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
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
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
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
The poet Tennyson thought Bosham a delightful place and wrote this:
"Better to have been a fisherman at Bosham, my
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)