Emsworth is a large village on the south coast of Hampshire, standing at the north end of an arm of Chichester Harbour, a large but shallow inlet of the English Channel. It is close by the border between Hampshire and Sussex.
Emsworth has a population of approximately 10,000. In the 19th century Emsworth had as many as 30 pubs and beer houses, probably to do with the fact that Emsworth was a fishing village. In some places the old oyster-beds can still be seen at low tide. The village has a basin for small yachts and a few fishing boats opposite the millpond, an artificial lake which fills at high tide can be emptied through a sluice at low tide. The River Ems, which is named after the village (not, as often believed, the town named after the river) also flows into the Slipper millpond, and although the mill is no longer in use it now houses a number of offices.
Adjacent to Emsworth is Thorney Island, Sussex.
The name of Emsworth's is Old English; Æmeles worþ ("Æmele's farm").
Emsworth began as a small Saxon village. At first it was linked to the more important settlement of Warblington nearby. In the early Middle Ages folk from Emsworth worshipped at St Peter's Chapel or in the church at Warblington. Emsworth was not mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086 and is presumed to have formed part of the lands of the manor of Warblington.
Although Emsworth started as a small settlement it soon grew to be larger and more important. In 1239 Emsworth was granted the right to hold a market and an annual fair, which was a prestigious grant and which brought merchants and traders from far and wide to trade at Emsworth Fair.
In the Middle Ages Emsworth was a busy little port. Large quantities of wine (the drink of the upper class) were imported from Europe through Emsworth.
In the 18th century and the 19th century Emsworth was known for shipbuilding, boat building and rope making. King Street is named after a man named King who settled there in the late 18th century and started a ship building business.
During the 18th and 19th centuries Emsworth was still a busy little port. In Emsworth grain from the area was ground into flour by tide mills. When the tide came in water was allowed to flow in behind a barrier. When the tide turned the water was trapped and it was only allowed to flow out under a mill turning its 'wheel'. Flour from Emsworth was transported by ship to places like London and Portsmouth. Timber from the area was also exported from Emsworth in the 18th and 19th centuries.
In the 19th century Emsworth had as many as 30 pubs and beer houses, probably to do with the fact that Emsworth was a fishing village. Today, only nine remain, and this number may have decreased due to the Emsworth fishing and oyster trade dying down, or to the consolidation of the pub trade in the 1990s and 2000s. Emsworth's once famous oyster industry went into decline in the early years of the 20th century. Recently, Emsworth's last remaining oyster boat The Terror was restored and is now sailing again.
At the beginning of the 19th century Emsworth had a population of less than 1,200, this made Emsworth a large village at the time. At the end of the 18th century it became quite the thing for wealthy people to spend the Summer by the sea. People believed that bathing in seawater was good for the health. In 1805 a bathing house was built where people could have a bath in seawater. Bath Road is named after it. However, Emsworth failed to take off as a seaside resort.
The Church of St James was built in 1840. Two years later Queen Victoria visited Emsworth in 1842. Queen Street is named after her. In 1847 the railway came to Emsworth with the construction of the West Coastway Line, Emsworth railway station was built to serve the town. The arrival of the railway led to the rapid growth of Emsworth.
Twentieth and twenty-first centuries
By 1901 the population of Emsworth was about 2,000. It grew rapidly during the 20th century to about 5,000 by the middle of the century. (The 1,000th house in Emsworth was built in 1953). Today the population is about 10,000. In 1906 construction begun on the Post Office; local cricketer George Wilder laid an inscribed brick.
The renamed Emsworth Recreation Ground dates from 1909 and is the current home of Emsworth Cricket Club, which was founded in 1811 and celebrated its Bicentennial in 2011. It was marked with a Grand Match against the MCC. Cricket in Emsworth has been played at the same ground, Cold Harbour Lawn since 1761.
PG Wodehouse lived at Emsworth for a while, visiting first in 1903. One of his popular recurring characters is named "Lord Emsworth", appearing in the Blandings stories.
In the 20th century Emsworth became a resort for pleasure boats. The oyster fishing industry declined after 1902 when sewage polluted the oysters. Oysters fishing at Emsworth ended until new sewers were dug but the industry never completely recovered. The harbour is now used almost exclusively for recreational sailing with two main sailing clubs.
During the Second World War nearby Thorney Island was used as a Royal Air Force base, playing a role in the Battle of Britain. The north of Emsworth at this time was used for growing flowers and further north was woodland (today Hollybank Woods). In the run up to D-Day the Canadian Army used these woods as one of their pre-invasion assembly points. Today the foundations of their barracks can still be seen, as well as the remains of pillboxes. In the 1960s large parts of this area were developed with a mix of bungalows and terraced housing.
In March 2008, Emsworth was hit by a large storm which resulted in numerous trees being uprooted and, combined with a high tide, led to large parts of the town being flooded. Both mill ponds were flooded, along with the lower part of Queen Street, including the Lord Raglan pub. Numerous other roads were flooded, making access to some parts of the town impossible.
From 2001 to 2007, Emsworth held an annual Emsworth Food Festival in September. Run entirely by unpaid volunteers this was the largest event of its type in the UK with 55,000 visitors in 2007. The Emsworth Food Festival was a community event involving local schools, businesses and community organisations. It was usually held in the town centre. However, in 2008 the Food Festival was cancelled due to numerous complaints of disruption to residents and some businesses in the immediate proximity; it has been replaced by a series of smaller events, spread out over the year.
Sights about the village
- The Quay
- The Mill Pond
- The Slipper Mill Pond
- The Gasometer
- St James' Church
Mouth of the River Ems from Slipper Mill Pond
- Whitfield, Robert. Emsworth: A History. Chichester: Phillimore & Co. Ltd., 2005. ISBN 1-86077-346-X