 1902 after a banquet held in Winchester, the Dean of Westminster died of typhoid said to have been from eating oysters. A story appeared in 'The Daily Mail' that there had been typhoid in Emsworth that autumn in the South Street area, where some people still drew water from the well spring on the foreshore. An inspection followed. The Emsworth oyster trade never recovered.
In 1895 Warblington Urban District Council was formed of which Emsworth was a part. In 1932 this was absorbed into Havant & Waterloo Urban District Council, which in turn became The Havant Borough Council in 1974.
In the 1970s the short bypass was built against some protest of it as cutting the town in two. Congestion in the town by then was chronic. The motorway to the north then followed in August 1988giving much needed relief, completely bypassing the town, though the noise from the then untarred surface continued to be a matter of contention for some residents.
In the fifties we used to walk to the primary school as it was then in Washington Road, playing on the logs on the way, where the car park is now in Bridge Road. I have seen many changes in just my short lifetime. No doubt they will continue, some good some bad.
This account has been compiled from various sources but mainly those books mentioned on the About Emsworth index page, which if you would like to know more are well worth the reading. I hope you have enjoyed this brief history.