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 About Bosham

 

Bosham 

Bosham is thought to be one of the most important villages in Sussex, historically speaking.  The Venerable Bede tells us that before St. Wilfrid brought Christianity to Sussex, an Irish Benedictine monk by the name of Dicul built a small monastery in the area. It was from Bosham Quay Meadow that Harold sailed for Normandy in 1064 and both Harold and Bosham church are shown on the Bayeux tapestry. Legend has it that King Canute ordered the waves to retreat at Bosham. Canute was said to have lived in Bosham, and it could likely be that his daughter is buried in the church here.

It has long been believed that the eight year old princess was interred in the church, and during the restoration of the building in 1865, the Rev. Henry Mitchell took the opportunity to investigate the site which some of his parishioners insisted was the place of her burial. The floor was taken up on August 4th, and a stone coffin found. The lid was removed, sadly this broke into two pieces, once opened the remains of a child of about the right age were found inside. The coffin was very similar to others considered to have be made at the time of Canute. It was on show to visitors for a while and then closed and reinterred.

In 1954 the coffin was re excavated, no bones were found, and it was assumed that the earlier exposure would have caused them to disintegrate, although it was even thought that this was not the same coffin. A glass bottle containing a small quantity of brown liquid was found in the coffin, is has remained something of a mystery, as it had not been mentioned in the account of the 1865 investigation. At the same time a larger coffin made of Horsham stone was found some three feet away from the smaller one. It contained bones from a powerfully built man aged about 60, who must have suffered with arthritis. Tradition had long stated that Earl Godwin, King Harold's father was buried here, and he is known to have walked with a limp.

The churchyard was at one time an open place where games were played games, cattle grazed, the local fishermen mended their nets, even washing was hung out to dry and fights took place. All this came to an end when a wall was built to enclose area and it was designated to be sacred ground.

In spite of the area's early connections with Christianity, in 1825 a group of villagers felt compelled to write: "The village of Bosham was until 1812 proverbial for ignorance and wickedness, there being no gospel either in the established church or out of it." This led to a Congregational Church service being held in the village for the first time.

At the Manor House in Bosham there is said to be buried treasure, put there at the time of the civil war. It was Cavalier money and jewels. The house has several ghost stories, including one about an old man, waiting for his son to return from a sea voyage and while watching in the window looking out to sea he died. The son and father had quarrelled before the lad sailed away. There were a story about a secret tunnel running from the Manor House tothe vault of the church, there is no evidence to confirm these legends.

Bosham church bells have a legend. During the time of raids by the Northmen, a band of pirates came pillaging up the creek. It is said they seized one of the church bells, and loaded it onto their ship in spite of pleas from the villagers not to take it. The remaining bells were rung out either in thanksgiving for the deliverance of the people, or to put a curse on the pirates. Once at sea the stolen bell broke it ties and crashed through the deck of the ship, which sank beneath the waves in to what is known as 'Bell Hole'. It is still there to this day, and when the existing church bells are rung, the sunken one is said to chime in unison. The legend goes on to tell of a wise man, similar to a white witch, who was asked to help recover the bell. He instructed the villagers to haul it up from the sea with ropes attached to a team of white oxen, who could be relied on for a strong and steady pull. However, one ox had one black hair, and so the spell was broken, the ropes snapped and the bell sank beneath the waves.

The legendary Sussex giant, Bevis, who used to step across Bosham harbour in one stride was supposed to have a staff or walking sticking. An enormous pole was once suspended horizontally inside the nave of the church, and was supposed to be the said staff. Reverend K. H.MacDermott wrote a history of the church in 1926, in it, the oldest inhabitants related that it was a sluggard waker's wand. This was used in the church by the parish clerk to waken with a tap on the head, those who fell asleep during the sermon.

The city of Chichester closed its gates against the spread of the Great Plague in 1664. So the fisherman of Bosham would regularly leave food outside the gates until the risk of the plague passed. In reward for this the Bosham fishermen had their market fees waived. Bosham has always been closely concerned with the fishing industry, especially oysters, but this is now in decline.

Each Boxing Day Bosham came to life with its gang of 'tipteerers' or Christmas mummers. The tradition continued up until the late 19th century. The troop had about twenty players who acted, sang and danced. They wore smocks and "chummies", the local name for the round black felt hats worn by Sussex men. The day started at about 9.00 in the morning. Then in decorated farm carts they headed for Shopwyke House, where they entertained villagers all day, until 9.00 in the evening. The parade was cheered as it passed through Chichester.

Bosham is a very popular place with leisure yachting and tourists. When the high tide is in and covering the mud flats it is a very pleasant place. It had been known for cars parked when the tide is out to be swamped by the incoming tide if left too long, in spite of the signs warning the owners to move them.

The local people pronounce the name as 'Bossum'. Which can cause some confusion.

The poet Tennyson thought Bosham a delightful place and wrote this:

"Better to have been a fisherman at Bosham, my good Herbert,
Thy birthplace - the sea creek - the petty rill,
That falls into it - the green field - the gray church -
the simple lobster basket and the mesh."


(original source unknown. Adapted by Tony Black)

 


Bosham church as depicted on the Bayeux Tapestry

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