Shoreham is a curiosity
When I researched Shoreham by Sea, I came across some marketing that listed all the things and places I could visit that aren’t actually in Shoreham. Hmmm. Undeterred, I headed south and found a town that is truly quirky and sits on the cusp of eclectic, trendy, and traditional.
There’s a bustling community here with harbour front cafés and a Brighton-esque vibe. Old Shoreham in fact dates back to pre-Roman times and by the time of the Domesday book in 1086, it was a village. William de Braose, the first Lord of nearby Bramber, founded a new settlement (new Shoreham) here at the end of the 11th century as well as founding St Mary de Haura Church at the beginning of the 12th century. The church is still there, representing a surprising encounter down an impressive little backstreet, although it used to be much larger than it is now. It’s one of a number of churches in the town like St Nicolas Church which is believed to be partly Anglo-Saxon.
You can’t miss the 12th century listed building and scheduled monument which is home to Marlipins Museum in the centre of town. Owned by the Sussex Archaeological Society since 1922, it may have been built as a customs house for the market and port but it now tells the story of Shoreham’s maritime and coastal history from the prehistoric period onwards.
It contains some surprising displays of all shapes and sizes from model ships, to the Sussex pig and items from shipwrecks and, of course, Shoreham’s film industry.
The Swing Bridge and sculptures
The two main bridges in the town are the Swing Bridge and the Norfolk Bridge. The Swing Bridge was opened in 2013 and replaced an old bridge that was beyond repair. Close to the 250-metre long Swing Bridge (which has views of the Harbour and up the river) are three sculptures representing diverse local heroes. King Charles II (who escaped from Shoreham to France in 1651), Peter Huxtable who served for the Royal National Lifeboat Institution for 43 years and saved some 449 lives, and Joan Morgan, the last star of British silent cinema, who worked for the famous “Glasshouse” Studio.
If you turn right over the Swing Bridge, there’s an unusual selection of houseboats. This is a far cry from the mews feel of Church Street and some of the other seafront housing. And this is one of the things that makes Shoreham by Sea so interesting, sandwiched in between beach huts and the harbour, this diverse and eclectic collection of floating homes … one made out of a coach, another shark-shaped. Some large, some small, all very unusual.
There’s a long boardwalk along the beach which is lined by an assortment of seafront houses. Some are clearly architect-designed beauties, others have perhaps seen better days although you get a sense that any plot in this row will be snapped up pretty quickly for redevelopment. At one end of this walk, you have the ubiquitous row of beach huts, and at the other end, you have the old fort and entrance to the harbour.
Shoreham beach was declared a local nature reserve in 2006 due to its unique vegetated shingle. In late May you can see the bright colours of Sea Kale and Red Valerian followed in time by Yellow Horned Poppy and the startlingly blue of Viper’s Bugloss, just some of the hundreds of species that have been recorded here.
The old fort
The old fort manages to be underwhelming but charismatic at the same time. Perhaps that’s due to its lofty position by the harbour with views both back on the town and out to sea. Shoreham by Sea had been pretty much ignored as a defensive position during the 18th century and the fort wasn’t built until 1857. It was manned until 1896 and a canon was still here up to or after the end of WWI. During WWII the fort was modified to defend the harbour and house two naval guns. A light tower was also built with the ability to activate mines to blow up the harbour entrance if needed and also target aircraft.
Film and fame
Francis Lyndhurst (grandfather of Nicholas Lyndhurst) established a film studio in Shoreham in 1913 called Sunny South Studios. The old fort was used to prevent film backdrops from blowing over and Lyndhurst also built the famous Glasshouse (a purpose-built studio) further along the beach. Railway carriages were brought from Lancing to house cast and crew and so Shoreham enjoyed short-lived fame as a centre of film production.
Anyone who drives along the A27 in this part of the world is familiar with the intimidating outline of Lancing College high above Shoreham and if you ever get the chance to visit the college, take it. The architecture is breathtakingly impressive. The huge chapel was built in the Gothic Revival style. The first stone was laid in 1868 and, although building work stopped in 1977, the chapel remains unfinished. The surrounding college buildings which are equally splendid, feel like they are ceremoniously saluting the chapel’s grandeur.
Lancing was founded by Nathaniel Woodard in 1848, a priest in Shoreham who shocked by social conflict, poverty and deprivation founded 11 schools. His aim was to provide an education with a fundamental foundation based on “sound principle and sound knowledge, firmly grounded in the Christian faith”. Ardingly College is another Woodward school, at first known as St Saviour’s College and actually founded in an impressive building next to the church in Church Street in Shoreham in1858. A hundred years before that, the same street was home to Captain Henry Roberts who sailed the seas with one Captain Cook. Ardingly moved to its current location in 1870 and one of its least notable students is my good self.
Walks and meanders
Apart from all its little peculiarities, Shoreham is surely an epicentre for keen walkers. Three big Sussex trails collide here, namely: the Sussex Border Path, the Downs Link and Monarch’s Way all linking you by foot to the rest of the county. The Downs Link leaves the town along the banks of the River Adur, Monarch’s Way is a 625-mile trail and the route King Charles II took in 1651 after being defeated in the Battle of Worcester. And the Sussex Border Path takes you north over the ever-magnificent South Downs.
Living in Shoreham by Sea
Shoreham has a regular market, its own art gallery and art scene, and plenty of independent boutiques, cafés and eateries. Not far from Brighton, you have all the perqs of easy access to that city but all the advantages of being part of a small community.
I’m not sure what I was expecting when I first came to Shoreham by Sea, but I wasn’t expecting to like Shoreham. But you know what? I did like it, very much. Its beauty is in the detail. It marches to the beat of its own very distinctive drum. It’s pretty (and ugly in places), it’s quirky, it’s old and it’s new. In short, it’s quite schizophrenic in a way that I think works really well.
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