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 About Bosham

 


What others say about Bosham

Pictured in the Bayeux Tapestry - by Gil Saunders


Bosham (Bozz'm) has invariably had a good press. A random trawl through half a dozen travel books produces the same sort of language: "One of the most charming places in Sussex... Outstandingly pretty ... a gem of a place." And so on.

Only E.V Lucas, writing at a start of the century and ever on the out-look for a phrase to stop the reader in his tracks, called Bosham "a slut", showing a vast tracks of mud at low tide. On the other hand, he said, at high water she was " a fair abode of peace."

Bosham stands on a little peninsula between two tidal creeks at the eastern end of Chichester's inland harbour. As well as providing a sanctuary for migrating wildfowl - shelduck, wigeon, Brent geese, waders and many more - it is a wonderful centre for sailing. Artists, walkers and weekenders love the place, and at this time of the year it draws visitors like a magnet.

Particularly those with a sense of history. Where else would you find in a local parish church the original chancel that is depicted and named in the Bayeux Tapestry? With Harold entering it to pray before crossing the Channel from these very waters more than 900 years ago to parley about the English throne with William of Normandy.

An earlier king, Canute - he of the "turn back the tide" story - also knew Bosham. The body of a young girl, discovered in a small Saxon coffin when the church floor was being renewed in 1865, was almost certainly that of Canute's daughter who was drowned in an adjoining brook. Later on, in the unfolding story of our island history, there are more footnotes about this waterside community.

Plague Story

During the Great Plague of 1665, which killed an estimated 70,000 people in London alone, the fisherman of Bosham are said to have saved the population of Chichester from starvation. The story goes that the city was sealed off when a single visitor died, it was thought from the plague. No-one was allowed in or out, and appeals for food were posted at the main gates. Supplies of fish and other food were deposited by the Bosham men and taken in after dark by the citizens, who left coins for payment in buckets of water as a form of sterilisation. In the years following the plague, any hawker who was charged with trading in Chichester without a licence and was found to come from Bosham was invariably let off. Documentary evidence for all this is not available, partly because records for the period are missing, but it has support in an oral tradition that, three centuries later, is powerful today. Angela Bromley-Martin, a researcher and lecturer who has produced several works on local history, says the story is firmly believed by families whose links with Bosham go back many generations.

The Bosham waterfront

Up to the early part of this century, Bosham was still a place where life was supported by the sea. In Mrs Bromley-Martin's book Bygone Bosham (Phillimore, 1978) are photographs of fishing boats, shipbuilding yards, oyster beds and the Quay lined with schooners and barges. At one timer Bosham was second only to Whitstable in the oyster industry. Up to 40 boats dredged them from the Solent and the French coast and deposited then in the Sussex harbour until they were big enough for market. The trade ended when stocks were wiped out by limpets soon after the first world war, but it is now being revitalised.

Many recognisable signs of those seafaring days are still to be seen in the village. The Quay and the tiny High Street are lined with cottages that were once the homes of fishermen. An old building known as the Raptackle and now leased by Bosham Sailing Club, was used to house rope and gear for the busy shipping business.

Today, in a phrase of Angela Bromley-Martin, Bosham is for "the tired and retired, the weekenders and the yachtsmen."

If it were not for its geography the village would doubtless by now have decked itself with accoutrements to woo revenue-generating tourists: restaurants, cafes, flatlets, a promenade, boat trips and plenty of places to park the car. Everything, in fact, likely to make the residents shudder.

Caught by the tide

The fact is that Bosham was not designed by nature to provide a popular day out for the family. It is not a particularly easy place to find. There is no beach, no sand, and bathing is virtually out of the question. The tide sometimes swamps Shore Road and despite the warning signs, motorists who leave their cars on hard standing when the seas is out of sight, get caught by the dozen, summer and winter. (If the salt water can be washed out quickly there may be hope. Completely submerged, the car is a write-off. Which was the fate of a brand-new Rover among those caught last year.)

The Anchor Bleu is at least 300 years old.
The 'Bleu' is believed to come from the days
when there were seperate Admirals of the
Blue Fleet and the Red Fleet.

A large car park, preferably free, would undoubtedly help to meet such problems, but for all kinds of reasons this is not feasible. A pay-and-display area, of limited capacity, is ignored by many visitors and by virtually all residents, very few of whom have parking spaces by their homes. (Fishermen's cottages weren't designed that way).

Last year the parish council issued a document on traffic strategy making a number of suggestions with an eye to the future; although as it pointed out, the council itself can only "exhort and persuade", the decision-making powers residing elsewhere.

It calls for a careful balancing act to plan for the needs both of the residents and the people who come to enjoy what Bosham has to offer and spend their money. "A place to share but not to spoil" is how the council puts it. To some extent, Bosham is a victim of its own popularity. It is praised in tourist literature both in Britain and abroad; and the excavation of the Roman palace at nearby Fishbourne further swelled the number of visitors. Having viewed the palace, people went on to discover Bosham - and spread the word.

If you have yet to make a first-time call on Bosham a few pointers may be helpful -


Choose a weekday if possible and arrive early
Take note of the times of high water, posted on notices at strategic points - particularly if you are parked on hard standings.
Go, whatever the weather or season. Bosham is always worth seeing.

Copyright Gil Suanders.
May be used freely with appropriate accreditation.

 


Bosham church as depicted on the Bayeux Tapestry

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