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A fishing village with a long history of connections with the sea: fishing, boat building and oystering.
The village itself is picturesque with narrow streets, Georgian houses, high walled gardens, a good selection of village shops and restaurants. The pretty mill ponds are home to a variety of wildlife. A visit to this unique village is a must for all harbour lovers.
Emsworth is first recorded in the reign of King John, when Aguillon paid the King ‘a pair of gilt spurs yearly’ as rent. In 1239 Henry III granted a charter providing for a weekly market and an annual fair to be held in Emsworth on St Thomas’ day. Of all the harbour communities, Emsworth seems to have grown and developed most rapidly.
In the seventeen and eighteen hundreds there were five or six mills grinding in the town. Three were tide mills having vast mill ponds: Old Slipper Mill is now a block of flats, whilst Quay Mill built on the town quay now houses the Emsworth Slipper Sailing Club. The third mill, New Slipper Mill burnt down in the late 1880s after only a few years’ use.
In the 19th century almost every kind of trade was found in Emsworth: there were tailors, boot and shoe makers, shop keepers selling all kinds of goods, many taverns and The Crown Inn where the coaches on their way to London or south coast towns stopped to change horses. The coming of the Cosham-Chichester turnpike in 1862 and the opening of the canal to Arundel in 1823 did not pass Emsworth by; the former improved coach travel to a great extent and the latter enabled barges from Emsworth to reach the centre of Chichester to the benefit of both communities. Flour and malt were important export cargoes. By 1836 almost half of all coastal cargoes were handled at Emsworth.
At this stage Emsworth was at its height of prosperity as a small Hampshire market town with its own elementary school, doctors, lawyers, merchants and craftsmen. From 1850 onwards commercial traffic steadily declined partly due to improved inland communications and in part to the increasing size of the craft which small ports could no longer accommodate. As commerce declined at the latter end of the 19th century, so long-distance fishing took its place, yet by the 1920s this too had ceased. The last collier docked in 1929.
Emsworth grew up not just by trade but also because of the importance of the local fishery both within and without the harbour. Trade was mainly in oysters, once the poor man’s meat and along with it all the trades needed to support the industry. The 19th century saw commercial rivalry when oyster fleets from the East coast began to poach on the harbour. With the local stock soon exhausted the Emsworth fishermen had to go further afield – Brittany. New oyster smacks needed to be bigger and faster. One of the biggest fleet owners was James Duncan Foster who built his own innovative boats.
In 1902 Emsworth oysters were served as the first course to a banquet attended by the Dean of Winchester amongst others. He and a number of others died and it was found that the oysters were polluted with sewage. The sale of oysters were banned until the new sewage scheme was opened in 1914. After the First World War the industry got going again but never reached its previous peak.
The harbour is a good reason to visit Emsworth and provides an ideal base for sailors and windsurfers of all levels. Magnificent views to the downs, Hayling Island and Thorney Island are an added bonus. In winter migrating birds use this area as a temporary home such as Brent Geese, Shelducks and Bar-tailed Godwits. The town has 11 pubs many of which are in or within easy reach of The Square with some dating back to the 18th century. Many restaurants and cafes offer variety for all tastes.
The shopping area radiates out from The Square and has a feel of old rural England with its range of specialist shops and locally caught fish. Emsworth is a good base for walks around the harbour and further afield.
Things to do while your in the village: