27 August 2012

The Development of Shoreham Harbour 1760-1880

Judy Middleton (1984 revised 2023)

  copyright ©  Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove
The view of Fishersgate, Southwick and Shoreham from Portslade in 1879 when the Aldrington Basin
was subject to tides. This painting was by James K Kinnear


On a June day in 1760, four months before the death of George II, twenty-one gentlemen met together at the Star Inn, New Shoreham. Nationally, it was a time of confidence with the Jacobite rebellion quelled and famous victories in India and Canada still reverberating in public consciousness (Clive’s triumph at Plassey in 1757 and Wolfe’s capture of Quebec in 1759). It seemed an auspicious time to make plans for the improvement of Shoreham Harbour. There was as yet no competition from canals or railways and most people agreed that roads were in an appalling state and not just in Sussex.
A view of Shoreham Harbour, in the days before
lockgates were built, illustration from the
Brighton Season Magazine of 1906

The twenty-one gentlemen were Commissioners of Shoreham Harbour and they met for the first time to consider making a new cut to the sea. The Commissioners were local landowners, shipbuilders and merchants with a sprinkling of clerics and one or two titled gentlemen to lend the proceedings a touch of class. Since most of them were of mature years, they were apt to die with depressing regularity. (Not of course that the word ‘dead’ was allowed in the Minutes and ‘deceased’ was the favoured term.) For example, there were Sir William Peere Williams and George, Viscount Midleton (sic), whose names appear proudly at the head of the Commissioners listed at the first meeting in 1760; the former died in 1761 and the latter in 1766. However, Sir William contributed more than his name because he lent the Commissioners £1,000 towards the cost of improvement. They still needed to borrow £5,000 from other sources and it is evident that in the early days the harbour was run on a shoe-string.

The decision to make a new cut to the sea was an effort to overcome the shingle problem. From the west bank of the river Adur’s mouth, a shingle bank had grown up, which was continually being added to by the prevailing winds and current. This meant the mouth of the river was pushed eastwards at an average rate of 118 feet a year. The volume of fresh water in the river was not enough to scour out a deep passage to the sea while the benefit the flux and reflux of the tides formerly gave, had been halted by enclosing the salt marshes. The river too, meandering through its flood plain, deposited mud along the curves near Shoreham until Old Shoreham had been effectively killed off as a trading port. Shipping was faced with the dual hazards of shingle drift at the harbour entrance and shoals and banks in the river itself. No wonder the merchant fraternity considered it time for action. They did not intend to stand idly by while what had happened to Old Shoreham was repeated at New Shoreham.

By 1760 the mouth of the river Adur had arrived at a point some 3 ½ miles east of New Shoreham in an area known as the Wish, part of the parish of Aldrington. The Wish is an apt word deriving from Old English meaning a meadow or land liable to be flooded. The new cut was to bypass the Wish altogether for it was to be made little more than one mile east of Shoreham and almost opposite Kingston-by-Sea.

Copy from the original by J Middleton
Extract from the Minutes of the 3rd September 1760

Mr Desmaretz drew up the plan and included a pier on either side of the entrance. John Reynolds was the engineer and it was part of his job to procure the timber. As a precaution against theft, a special hammer was provided in order that all timber could be marked ‘SH’ on arrival. Two of the Commissioners were on hand to check the first consignment of 70 piles costing £300. There was adequate supervision of the timber initially but when it came to driving the piles, it was a different matter. Workmen were engaged to drive the piles at an agreed rate per pile but to save themselves from too much trouble some piles were cut off at 8 or 10 feet from the top and the surplus sold for profit. It was hardly the unfortunate Mr Desmaretz’s fault the cut was not a lasting success because many of the essential piles were quickly undermined. However, the soundness of his plan was vindicated by the firmness of the piles driven to the correct depth of 16 feet and when they had to be removed at a later date, it proved to be quite a struggle.

At first the new cut was a success. Thomas Hollingham, a sailor aboard one of His Majesty’s revenue cutters, remembered his vessel using the new entrance more than any other ship. He stated the harbour was good and safe for almost two years; that is for as long as the piers remained. But when the sawn-off piles were undermined and the piers collapsed, the old problem returned. Shingle began to accumulate once more and the entrance was only kept open by a number of men and horses ploughing through the shingle on a regular basis. Unrestrained by the piers, the rive mouth began to drift eastwards again.     

copyright © Royal Pavilion & Museum, Brighton & Hove
Aldrington Basin and Salt Daisy Lake. Watercolour by Brook Harrison.
 View across landscape of grass to a river with several ships.

There had been some miscalculation concerning the effect the new cut might have on adjacent land. It is not known whether or not there had been consultations with local landowners before work started. But they were not reticent in letting the Commissioners know of damage done to their lands. John Norton of Kingston was the earliest and most persistent complainant and it seemed he had lost an acre of land almost from the inception of the cut. He claimed damages of £1-10s a year for his loss. This was agreed upon and the Commissioners took themselves off to inspect Norton’s land and to decide on what steps to take to secure it in future. Whatever they decided upon, Norton continued to complain about further land losses. By 1778 he reckoned he had lost nearly 6 acres.

Meanwhile, landowners in Southwick were also reporting damage. Amongst them were the Rector of Southwick complaining about loss of tithes, Mrs Barbara Monk and Colwill Bridger. Mrs Monk’s land was known as The Salts and so most probably had an old acquaintance with the sea whereas Bridger’s land was inundated with river water. The Commissioners recognised their responsibility and ordered a dam and a sluice to be constructed at Southwick Salts without delay. When these measures proved inadequate, a little dam was built three years later in 1783, north of the great dam at Southwick Salts, and a trough was dug between the two to carry off backwater.

Some buildings were at risk from the new cut as well. There were a number of warehouses at the Rock, Southwick, just to the north-east of the cut and they were badly affected. An effort to preserve them was made by throwing up a chalk bank in front of the buildings but nothing could check the damage and only four years later in 1794 the Commissioners had to pay out £200 to Charles Hanington (sic) in compensation for his storehouse and other outbuildings. Killick & Vallance, the owners of the well-known West Street Brewery, Brighton, also owned premises at the Rock. They expended £149-3-2 ½ d on building their own sea defences but only succeeded in claiming back £100 from the Commissioners.

The extra work and compensation payouts meant a greater call on resources than had been anticipated. Small wonder then that the Commissioners felt obliged to turn an honest penny whenever they could. For instance, in 1769 all timber and ironwork salvaged from the wrecked piers, plus wood not used was sold off by public auction at the Star Inn, Shoreham. Wheelbarrows too were included. In 1773 the Commissioners directed that a small quantity of treenails and a ladder be sold off for the best price possible. It had even been necessary to borrow money on the security of harbour tolls. This was somewhat irregular because it meant the amount of money borrowed exceeded the sum specified by Act of Parliament.

As if the Commissioners did not have enough problems to cope with, they also had to take measures against thoughtless seamen. It had become the practice of masters of vessels and bargemen to chuck their ballast overboard into the harbour where they liked. In 1770 the Commissioners stated that if they persisted in doing this below high-water mark, they would be prosecuted. But old habits die hard, and bargemen continued to dump their ballast in the harbour. In 1777 the Commissioners ordered notices to be erected at appropriate places stating the penalty for this offence was £5.

In view of the financial difficulties, it seems odd the Commissioners should decide in 1789 to apply to Parliament for leave to lower the harbour tolls. Reading between the lines, it seems likely captains were unwilling to use a difficult harbour and pay over the odds for the privilege. However, the lower harbour tolls did not last long and by 1800 it was decided to revert to the full rate.

copyright © G. Osborne
With thanks to Mr G. Osborne for granting permission for the reproduction of the above photograph from his private collection.  
The tidal end of Shoreham Harbour at Portslade c1900s

In 1789 Caleb Burrows was appointed Harbour Master at a salary of £35 a year. It is from his detailed reports recorded in the Minutes of the Shoreham Harbour Commissioners that valuable information can be gleaned. For instance, he wrote about the shoals opposite Kingston and at several points at Southwick, how storms had torn away various mooring posts, buoy stones and chains, and the repairs needed to the chalk wall and to the dam at Southwick. He also recorded the old names for different parts of the harbour such as Lovely Reach (opposite Kingston) Packets Hole (south of Kingston Lane) Egypt (Kingston) and Alexandria (Southwick).

In addition to keeping an eye open for developing shoals, Caleb Burrows was responsible for the mooring of all ships and vessels, the removal, cleaning, painting and tarring of buoys in the channel, the putting down of mooring posts, the security of booms and finally he had to direct captains as to where they could off-load their ballast. It was an onerous job, especially when there had been two pier-masters in 1764 while in 1770 two men had carried out the job of ballast master.

Burrows had an additional grumble in 1795 to the vexed question of ballast being off-loaded, and that was timber-merchants who threw their cargo of timber out of their barges into the river. There the timber stayed until required, meanwhile causing mud and fifth to accumulate, and timber beneath the water surface became an unseen hazard to other vessels.

Mooring posts and mooring chains were very necessary equipment, which often had to be replaced. Ships needed the assistance of a mooring chain placed east of the south beach because when the wind blew out of the harbour, their anchors could not keep a grip in such a strong tide. The poor old harbour boat spent so much time ‘laying on the Poles in Rough Weather’ that it was worn out by 1799.

In June 1800 Caleb Burrows reported that ‘the harbour is in a changeable and uncertain state and although by means of ploughing, the harbour is in a much better state than it was a short time ago, yet as the Channel runs through a loose Beach, without any works whatever to secure the same in one direction, it cannot long remain in its present improved state’. 


The predominant feeling in Shoreham was that the Commissioners were not making enough effort to improve the harbour. Therefore the inhabitants called a meeting of their own and asked the engineer William Jessop to make a survey. The fact that Mr Jessop was to make the harbour ‘safe and commodious’ was duly entered in the Commissioners’ Minutes for June 1800. Strangely enough it was recorded at the same meeting that the Earl of Egremont had been appointed a Commissioner. The Earl and Jessop were already acquainted because Jessop and Cater Rand had constructed the Rother Navigation Canal for the Earl.

In July 1800 Jessop wrote to the Earl a long account of a special machine at Yarmouth that raised ballast, which he thought would fit the bill at Shoreham. He described it thus; ‘it is a floating vessel about 20 feet in width and 45 feet in length, covered by a house and shed, in which a horse walking in a circle and turning an upright axis, gives motion by a combination of cogg (sic) wheels to a horizontal shaft, over which revolves a chain with iron buckets’. Jessop reckoned two horses would be needed, one to relieve the other, and he estimated their keep at 5/- a day as against 2/6d for the man who handled them. The Commissioners did not share his enthusiasm for this wondrous machine – no doubt the expense helped to sway their minds because it would cost at least £1,000, not to mention the barges to go with it.

In his report Jessop stated that since the new cut was made in 1760 the entrance had shifted 1,400 yards to the east and was now travelling at a rate of 100 yards a year. In his view it would be a waste of money to inhibit its action and he considered it more prudent to let it continue its eastwards drift. He thought the old mouth of the river at the Wish was the natural one and to try and confine the river mouth to a stationary position anywhere else would cost between £30,000 and £40,000. Whereas by continuing to plough the beach four times a year, the entrance could be kept open for only £200 a year.

Jessop’s report was criticised as being too indefinite but then he was asked to produce a cheap scheme. According to some people, another defect of the original report was that the Wish was dangerously close to Brighton and the inhabitants of Shoreham certainly did not envisage spending money on improvements for the benefits to be gobbled up by Brighton. 


The Earl of Egremont continued to take an interest in Shoreham Harbour although his presence at meetings was rare. In December 1809 he wrote to the clerk for some information, signing himself succinctly Egremont, Petworth. The letter must have put the clerk into a dither because he had to admit there had been some inefficiency. The Earl believed that changes in the position of the Adur’s mouth would have been accurately measured and he wished to know the figures for the last nine or ten years. Apparently, such information was vital should an application be made to Parliament for leave to improve the harbour.

The clerk was obliged to report back to the Earl that in 1800 the Commissioners had caused a post to be set up opposite the entrance so that the Harbour Master could measure the eastward drift should the Commissioners request the information. However, as the Commissioners never made a request, the Harbour Master never did any measuring. The clerk had to go out and do the measuring himself. He told the Earl the mouth had drifted 300 yards to the east, which was a variation of around 33 yards in a year.

In July 1810 the Earl was present at a Commissioners’ Meeting when John Rennie’s report on Shoreham Harbour was the topic of the day.


John Rennie (1761-1821) was invited to come and report on the harbour. Scottish-born Rennie was one of the most celebrated civil engineers of his day. He was particularly noted for his bridges at Kelso, Leeds, and the old Southwark and Waterloo bridges in London but he also constructed several important canals, designed the London docks, and improved the dockyards at Portsmouth and Chatham. When Rennie died in 1821 he was held in such esteem that he was buried in St Paul’s Cathedral, London.

Drawn from the original by J Middleton

Rennie was meticulous in the preparation of his reports and he always considered a sound knowledge of the locality essential. It is therefore not surprising to find his report starting off with a summary of the harbour’s history and problems.

Rennie compared the volume of sea-water and the volume of fresh water present in the Adur’s mouth. He estimated that pre-1760 the channel at spring tides contained at least 3,250,000 tons of water and that this quantity of water was thrown into it twice in 24 hours; whereas the produce of the Adur in its normal state did not exceed 650,000 tons. He must have intended to convey powerfully that the tides were of greater importance than the volume of water provided by the Adur because pitting a spring tide against the normal river flow was hardly a fair comparison.

Rennie shared Jessop’s opinion about the Wish being the natural entrance and that the river mouth was returning to it. Rennie considered that if the jetties, built in 1760 at Kingston, had been situated at the Wish instead, and had the shoals been cleared from the river between the mouth and New Shoreham, the harbour would have maintained its entrance and be in a far healthier state than he found it.

Then Rennie went on to comment on Robert Vazie’s plan for a new harbour. In fact Vazie’s grandiose scheme was probably the main reason for calling in Rennie in the first place. A sober comment from an engineer nationally recognised in his own field, would surely inform Shoreham people as to whether or not Vazie’s ideas were feasible. Rennie was quite fair in examining the plans and evaluating them but he also recorded his objections and made recommendations. However, Vazie in writing an open letter to subscribers of the proposed plan, took Rennie’s comments as ‘decided approbation’. He obviously thought the ‘full and explanatory Report’ was virtually a seal of approval. In the end the enthusiasm came to nothing and the scheme failed through lack of support.

Drawn from the original by J Middleton

Basically Vazie’s idea was to construct a wet dock covering 11 acres between the beach and Scurvy Bank (opposite New Shoreham). There was to be communication between it and the Adur by means of a lock and another lock was to connect with the outward basin, which was to be almost as large as the wet dock. From the outward basin a channel would be cut through the beach bank to the sea. Two wood jetties would guard the channel, the east one being of a shorter length. One other lock would connect the existing parts of the harbour with the new works.

Rennie’s objection was that the wet dock would be too small to scour out shingle, which would wash around the end of the west pier. He also did not like the form of either the entrance or the basin. The main differences between the two plans can best be summarised as follows.

Robert Vazie

Entrance piers - 60 yards apart
Length of entrance piers – east pier shorter
Wet dock – around 11 acres
Estimated cost - £135,262-6-0d

John Rennie

Entrance piers – 270 feet apart
Length of entrance piers – two of equal length
Wet dock – around 16 acres
Estimated cost - £208,742-0-0d

The difference in the estimated cost is not as great as might first appear because if Rennie’s suggested amendments to Vazie’s plan were adopted, they would add another £21,817-14-0d, which would make a final difference of £51-662 between the two. Rennie also suggested brick or stone wharfs and a light at the end of one of the pier heads, which he thought should be further extended by jetties to give a distance between the heads of 150 feet. He considered such an extension would provide added protection to ships while at the same time keeping shingle accumulation in deep water.

As for the Commissioners, they were in favour of the new works provided they were kept fully informed with all relevant reports, drawings, plans and estimates. They were prepared to support any Bill in Parliament that would give ‘additional security to ships from the Dangers of the sea and from the Enemy’. Finally they sent their thanks to the Committee of Subscribers to the intended new Shoreham Harbour Docks for a copy of Rennie’s report.

That the Commissioners fully expected the work to go forward is evident from their discussions about their power to charge wharfage and their concern for an indemnity clause in the new Bill against any claims for damages that might be forthcoming.


During the years from 1810 and 1815 there was a lull in the affairs of the harbour. After the excitement generated by the thought of new docks had evaporated, things went flat. Particularly as far as the Commissioners were concerned, as before the meeting on 4th June 1811, the seven preceding ones had been adjourned because an insufficient number turned up.

When they did foregather in 1811 it was to hear the familiar news that the harbour had been in a very bad state for most of the previous winter; even ploughing did not improve matters by very much. Some 800 tons of shingle was removed from the inner part of the channel but a similar amount remained within the harbour.

The river mouth was still drifting eastwards at a rate of 30 or 40 yards a year while the sea continued to cause damage to land in Southwick. In 1812 compensation for loss of land was paid at £60 an acre. Thus John Rice was paid £25-2-6d and the trustees of Henry Smith received £111, the land then being in the occupation of Nathaniel Hall. In 1814 the Revd Samuel Prosser, Rector of Southwick, claimed compensation for the loss of two acres. It was an ironic twist that the two Commissioners chosen to view the damage were John Rice and Nathaniel Hall.
Shoreham Harbour at Southwick before lockgates were installed
and subject to tides. 
illustration from the Brighton Season Magazine of 1906

Nathaniel Hall was an important local landowner. In 1795 he purchased the Portslade House estate and lived in the impressive mansion with extensive views over the fields to the sea on the south side while the prospect from the front of the building to the east faced the wooded slopes of Easthill across the little valley containing the village houses. On 1st June 1796 Hall’s daughter married a clergyman in St Nicolas Church, Portslade. The Halls were related by marriage to the Borrers, another important local family who lived in Portslade Manor. But by 1815 Hall had moved to Henfield. Hall was a partner in the Union Bank, which opened its doors in North Street, Brighton in 1805. By the 1850s the bank was run by Hall, West, Borrer and Hall and eventually in 1896 it became Barclays Bank.

In 1813 Caleb Burrows, Harbour Master, resigned. He had held the post since 1789 and the Minutes owe much to his careful reports. It seems rather hard therefore that the Benjamin Roberts, the new Harbour Master, should enjoy an immediate increase in salary from £35 a year to £50.

The stalemate in the evolution of Shoreham Harbour was probably influenced by the political situation and the endless war with France, which had been dragging on since 1792. At least the Battle of Trafalgar (21st October 1805) had secured British supremacy of the seas but conflict on land continued until the Battle of Waterloo (18th June 1815) finally brought an end to the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars.


Captain William Clegram had commanded different vessels trading to Shoreham and he also had some experience in building piers. He began his report by stating the harbour was now ‘extremely dangerous and difficult’. To illustrate his point he recorded the fate of the French vessel Helaine of Isgne carrying a cargo of butter. She endeavoured to enter the harbour on 25th November 1814 but struck the east pole and disintegrated; some of the crew perished. It seemed when there was a gale, the pilots were unable to venture out to sea to guide ships into port. In any case no vessel of more than 7 feet draught could enter or leave harbour in safety.

Drawn from the original by J Middleton

In Clegram’s opinion the most suitable site for a harbour entrance was around one mile east of New Shoreham nearly opposite Egypt and around 150 yards west of the 1760 cut. The anchorage was good and there was sufficient depth of water; a mile from shore there was a depth of 5 fathoms and clean sand while two miles from the shore the depth was 6 ½ fathoms and stiff blue clay. He proposed two wooden piers at the entrance. In his view the east arm was dispensable and should be cut off by a curved continuation north-west of the east pier.

Clegram disagreed with both Jessop’s and Rennie’s views. In fact he had to state he was unable to pass over their reports in silence. But he did allow they must have reached their conclusions on the basis of misinformation because ‘men of such superior judgement and talents would never have returned a report of this kind to a public Body diametrically opposite to what it really is’.

Clegram took exception to the notion that the further the harbour’s entrance was to the east, the greater would be the depth of water. He felt qualified to speak because he surveyed the harbour for Robert Vazie when Rennie was writing his report. In fact at a distance of 400 feet from the shore to the east of the present entrance, the depth decreased to 13 feet and this shallowness continued almost to Hove. By making the entrance where he proposed, all shingle and shoals would be avoided and tides would run more quickly. He thought the ebb and flow would scour the mud away. In addition, if the channel were to be deepened, there would be less likelihood of floods. Finally, as a Parthian shot, he reminded those concerned that coal could be purchased for 6/- a chaldron cheaper at Littlehampton and Newhaven, than it could at Shoreham.

There appears to have been some opposition to Captain Clegram who was obviously a man who did not mince his words. But William Chapman was not amongst their number. Chapman was asked to comment on Clegram’s report and produced his own detailed account five months later. Clegram and Chapman were friends and indeed Clegram was later appointed surveyor of works in 1816 upon Chapman’s recommendation. The Commissioners as a body decided to award Clegram £226-5-11d for his trouble and expense in making plans for the harbour, for acting as secretary to the subscribers, and for his travelling expenses.

We can only speculate about the opposition. But Mr R Brown of Godalming did write a private letter to Clegram dated 18th August 1816. It goes ‘My dear fellow, I had hoped that you had already endured and been buffeted about sufficiently to attain an object that ensured prosperity and should have caused unanimity at least among the people of Shoreham – but tis true that there are many to be found, disgraceful to the society of which they are members – unworthy the name of men, neither bound by the ties of gratitude nor of common generosity’.  These were strong words indeed. There were five men in particular who were virulently anti-Clegram but unhappily for us, the letter-writer does not name them.


Like Clegram, Chapman too had some experience of life at sea, having commanded a merchant ship in European waters for some three years. However, his chief role in life was a career as civil engineer. By the time he came to consider Shoreham Harbour, he had a great deal of experience and he was 67 years old. It is interesting to note that Chapman had acted as assistant to Jessop for six years while the Grand Union Canal was being constructed.

William Chapman was asked to deliver his opinion on the advice of Trinity House and specifically to state if the site proposed by Clegram for the new cut was the ‘most eligible’. Chapman reported he found Clegram’s plan ‘uncommonly correct’. But he did disagree on some points and had recommendations of his own to make. For a start he did not pick Clegram’s exact spot for the new entrance (150 yards west of the 1760 cut) as his choice was for almost the same site as the 1760 cut instead. It must be remembered that the harbour mouth was no longer in that place, having progressed some 2,400 yards to the east.

Drawn from the original by J Middleton

Chapman thought Clegram devoted too much attention to the New Shoreham part of the harbour and neglected the other parts. Chapman divided the harbour into three areas.
The area opposite Kingston, to the west past Shoreham and up the river Adur.
From Kingston east to the existing outlet.
From the existing outlet east towards the Wish.

Chapman felt Clegram was only concerned with the first area. This is understandable because in Chapman’s opinion this part was capable of containing without inconvenience between 800 to 1,000 sail of vessels. It sounds a wildly optimistic number but then Shoreham was never intended for massive East Indiamen but for much smaller vessels of shallower draught.

It was Chapman who first recognised the potential of the third area, which Clegram would have been quite happy to see closed off. Chapman had this to say. ‘On the north of the shingle island there is a channel leading to a wide expanse of tide receptacle up to the Wish; the water passing down this, will tend to keep the eastern division of the harbour deep; and its operation many be made effectual by placing a line of sluice-gates across the narrow channel between the shingle island and the north shore’. That Chapman’s recognition of the importance of the east arm was well founded can be confirmed by the success of the present day harbour where the east arm has been dredged and deepened to form the canal and lock gates fitted where Chapman had suggested sluice gates.

Chapman recommended the new outlet should be made permanent by the erection of two piers of equal length with between 60 to 70 yards between them. He was echoing Rennie’s views in choosing piers of equal length. He also agreed with Rennie and Jessop that the embanking of the marshes near the Adur had been injurious to the harbour. He thought some of the marshes should be left in their natural state.

However, he did not agree with everything Rennie had suggested and he was conscious of how this difference of opinion would be viewed in some quarters. ‘I am perfectly aware that the measures I have recommended run counter to the opinion of two gentlemen deservedly high in their profession’.

There was one telling point against Rennie’s thought that the Wish was the natural entrance and ought to be restored, which does not appear to have been noted before. Chapman pointed out that access to the port would be rendered more dangerous rather than less because of the nearness of the Jenny Ground rocks to the Wish outlet.

Chapman went over all the other reports with care. Finally, he came up with a precise estimate for his scheme.


640 feet length wooden jetty (filled with chalk) @ £17 per running foot   £10,880
680 feet length wharfing, in the interior prolongation of piers @ £9
                                                                per running foot                      £6,120
Mooring piles and guard piles                                                                 £400
Excavation of new opening, 78,000 cubic yards @ 8d per yard              £2,600
Bulwark, or facing of chalk opposite harbour entrance                            £460
Steam engine dredge boat with attendant punts and hoppers                  £3,500
Deepening and amending course crooked reach and deepening channel
                                                               from within shingle island         £2,300
Measure to promote speedy filling up of present channel                         £500
Line of sluices between shingle island and north shore with platforms
                                                 and communications with each shore      £3,600
Incidents, superintendence etc @ 20%                                                    £6.432

Grand total £36,432      


Chapman published his supplementary report in reply to certain objections. He seems to have handled his case admirably – something like a one-man public enquiry. He winkled out old and hoary inhabitants of Shoreham to come and give evidence on his behalf and he made sure the Shoreham Members of Parliament were on his side. The meeting took place at the Royal George, New Shoreham before William Wigney, chairman of the subscribers, and fourteen other gentlemen. These were the objections.
The entrance to the harbour was a shifting one
No foundation attainable for jetties on proposed site
A bar would collect at the mouth
The proposed sluice gates were at too great a distance to be of any service in scouring the harbour.

copyright © D.Sharp
Entrance to Shoreham Harbour and mouth of the River Adur
Chapman distained to deal with the first item at all as his report had already covered the ground so thoroughly. For the second objection he was able to muster a grand refutation aided by Clegram who had made the borings. He had discovered that after passing through a strata of shingle 15 feet and 6 inches deep, he came to a hard, black substance known as strombolo, which was one foot in thickness; under this was 6 feet of hard, blue clay and underneath the clay lay chalk rock. Chapman could state triumphantly ‘a better and firmer hold for giving stability to the jetty piles cannot be had’.

(Incidentally, strombolo is an odd substance. Chapman thought it was compressed peat moss but it was bitumen and strombolo was a peculiarly Brighton word for it. Pieces were often washed up on Brighton beach and poor folk would use it as fuel. There was one drawback – it stank to high heaven because it was highly charged with sulphur. The celebrated Dr Russell used to steam his scrofulous patients in the fumes given off by strombolo. There is also a seam of strombolo beneath St Ann’s Well Gardens in Hove and it is claimed that this gave the health-giving chalybeate spring its peculiar and characteristic taste).

Concerning the third objection, Chapman stated that in the first year after the 1760 cut had been made, the outlet had discharged not only the usual alluvia of the Adur but also the more ponderous shingle in the opening. If that entrance had been capable of removing both these, then his new cut would surely be able to handle one, and the lesser one at that, with ease.

He became quite technical in regard to objection four and the sluice gates. He stated that if the channel (that is the east arm) were narrowed and deepened, the rate of movement in the last two hours of an ebb tide would be five knots. This would be rapid enough to scour away any shingle or gravel.

Chapman’s star witnesses (brought in to repudiate the theory that a bar would form across the entrance) were eight old men, three of them in their eighties, the rest in their seventies. It was from them that we know about workmen of 1760 cutting off pile tops. The witnesses were as follows.

Thomas Hollingham, aged 87, formerly a sailor on board one of His Majesty’s revenue cutters. He often used the 1760 entrance and there were no bars; the harbour was good and safe until the piers were undermined.
Walter Broad, aged 78, mariner, he confirmed Hollingham’s evidence.
William Gradwick, aged 80, bargeman. He said there were no bars at the mouth and that the piles driven in to the correct depth were very hard to get out again.
William Cooter, aged 80, employed driving piles. He agreed with the others and he used the harbour several times a week. There was no bar.
Thomas Wickham, aged 73, sailor. He stated there had been no bar at the mouth
Harry Ather, aged 73, for the last 20 years a sail-maker, a sailor previously. He confirmed that several piles were not driven more than 5 or 6 feet down.
Thomas Pelham, aged 73, shipbuilder, spent his whole life at Shoreham. He gave the same evidence as Walter Broad.
Nathaniel Hillman, aged 74, employed as a sawyer in erecting the piles of 1760. He confirmed some piles were not driven to the depth directed by the engineer.

In view of so much detailed work and evidence, it was not surprising that Chapman’s report was speedily adopted.


The Minutes for 11th July 1815 record that Chapman’s report was received unanimously. The solicitors to the Commissioners (Marshall & Verrall of Steyning) were directed to prepare at once the necessary notice of application to Parliament for the requisite Bill. However, it was not until 2nd January 1816 that Mr Verrall was able to attend and report the legal notices had been prepared. Perhaps Mr Verrall would have attended sooner but the previous four meetings had been adjourned. Then in February the Commissioners suddenly had uneasy thoughts about their liabilities. Everything was halted until some additional clauses were inserted into the Bill. Amongst them were the following items.
Two independent engineers (one appointed by the Commissioners, the other by subscribers) to assess likely damage to low-lying lands that could arise from the new cut. Under the new Act, the Commissioners would either do the necessary work or pay the owners to do so but after that the owners would be responsible for repairs.
Works to be completed so that vessels could pass in safety within three years, the whole work to be completed within five years.

The Bill passed through Parliament in the summer of 1816. Here is an extract from the Shoreham Harbour Act.

‘Whereas the Population within the Limits of the said Port of Shoreham has been very greatly increased, and in consequence thereof the trade of the said Port might be considerably extended if the said Harbour was improved; and the same … will not only afford great Protection to Shipping in Distress but will also form a commodious Station for His Majesty’s Cruizers (sic) in Time of War’.

The first meeting under the new Act took place on 23rd July 1816. Twenty-two Commissioners were present including three Members of Parliament. The Duke of Norfolk and the Earl of Egremont were not elected until later that year.

Drawn from the original by J Middleton

The prospect of the new undertaking caused a great deal of interest. There were materials to be tendered for, and many labourers would be needed. Letters began to arrive from young men anxious for employment – often they would ask someone else to write the letter as a reference. Thus a letter written by Richard Miller on 7th December 1816 on behalf of William Mason proclaimed him ‘a sober young man that can write and cipher if you can get him a Foreman’s place’. A letter from Stephen Bowiner informed the Commissioners that William Pearce of Bosham had two ‘bardges’ (sic) and was willing to remove timber, chalk, etc. Richard Miller of Emsworth had heard that the man in charge of the works would only employ Sussex men and so he sent a list of 70 persons, some resident in Sussex and navigators.

The tenders for materials were awarded as follows.
Thomas Edmonds to supply British oak, plank and battens @ £14-10s a load
Childs & Stoveld to supply beech plank @ £6-10s and beech spars @ 6/3d each.
George Tate to supply deals and fir timber.
WG Rigden to supply chalk. (His tender was not the lowest but he was nearest to the harbour).
William Crumb to do the ironwork.
William Bellingham and Thomas Francis to form piers and jetty work.

It was at last recognised that matters requiring prompt attention might crop up between meetings of the Commissioners. A sub-committee of seven men was set up and they were authorised to consult with Captain Clegram. Amongst them were John Vallance (who had already lost land in Southwick to the sea but whose family would become major landowners at Hove); William Wigney (probably related to Isaac Wigney, the Brighton banker, who was also treasurer to the Commissioners); and Nathaniel Hall whose brother-in-law JB Norton, Collector of Customs at Shoreham, had been murdered by two soldiers in 1795. 

The Commissioners were well aware the 1760 cut failed because some piles were not driven in deep enough. They were determined this should not happen again and they took two measure to prevent it. The first was to direct Clegram to write to Chapman and tell him it was their wish that 24-feet long piles should be used instead of the 16-feet ones already decided upon. All timber was marked CSH and the second precaution was to make people aware that anybody found carrying away timber so marked, even if washed ashore, would be prosecuted.

(Another local pastime, besides making off with pieces of timber, was taking pot shots at buoys in the harbour. Anybody found guilty of this offence would be ‘persecuted (sic) with the utmost rigour of the law’).

William Chapman kept fully in touch with the construction work going on at Shoreham. He wrote over 100 letters to Clegram, an average of one a fortnight. He also made eleven visits to the site himself until 1821.

Francis & Bellingham, the contractors, were found to be less than satisfactory and were fired. Chapman recommended McIntosh as a responsible contractor and warned the Commissioners that if this man were not taken on, there would be little chance of the harbour being ready for use before the end of September 1818. Thus Hugh McIntosh took up his post at Shoreham. Did he bring a relative with him? At all events one Alexander McIntosh was called before the Commissioners to explain his ‘great offence’ in cutting off the head of a pile without authorisation. He explained it was an error and the Commissioners agreed to overlook it this time. In view of past experience, it was not surprising they were so touchy on the subject.

The Commissioners were also familiar with the problem of flooding and they tried to minimise the risk of it happening with the new cut. Indeed in the Minutes of 28th December 1818 they instructed Clegram to ‘proceed to open the harbour’ only after the protective work guarding Gorringe’s land had been completed. On Clegram’s advice, Gorringe’s land (known as the Kingston Estate) was protected by a chalk embankment built to a height of two feet above the highest recorded tide level. All proprietors of land adjacent to embankments were instructed to sow them with grass seed, which would be paid for by the Commissioners.

copyright © D.Sharp
The River Adur at Shoreham in 2012

The embankments on either side of the Adur were also attended to; there were cracks that looked alarming to a layman but they were caused by drought and were soon filled in. A culvert was placed in the mouth of the creek at Bramber and an embankment was raised at the wharf above Beeding bridge. A chalk embankment replaced the wooden dam protecting low ground at Southwick. (Mr Rigden must have done exceedingly well out of the continuing demand for chalk.).

Not surprisingly the various works on hand consumed money at an alarming rate. Soon the Commissioners were in financial difficulties. In June 1819 the solicitor reported that the Exchequer Loan Bill Commissioners were prepared to advance £15,000. It is said William Chapman assisted in getting the loan raised; and well he might because (with the exception of one sum on account) the Commissioners failed to pay his fees after December 1817. By 1821 the Commissioners still owed him £500 and Chapman fired off repeated protests at the delay. In 1824 there was a partial settlement at last but it seems the unfortunate Chapman remained £180 worse off for his involvement in the improvement of Shoreham Harbour.

Another impatient creditor was the Butterfly Iron Company of Derbyshire from whom a steam engine and dredging machinery had been ordered in March 1818. Chapman was asked to engage from Newcastle ‘a Person capable of managing a Steam Engine’. Whether or not Mr Bourne hailed from Newcastle is not known but he did earn the princely sum of 30/- a week at Shoreham. Meanwhile Clegram had called in the services of a millwright and a carpenter to assist in erecting the engine.

As a contrast to the new-fangled steam engine, it is pleasant to note traditional (and cheaper) articles required at the harbour. Thus in 1818 the clerk ordered several items including 200 quills, four sticks of sealing wax, and a ½ quire of blotting paper. Likewise, in 1819 the Harbour Master needed 15 barrels of coal tar, oil for the harbour lights, two red flags, a speaking trumpet and a spy-glass.

It was on 22nd April 1817 that the first pile was driven. This event was accompanied by full Masonic honours provided by the Royal Clarence Lodge, Brighton, and Harmony Lodge, Shoreham. (The Freemasons were much in evidence in the locality during the 19th century. The Royal Clarence Lodge, founded in 1789, was also involved in laying the first stone of St Peter’s Church, Brighton, in 1824, and laying the first stone of the railway viaduct across New England Hill, Brighton, in 1839. Perhaps the last hurrah, as far as such open air Masonic activities in the locality are concerned, was the stone laying ceremony for the extension of St Leonard’s Church, Aldrington in 1936).

The new cut was open by 1819 but the works were by no means finished. Trade continued to be good for Mr Rigden who supplied chalk for in-filling behind piles for the east pier in 1819 and the following year he delivered 2,000 tons of large chalk @4/- a ton for the sluices. The sluices were to be adjacent to the shingle island and buildings were erected on the island while work was in progress. Henry Butter erected a house in the cheapest manner possible – it cost £22-10s – and a workshop was moved to the island from the west side of the harbour.

Then came a hiccup. The Commissioners decided Chapman’s plan for opening and shutting the sluice gates to correspond with the disengaging machinery was too complicated and they asked Clegram to design a simpler and cheaper version.

Clegram had also been busy constructing a new road from West Street to Middle Street, Brighton and was obliged to ask for leave of absence from his post at Shoreham to go and inspect the road works two or three times a week. In the spring of 1820 Clegram travelled up to Newcastle to obtain Chapman’s approval for his own version of the sluice gates.


One cannot help feeling Clegram must have disliked having to write this report. After all his years of experience, and his and Chapman’s hard thought-out improvements, the harbour entrance was still causing problems. Indeed he had to state baldly that the entrance had been in a very bad way since November 1821. It was not Chapman’s or Clegram’s fault but rather an unexpected event in the shape of a brig. On 7th November 1821 this vessel was wrecked on the groyne extending from the east pier. It caused 50-feet wide breach, which enlarged rapidly with every tide. There had been heavy gales of ‘unabated violence’ too and because they lasted a considerable time, a mass of shingle washed around the west pier head. The waves kept pressing forward into the entrance while the ebb tide poured through the breached groyne until the whole edifice was washed away. The west pier was thus very vulnerable and ought to be protected at once.

In addition there was the problem of a shingle bar at the entrance – and Chapman had been so confident this would not occur. The shingle bar was variable; a gale extended its length but a spring tide and fine weather reduced it. What about that magic remedy, the sluice gates? Clegram had to admit apologetically ‘the advantage derived from the erection of the Sluice Gates, I am sorry to say, have been but few and hardly worthy of mention’. But he could state they kept the east branch clear of mud. The sluice gates were also quite effective in dealing with the shingle bar at the entrance as long as the west groyne remained but once that had gone, the sluicing effect was negligible.

Clegram recommended the east groyne be rebuilt and both east and west groynes should be extended to the low water spring tides mark, around 130 to 140 feet. He thought the west groyne should be four feet higher than the east one to prevent shingle from being washed over into the harbour. The cost of building the groynes of best red pine timber would be £7,500 – that is around £10 per foot.


It was Clegram’s wish for his plan to be laid before an eminent engineer for approval. There could not have been anyone better qualified than Thomas Telford (1757-1834). Like Rennie, he was Scottish born, and during his lifetime Telford had an incredible output, constructing no less than 1,200 bridges, besides roads, canals and docks. At the time he was evaluating Clegram’s report, his great work on the Caledonian Canal was just nearing completion while his Menai suspension bridge was still in the future.

Telford gave full backing to Clegram’s plan. But he was a realist and he wrote ‘From the limited state of the Harbour funds, the reconstruction of the Eastern Groyn (sic) is all that can be at present recommended, only it will be advisable to extend it far outward, as to cause the current to act upon the Gravel Bank and prevent its further accumulation … indeed the whole of this appears to have been judiciously laid down in Mr Glegram’s plan’.

Telford also endorsed Clegram’s idea that a greater volume of water could be held if aprons were built in front of the sluice gates. At present their existence was endangered. (Clegram had estimated the aprons would cost £600 and so he thought the Commissioners were unlikely to see the necessity). Finally, Telford wished the Commissioners well and hoped they would prove ‘successful in preserving, to this exposed Coast, so valuable an Asylum Harbour’.


By the close of 1820 the Commissioners were again short of funds. They asked the Exchequer Loan Commissioners to lend them £4,000 to enable work on Lighthouse Point to be completed. In 1821 Thomas West joined the Shoreham Harbour Commissioners as their new treasurer, Isaac Wigney having resigned. West stepped into the breach by advancing the sum of £2,500 to the Commissioners – a very useful treasurer indeed.

The total cost of the works came to £58,000. The most expensive single item was the steam dredger, which had cost £3,500. It is not to be wondered at if the Commissioners were anxious to sell it off as soon as possible. In 1824 the vessel was advertised for sale at £1,500. It was some time later that the Commissioners realised they should have asked the Exchequer Loan Commissioners for permission to sell since the dredger was purchased with money borrowed from them in the first place. Permission was granted and in 1826 the dredger was finally sold for £1,250 to the Cork Harbour Commissioners.

Nothing was too insignificant to sell when no longer required and the Harbour Master sold anchors and ironwork as directed for £12-10-10d. In 1828 when the sluices were finally abandoned, everything – wood, iron, brick and stone – was sold. Apparently there was a great shortage of building materials at Brighton at the time and so the sluices were demolished at all possible speed for the items to be sold while the market price remained high. It was unfortunate the Exchequer Loan Commissioners sent a letter rescinding their permission to demolish the sluices as by then the deed was done. But in deference to them, some of the materials were stored away for possible future use.

Meanwhile, there was the loan to pay back to the Exchequer Loan Commissioners. In 1821 the Shoreham Harbour Commissioners asked for three years in which to repay the loan. The principal sum was £750 and the interest was £712-10s. They were unable to manage it in time and were obliged to ask for an extension until 1828.

It was bad enough owing money on all sides without one of the Commissioners’ employees stealing from them. It must have dawned on them that something was amiss. In any case in 1825 a finance committee drew up a special report advocating proper accounts and records to be kept. While bringing them up to date, it was discovered that Henry Partington, the Collector, owed the Commissioners £738-18-5d in dues not paid in. He had also failed to enter thirteen foreign vessels and nine coasting vessels in the records. In future all dues were to be paid in once a month and the Collector’s lists were to be crosschecked with the records of His Majesty’s Customs.

The Commissioners applied for compensation to Messrs Tate, Partington’s sureties. The Tates at first refused to answer letters, then declined to pay up or attend a meeting. The Tates were no strangers to the Commissioners – indeed Edward Tate had been a Commissioner himself and George Tate had supplied the harbour with deals and fir timber in 1817 and best Swedish timber in 1820. The Commissioners gave the Tates until 29th September 1825 to pay up and when nothing was forthcoming, started legal proceedings. The Tates had influential friends and five of the Commissioners wanted the action to be halted. But when Edward Tate finally attended a meeting he failed to make a good impression upon the rest of the Commissioners and the action continued. The outcome was that George Tate and Edward Tate were each ordered to pay the Commissioners £767-14-0 ½ d. Their answer was to go bankrupt. The clerk then had the bother of applying to the Commissioners of Bankruptcy to prove the Commissioners’ claim. Of course the full sum was never recovered but from George Tate at least there came a dividend of 1/2d in the £. The final sorry chapter in the story occurred in 1832 when Partington wrote to the Commissioners asking for the proceedings against him to be stopped. The Commissioners very generously agreed out of consideration for Partington’s family.

Trouble of a different sort was due to vessels using the harbour. As the number entering Shoreham increased, so did the incidence of ships damaging the structure. In 1821 two sloops belonging to Arundel called Judith and Hope ran into the works. In 1822 there were further incidents and by this time the Commissioners were aware that damages might be claimed from the owners. Thus the owners of Pam, Charlotte and Brothers paid up; the owner of Thetis did a great deal of explaining and had his fine reduced to half; proceedings were taken against the brig Friends Increase while those against the sloop Admirable Henrietta were halted. In 1824 a further five ships were in trouble with the Commissioners. But after this rash of collisions, things calmed down – perhaps captains began to take extra care while entering Shoreham Harbour.


The new cut for which Chapman and Clegram were responsible was a success and more vessels began to use the harbour. This is evident from the table set out below, which shows the number of vessels, with cargoes, arriving at the harbour. The numbers were calculated from the 31st December of one year to the 31st December of the following year.

1816-1817 – 198 vessels
1817-1818 – 393    ‘
1818-1819 – 443    ‘
1819-1820 – 408    ‘
1820-1821 – 367    ‘
1821-1822 – 516    ‘
1822-1823 – 723    ‘
1823-1824 – 718    ‘

A new departure for the harbour was the arrival of passenger steamers. The service started in 1824 and it later superseded a brief try-out on the Newhaven / Dieppe route, which was not firmly established until 1848. The early steamers used Shoreham Harbour without any special provision having been made for them. After the service had been in operation for four years, the Commissioners decided they ought to provide specific accommodation for the packet boats. They sent for Captain Clegram.  Clegram had in fact resigned his post at Shoreham in 1826 because he found ‘a much more eligible situation in Gloucestershire.’ But the Commissioners thought so highly of him and his ‘great ability and unremitting attention’ they asked him to visit the harbour occasionally as a civil engineer. Calculating the cost of providing accommodation for the packet boats in 1828 was one such occasion and Clegram thought it would amount to £350. Work could not start at once because the relevant landowners needed to be consulted first. Mr Knight objected, but the Duke of Norfolk, the other landowner involved, not only agreed but he also offered to erect the stage for the steamers at his own expense. The Commissioners were only too happy to accept.

Steamers used the harbour without mishap until 28th July 1840 when the Dart damaged the east pier. The damage must have been superficial because the owners were only required to stump up fourteen guineas. The Dart had apparently endeavoured to enter the harbour 1 ½ hours before high water mark – a time described delightfully in the Minutes as an ‘improper period’. Two months later the Dart again damaged the harbour, this time it was the middle pier. However, the money required from the owners was only £8-5-3d because a storm was raging at the time.

Meanwhile Clegram had finally said goodbye to Shoreham but not before he had made a further report in 1833 on improving the west branch of the harbour. The suggestions were accepted and the work carried out in 1833. It was a small-scale improvement only costing £493. In 1824 Clegram finally left and so ended an association of almost 20 years. The Commissioners were unanimous in voting him the sum of £100 as a mark of their appreciation.


 copyright ©  Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove
The Dust Storm  by Clem Lambert (1855-1925)
(the scene shows the Lighthouse at Kingston Buci and in the distance to the left, is the Church of St Mary de Haura 
on the far side of Shoreham Harbour

Chapman’s plan provided for a middle pier some 700 feet long situated directly to the north of the entrance. It was known as Lighthouse Point and in 1820 it was extended with piling work around it as an added protection. Until 1836 the lighthouse gave out a white light and then it was decided to use a red shade. It was not a popular move and it was soon removed at the particular request of the pilots. However, sometimes memories are short-lived and in 1842 the Harbour Master thought a nice red shade was just the thing. There were other harbour lights too – presumably at the end of each pier and these dated from 1821.
copyright © D.Sharp
The Shoreham Lighthouse at Kingston Beach, in the
background is the RNLI Lifeboat Station built in 2010

In the 1840s the decision was taken to erect a new lighthouse at Lighthouse Point. This was hereafter referred to as the high lighthouse to distinguish it from the pier lights. The new lighthouse was situated on land formerly owned by WP Gorringe. But it was not until after the lighthouse was built that the Commissioners, somewhat belatedly, purchased from Mr Gorringe the piece of land on which the access road ran to the lighthouse. It cost £5. Messrs Cheesman constructed the lighthouse in 1846 for the sum of £885. But the builders turned out to be not very fast workers. The clerk was obliged to write to them and remind them they must keep to their contract because someone else was expecting to start work on erecting the lamp on 1st September.

The lighthouse lamp was lit using the best spermaceti oil. This substance was derived from the sperm whale and gave out the brightest and most reliable light of any source available at that time, apart from gas. It was not cheap and by the 1870s was costing 7/- a week. In 1873 the Harbour Master considered it would be far cheaper if the lighthouse lamp were to be lit by gas. He reckoned the cost of gas would only come to 3/6d or 4/- a week. In the same year the lighthouse lamp was converted to gas at a cost of £9-2-7d.      


In November 1841 William Pritchard was appointed Superintendent of pier works – a post quite distinct from that of Harbour Master to which Samuel Sanders of Shoreham was appointed. Pritchard came from the Bristol area and he thought the Commissioners would pay for his expenses in travelling to Shoreham for his interview and later for the cost of removing his wife and household goods. He asked for £24 but the Commissioners did not consider he had any legal claim although they did give him £15.

In 1843 he published his report, taking a fresh look at the problems facing the harbour. For the first time a tidal bore is mentioned. Pritchard found that at spring tides and in stormy weather, the bore travelled at the rate of 250 feet per second. It caused a huge swell in the west channel and at the same time brought a great deal of shingle into the harbour. In his opinion, having two piers of equal length aggravated the force of the bore. The bore needed to be broken up by a breakwater of open piles that would only cost a few pounds to construct. He wrote ‘I wish to impress upon your minds, that there is not an instance in Great Britain of a harbour having so much fall at its entrance as this harbour’.

Pritchard had no faith in sluices. He cited the cases of Lowestoft and Dover; the former had expended £150,000 and the latter £60,000 on sluicing apparatus and their harbours were in a worse state than formerly. But he did not want local people to believe a shingle bar was like a hereditary disease that could not be cured. He was surprised Jessop and Rennie made no reference to the annoyance of bars and in his view Chapman had recommended measures that actively encouraged a bar to form rather than removing it.

Pritchard really thought Shoreham Harbour should have no problem at all. This was because it had the incredible quantity of 3 million tons of water traversing the entrance four times in 24 hours. This in itself ought to make Shoreham the principal port from Spithead to the Nore.

Apart from breaking the velocity of the bore, Pritchard believed the only thing needed to keep the harbour in good working order was to allow proper ingress and egress of the tidal waters.

In 1843 Pritchard resigned his position at Shoreham. His reasons for doing so are not recorded. Perhaps the wrangle over expenses soured the atmosphere or most probably the Commissioners were unenthusiastic about his report. Henceforth the Commissioners decided to combine the posts of engineer and Harbour Master at a salary of £200 a year and Samuel Sanders was appointed. He was found to be eminently satisfactory and in 1846 the Commissioners presented him with £50 for his ‘great and unremitting exertions … in the duties of his office’. Sanders continued in his post until January 1873.

However, Pritchard’s recommendations were not ignored entirely because in 1844 we find that 76 additional piles costing £220 were added to the east pier. This was followed in 1845 by erecting new groynes and putting more piles along the side of the pier. For the first time concrete was placed between the piles on the east and west sides of the pier. This was an attempt to stop the ravages of the ship-worm (Teredo).


copyright © J.Middleton
Monogram of LB & SCR
(outside Hove Station)
In the 1830s railway fever came to Shoreham. The Commissioners found themselves giving their assent to Stephenson’s line (16th January 1836) then Rennie’s line (16th February 1836) and they also received a notice from Joseph Gibbs (14th January 1837). In short there was a rash of proposals concerning the best was to construct the London to Brighton, and the Brighton to Shoreham railways. In the end a compromise plan was worked out between the four main interested parties (whose engineers were Rennie, Stephenson, Gibbs and Palmer) and honour was satisfied.

From the Commissioners’ point of view a railway link to the harbour could only benefit trade. It would also give them an advantage over Newhaven, which as someone pointed out, was closer to Dieppe than Shoreham and must therefore be a more viable proposition. The Brighton to Shoreham line was built in 1840, whereas Newhaven had to wait until 1847. But it must be said the Shoreham line was easier to construct as no heavy engineering works were necessary and there was a gentle gradient. The one misgiving the Commissioners felt was when in 1837 the various railway companies had expressed their intention to ‘take the lighthouse’. The clerk was ordered to take all possible steps to protect the Commissioners’ interest.

The London, Brighton and South Coast Railway came to an arrangement with WP Gorringe for the use of his wharf, which continued to be known as Gorringe’s wharf for some time. In July 1840 a deputation from the Company attended a meeting of the Shoreham Harbour Commissioners to obtain permission to enlarge this wharf and to make a direct link with the railway by means of a bridge. The bridge was constructed of 31 arches, each one with a span of 30 feet and averaging 12 feet above high water mark.

As well as importing coal, the LB&SCR Company made coke at the harbour. In 1847 they proposed to erect additional coke ovens at Kingston that would treble the consumption of coal. This was good news for the Commissioners who generously allowed the Company a claw-back of £2-5s on every 100 tons of coke made by them from coal imported into the harbour.

However, the Company upset local traders by making an extra charge for wharfage. In 1849 a deputation composed of Captain Forbes, William Catt and Isaac Bass went to the Company and expressed their dissatisfaction. They stated that the Company’s additional charge of 5d plus harbour dues cost traders 10d per ton of wharfage whereas only 3d was payable at Newhaven. The Company passed the buck to the Commissioners as can be seen from this letter dated 10th April 1849. ‘The Directors are willing to do their best in endeavouring to meet the views of the Commissioners in regard to making Shoreham Harbour as cheap as any other on the South Coast, if the Commissioners on their part will cooperate in making a reduction in the present heavy rate, which is paid by this Company for harbour dues’. The Commissioners retorted they had already reduced dues and come to a special arrangement with the Company in 1847 as regards coke and so they would like to see the Company’s wharfage charge on a par with that charged at Newhaven.

In view of this impasse, it is not surprising there was a wrangle over who was responsible for the maintenance of the railway wharf. The Commissioners held it was the Company’s responsibility to scour out the dock and the Company retaliated by declaring that as it was part of the harbour the Commissioners ought to clean it out. Several requests were made on this score with the gentle prod that the railway wharf did generate a great deal of trade. Finally, the harbour agreed to clean out the dock but only on the understanding they did not admit liability and only did it as a gesture of goodwill because of the increased trade at railway wharf.


As we have seen in 1795 timber merchants were accustomed to storing their timber anywhere in the river. It does not seem to have been secured in any way but just left there to get in everyone’s way. Obviously the Commissioners could not allow this situation to continue indefinitely. The answer was in chaining the logs together or better still having the wood stored in properly recognised timber ponds.

copyright © Eric Masters
Timber Pond c1900. The road leads up from John Eede Butt's timber yard.

In 1834 there were two requests to make timber ponds, one from Hugh Fuller and the other from WP Gorringe. Both of these gentlemen were Commissioners at one time or another and both of them owned land adjacent to the harbour. Fuller’s timber pond was sited immediately west of the public house at Copperas Gap. In 1852 another timber merchant, Messrs Tooth, requested permission to float timber up the east arm of the river as far as the canal had been dug out, and there to make a fence to secure the timber without having to use ropes. Frederick Tooth was a prominent local businessman and he was one of the first trustees of the Alliance Building Society. When he died he became the first person to be buried in Hove Cemetery on 15th January 1882.

In 1853 other timber merchants were allowed to deposit timber in the east arm but only in the south and east parts. The Commissioners had second thoughts about this concession and the following year rescinded it and substituted the north side of the canal instead. In any case deposits could only be made under the direction of the Harbour Master.

copyright © G. Osborne
With thanks to Mr G. Osborne for granting permission for the reproduction of the above photograph from his private collection.   
Next to the timber wharf a ferry service operated for gas workers at the Hove end of the canal

In 1856 WP Gorringe was allowed to make another timber pond, around 500 feet across, adjacent to his wharf at Kingston. William Hall seems to have been one of the few timber merchants who preferred to store his wood on dry ground. This he did on a site between his wharf and the Schooner Inn, permission having been granted in 1863.

The 1876 map shows the largest timber pond to be sited directly south-east of the Halfway House Inn, Portslade and it stretched through the Portslade boundary and into Aldrington. Other timber ponds were located south-east of Church Road, Portslade, and south of Fishersgate – all on the north side of the canal as directed.

Timber ponds were used as a way of seasoning wood. For instance, if curved timbers were wanted for ship-building, it was found easier to steam wood into the required shape if it had been seasoned in water.

copyright © G. Osborne
With thanks to Mr G. Osborne for granting permission for the reproduction of the above photograph  from his private collection.  
John Eede Butt's timber storage sheds in the 1950s


copyright © G. Osborne
With thanks to Mr G. Osborne for granting permission for the reproduction of the above photograph  from his private collection.  
The Canal at Fishersgate with the "new" Gas Works to the right c1910

In the days before gas was manufactured on a site at Shoreham Harbour, local gas companies already had an interest in the place because they imported their coal through Shoreham. In the bad old days before the 1820s colliers had actually beached themselves on the unforgiving shingle before off-loading their cargo of coal at Brighton and Rottingdean. It was a hazardous operation and eventually insurers got cold feet about the practice and besides now that Shoreham Harbour was more navigable there was no need to take such a risk.

copyright © J.Middleton
A view towards the Gas Works from Southwick in early Edwardian times.

In the 1820s gas was manufactured on two sites – at Black Rock east of Brighton’s parochial boundaries, and next door to St Andrew’s Old Church, Hove. By the 1870s gas had ceased to be made at these places and a new and large gasworks had been erected at Shoreham Harbour. The Portslade Gas Works occupied a site between the canal and the sea and a new wharf was built to accommodate colliers. However, there was one snag and that was the towpath for horses separated the wharf from the gasworks. The problem was solved by constructing an elevated gangway right across the towpath while at the same time allowing plenty of space underneath for the horses to plod by in comfort.

copyright © G. Osborne
With thanks to Mr G. Osborne for granting permission for the reproduction of the above photograph  from his private collection.  
The "new" Gas Works

By 1871 the first stage of the gasworks had been completed; the second stage took longer and was not finished until 1884. Meanwhile the two local gas companies had amalgamated and JB Paddon was the engineer and later manager of the enlarged company. Paddon came originally from Ilfracombe, Devon and lived in a spacious villa with his family next door to the old gasworks at Hove. He was living there in 1861 and was still there in 1881 when the census recorded the household as consisting of him, his wife Julia, sons William and John, a parlour-maid, a house-maid a cook and a needlewoman. 

copyright © G. Osborne
With thanks to Mr G. Osborne for granting permission for the reproduction of the above photograph  from his private collection.  

Paddon complained to the Commissioners about having to pay two levies. He did not mind paying harbour dues when importing coal; but if he had surplus coke to dispose of, he certainly objected in paying a further due to export it. The Commissioners were unsympathetic.


copyright © A.G.W. Penney
R.H. Penney with his grandson
A.G.W. Penney in 1900.
In 1874 special regulations were adopted for the unloading of petroleum. Robert Horne Penney, the largest ship-owner locally and also a Commissioner and later a trustee, was responsible for putting forward the regulations.

Petroleum must be unloaded and removed from the quays during daylight hours only. No movement was permitted after sunset.
The master or owner of the ship must provide a watchman to supervise the unloading of petroleum. He must remain at his post until all the petroleum had been removed from the quay.
No fire or light was allowed on any ship carrying petroleum and no person was allowed to ‘smoke or light any pipe or fusee’ on board or within 20 yards of the vessel.
drawn by J.Middleton copyright ©
The barque 'Alastor' built in 1875 and owned by
R.H. Penney. He liked all his ship's names to begin with
the letter 'A' and there were at least 19 others.

RH Horne hailed from Poole. He was a Quaker and would not permit any liquor aboard any of his ships. This may have had something to do with his good record regarding loss of life in shipwrecks and general safety aboard his vessels. In 1879 he opened a head office in Brighton. He lived at Southwick initially but later occupied a spacious house called Highcroft in Dyke Road, Brighton. The property was surrounded by five acres of land. As the house was somewhat remote from the town, he had to come to a special arrangement with the gas company to lay a gas main to his property so that he could enjoy the benefits of gas lighting.


copyright © D.Sharp
East side of Shoreham Fort in 2012
In February 1848 the Commissioners wrote to Lord John Russell, First Lord of the Treasury, on the subject of how to protect the harbour in the event of war – the year of 1848 was also known as the year of revolutions because of the general unrest in Europe and was the reason why Prince Metternich of Austria landed up at Brighton. The Commissioners thought a battery might be the answer. But no more was heard about the idea until the 1850s. Then in April 1855 the Harbour Master reported that the Government had taken possession of some land on the west side of the west pier for the purpose of constructing a fort. The Commissioners were already aware such a scheme was afoot because the previous year they had authorised Captain Fenwick to ascertain what sort of foundation the ground in question would make for the fort.
copyright © D.Sharp
South side of Shoreham Fort in 2012

 Captain Francis Voe was the engineer responsible for the design of the fort. The Commissioners requested the Government to supply them with plans so that they could see what exactly was intended. The War Department quickly sent a plan of the fort but the Commissioners speedily returned it together with a note to the effect it was incorrect and please to send an accurate plan. They did not of course object to having a fort close to the harbour.

copyright © D.Sharp
Former gun enplacements in
Shoreham Fort in 2012

All seems to have progressed peacefully after that and the fort and the harbour did not get in each other’s way until 1878. In that year the harbour authorities erected a wooden building west of the west pier in connection with their new works. Lieutenant Colonel Duff, custodian of War Department lands in the district, rewarded their enterprise with an order to remove the structure at once. The Commissioners replied mildly that the building was on their own land and did not interfere with the rights of the War Department. The matter then went to the Treasury solicitors. They concluded the structure might ‘mask or interfere with the fire of guns from the battery’. They grumbled that only piers were shown on the deposited plans and permission should have been sought etc. But the Commissioners stood their ground and refused to be harried. They replied that when the works were completed, the hut would be removed.


The rise in importance of the east arm of Shoreham Harbour dates from 1851 for it was in that year it was decided it should be a floating canal rather than a tidal one. The year started with the Commissioners accepting W Murray’s plan for deepening the east arm for which they were prepared to take out a loan of £6,000. It appears they had leaned their lesson from Pritchard and his claims for expenses because straight away they voted to pay Murray ten guineas for his travelling expenses and £100 for his plans.

In April 1851 plans for a lock on the canal were approved. In April 1855 the Harbour Master was authorised to ‘purchase a water tight dress for facilitating the examination of the lock’ at a cost of six guineas.

For some reason not apparent magistrates had ordered a policeman to be stationed at the new works although of course the Commissioners were expected to pay his wages of 24/- a week. Could it have been because of irate oyster merchants? It was a fact that Messrs Cooper & Williams complained to the Commissioners because the new works destroyed their oyster beds. This seems rather hard, especially as only the previous year the committee of management had begun to work out regulations concerning the constructions of oyster beds in the harbour. It is not clear whether or not those particular oyster merchants started again from scratch but in 1869 oyster merchant Albert Brazier was permitted to make oyster beds opposite Southwick.

As usual with a new enterprise, money was a problem. For the first time three of the Commissioners raised objections to borrowing money. Already the rates and dues of the harbour had been mortgaged. In 1854, perhaps because of their protest, £10,000 worth of shares was issued. However, this did not stop private borrowing since £5,000 was borrowed from three individuals – one of them being a female – Sarah Grantham of Lewes. In 1853 when Messrs Lock and Wesham became pressing in their claim for £2,268 for constructing the lock, Commissioner William Catt advanced the sum of £1,000. Catt had to wait ten years before being reimbursed but of course he earned the gratitude of his fellow Commissioners.


copyright © J.Middleton
Aldrington Basin, Hove/Portslade c.1900

Hugh Fuller, an ex-Commissioner and Aldrington landowner, was not pleased with the new works on the east arm. He hurried off to consult his attorney George Faithful, the younger, of Ship Street, Brighton. In due course a writ was despatched to the Commissioners. From the details mentioned, one can imagine Hugh Fuller actually watching the operations so that he could be sure what happened on which day. For example, between 15th February and 13th March 1853 workmen entered a certain piece of ground called the Salterns in east Aldrington, they dug up and carted away 100 cart loads of earth and made ‘divers great holes, pits, trenches, cavities and excavations’. Then at the end of March they caused sea water to flow over the ground and penned it in so that it could not recede. Therefore Hugh Fuller was prevented from using the ground to pasture his sheep and cattle.

The Commissioners retorted that Mr Fuller had no right of action against them. Fuller appeared to have a change of heart because in July 1854 his attorney Faithful stated he wanted to put an end to litigation. It is possible Fuller felt bullied or heard grumbles from people who felt he was being selfish and standing in the way of public improvement. Fuller did not wish for that stigma. He also offered to give sufficient land in Aldrington for a new public road in lieu of the present one. The new road would run from Wish Gap to Copperas Gap but all land to the north of the road would be retained in Fuller’s possession. He was promised a committee would look into the matter.

In September 1854 an agreement was reached between the two parties. Fuller gave up some rights over his land for the purpose of roads, the basin and as overflow land while the Commissioners agreed to build public wharves. But they never did. In 1857 some coal merchants sought permission to erect coal pens on the new wharf at Aldrington, and the Commissioners had to reply it was out of the question since it would break the agreement with Fuller. Fuller died in 1858.
copyright © Brighton & Hove City Libraries
1954 photograph of Portslade Gas Works

In 1865 Brighton & Hove Gas Company announced their intention of building gasworks on land situated between the canal and the sea, which had long been considered as part of Fuller’s property. Then an extraordinary and interesting claim was made. Colonel Carr Lloyd was Lord of Lancing Manor and the river Adur flowed through his land. He thought that because the south bank had been formed by accretion from the river’s action, therefore the new land must belong to him by right. This was not an idle notion on the Colonel’s part as he was prepared to fight court battles that dragged on until 1871. But eventually the best legal brains decided his claim was not valid and the Colonel lost his case.

In 1871 the whole business of the Fuller dispute with the Commissioners arose again because by then the Ingram family owned the land in question and it was known as the Aldrington Estate. They were unhappy over the way Fuller’s claim had been handled and wished to know where precisely they stood with regard to that part of their land. On 25th May 1871 Vice-Chancellor Bacon delivered his verdict. He laid down exact boundaries between the Commissioners’ land and Ingram’s land. He upheld Fuller’s view that the Commissioners had no rights over his land and he also laid an injunction on the Commissioners not to use the wharves situated on Ingram’s land.

The Commissioners did not emerge from this legal wrangling smelling of roses. Indeed, on 30th January 1872 the Lord Justices stated that in their opinion the Commissioners had put in ‘several defences idly, vexatiously and … not in perfect good faith’. They therefore awarded costs against the Commissioners. It must have been a considerable sum because the treasurer paid out £1,196-16-1d to the solicitors Upperton & Co and this was only the balance of costs due. In June 1872, as legally directed, the Ingram family drew up a deed of grant of rights over their land. However, the harbour authorities still had to seek permission when they needed to continue the piling of the south Wish Wharf for a distance of 51 feet towards the west. John Ingram of Steyning granted permission, provided the reclaimed land was not considered part of Wish Wharf.


The last years during which the Commissioners managed Shoreham Harbour were marred by unpleasantness and legal wrangles. The Aldrington affair has already been noted but there were two other occasions when legal advice had to be sought.

The first was an attempt to avoid paying the Lancing poor rate. Perhaps the Commissioners had been upset by a letter from Frederick Stanford, Lancing Overseer, who assessed the profits arising from harbour tolls at £4,500 gross with a rateable value of £4,000, and proposed to base the poor rate levy on these figures. First of all the matter went to the Quarter Sessions, then Somers Clarke was instructed to take it to the Court of Queen’s Bench. Finally, two years after it all began, a special committee found in favour of the Commissioners.

The second action did not last long because the Commissioners very properly abandoned it before it went further and cost them more money. Perhaps they realised it was a lost cause. In January 1873 the Commissioners petitioned the House of Commons against the New Shoreham Harbour Bill. By June of that year the Bill had already passed through the committee stage of the House of Lords. The Commissioners therefore decided to halt their action. Instead they tried to negotiate with the promoters of the new Bill but this too failed because the promoters refused to negotiate ‘without prejudice’ which the Commissioners insisted upon.

All this went on against a background of muttering about bad management of harbour affairs. Two of the Commissioners, John Catt and CW Willett, had even been asked to write a report on the whole question of management.

An indication of the sort of feeling prevalent at the time can be gauged from the letter of Samuel Sanders, Harbour Master. ‘I have now filled my situation 31 years and up to a recent period have been treated by the Commissioners with great kindness and my advice was always appreciated. But disagreeing with you in many things which you have done lately I have decided upon tendering my resignation and shall now feel myself quite at liberty to take any course (in conjunction with other shareholders) we may consider necessary to protect our interests. Mr Upperton informs me that according to my agreement I am bound to give six months notice, therefore I must comply with it, but if you will relieve me of my duties before the expiration of that time, I shall be very glad’.
copyright © J.Middleton
The Canal Hove looking towards Portslade c1920

A few months later Robert Upperton himself resigned. Although he did not hold the same rancour as Sanders, he felt it was time to go after a connection with the harbour of almost 50 years. But meticulous to the last, Upperton refused to hand over harbour books and documents unless he had a separate receipt for each item. This annoyed the Commissioners considerably. Upperton was a partner in Upperton, Verall and Upperton, solicitors. He lived at 7 Lansdowne Place, Hove and was a Brunswick Square Commissioners from 1865 to 1873. He also served as vicar’s churchwarden at St Andrew’s Old Church, Hove. He exercised the same care over church documents and thanks to his efforts, a remarkably intact archive survives to this day in the Record Office. Upperton died in 1876.

In 1873 the Commissioners were wound up and on 20th August the first meeting under the provision of the New Shoreham Act (1873) took place. You might expect a clean sweep to have been made but there were still some familiar names amongst the Trustees including Hugh Gorringe, William Hall, Robert Horne Penney and RB Ingram, the latter being one of the plaintiffs in the action of the Aldrington Estate versus the Commissioners. Eventually, it was agreed there should be seventeen members of the new board. The subscribers appointed four members, the ship-owners appointed three members, the traders also appointed three, Brighton Town Council appointed two, Shoreham local traders appointed two, the Steyning Justices appointed two, and there was one appointed by Worthing local board.

On of the first matters the Trustees had to deal with was to pay the cost of the new Bill. The whole thing, including the Parliamentary Agent’s bill, engineer’s bill and other expenses came to £4,314-6-11d. Since the harbour dues for that year came to £4,775-2-3d it really did not leave much profit to play with. All the credit the Trustees had on taking over from the Commissioners was £1,661-7-2d.

The Trustees were apparently outraged by the size of the engineer’s bill. But if they had to employ somebody as eminent as Sir John Hawkshaw (1811-1891) what did they expect? Hawkshaw was knighted in the very year the Bill was passed, in recognition of a glittering career with works extending from Venezuela to the Amsterdam ship canal while in this country he was sought for new railways and canals and was responsible for the Severn tunnel. At Shoreham Hawkshaw inspected the harbour, provided the Trustees with an estimate of the cost of new works, and gave evidence for the new Bill. The Trustees thought the size of his bill unreasonable and the chairman was to have a word with him. Seven months later the account was still unpaid and the Trustees ordered the amount to be struck out of the harbour accounts because the amount owing to Sir John was ‘unascertained’. Four years later, when other (and no doubt cheaper) engineers had proved unsatisfactory, the Trustees were in favour of appointing Hawkshaw as engineer and indeed agreed the size of his commission beforehand. But this time it was Sir John’s turn to have second thoughts and he wrote to the Trustees declining the appointment ‘after mature consideration’.

copyright © J.Middleton
The Sunbeam owned by Lord Brassey (white hull sailing ship) moored opposite the Schooner Inn at Southwick, the Sunbeam was also moored at the Portslade end of the harbour at various other times of the year.

An upsurge in business encouraged the Trustees to start on improvements to the harbour. In 1876 harbour dues came to £7,250-6-4d, which was almost £3,000 better than the figure for 1874. Against this must be set the sum of £3,397-16-10d – the amount of interest due to the subscribers. But all in all the Trustees felt they could make a start.

Captain Walter Wood and William Hall were chosen as contractors. Hall resigned as Trustee just before the tender was formally accepted in 1876. After the work was completed, the two men swiftly resumed their seats as Trustees. It seems nobody thought this was a questionable way of doing business. The one rule the Trustees thought important was that no servant of the Trustees should be allowed to keep a pub or beer shop.

The scale of improvements was comprehensive. The harbour was to be extensively dredged, repairs made to the lock, the west pier, the east pier, the groynes and the Wish embankment; all at a cost of £85,000. As it turned out, the scheme proved to be over ambitious.

The first thing Wood and Hall did was to recommend purchase of new plant. The Trustees agreed and by September the Clyde dredger arrived at Shoreham. She proved 
a great disappointment at first because she was in a bad state of repair and the engine could only manage 10hp instead of the claimed 25hp. In short, Hall had no option but to rebuilt her altogether, even to the extent of removing the stern so as to lengthen the vessel. One of the principal arguments in buying the dredger was that it was impossible to hire such machinery at reasonable terms. However, in 1876 a steam dredger named Progress was hired and although not in the same class as the Clyde, she was at least a working stop-gap. In June 1878 Clyde was at last ready for action and within four days shifted 2,878 tons of shingle. A couple of months later ‘a perceptible improvement in the navigation of the channel’ could be claimed.

Not surprisingly with this amount of shingle being moved, the contractors felt the need to purchase two new iron hopper barges, which were to be towed by tugs. In September 1878 the steam tug Amelia was towing a hopper out to sea when she ground on the bar. The hopper struck her port paddle and she quickly sank. The equipment was too valuable to leave on the sea-bed and the engines were quickly recovered. But bringing the boilers up to the surface proved a much more difficult task and the services of a diver was necessary.

copyright © J.Middleton
Fishing boats in Aldrington Basin, Hove in  2009
BP Stockman of 3 Port’s Corner, Westminster, was the engineer of the new works. His work was far from satisfactory and after only a year the Trustees asked him to resign. The first indication of trouble occurred in October 1877 when the contractors informed the Trustees work was held up because the engineer had not delivered the plans. Philip C Lockwood was asked for his opinion. Lockwood was borough surveyor at Brighton and was later responsible for the beautiful Madeira Drive arches. Lockwood claimed that even when Stockman did get around to drawing his plans, they left a lot to be desired. For example, the drawing for Wish groyne was ‘extremely vague’ and when it was constructed, there was a considerable difference between the groyne as designed and the groyne as executed; finally it was wrongly sited.

In fact the Wish groyne was an unmitigated disaster and was later held up as an awful example of what could go wrong if proper care were not taken. Stockman had designed the groyne to be strengthened by concrete. But air-dried blocks had not been used and concrete was simply poured into the groyne. The result was that the concrete never had a chance to dry off and harden and the sea washed out the sand and cement through the piling. Stockman protested it was not his fault because the contractors carried out the work in his absence and he had never ‘heard of more disgraceful proceedings’. This explanation failed to convince the Trustees who asked Lockwood to examine the groyne. His report confirmed their worse fears and Stockman was asked to go.

Soon after Stockman’s exit, money troubles came to a head once more. The contractors had already threatened to go to arbitration because they had not received enough money, there was still the Clyde to pay off, a new engineer to be employed, wages to be paid etc. In May 1878 the Trustees took the dramatic decision to abandon the contract with Hall and Wood and cease work on practically everything with the exception of continuing the removal of the middle pier and completing the free wharf. They reckoned to save themselves some £46,915. But there was an odd agreement with the contractors in that if the contractors managed to raise a loan of £40,000, the Trustees would be happy to pay them a commission of £2,000. The contractors did not find it a difficult task and soon the Trustees were writing them a cheque for £2,000.

AM RENDEL’S REPORT 15th July 1878

copyright © J.Middleton
A 2011 view of the Canal at Fishersgate looking east to Hove. On the left is a Petroleum storage facility and on the right is a Metal Stock Supplier

AM Rendel was the new engineer taken on to advise the Trustees on what work was absolutely essential for the harbour. He had been well briefed about the precarious financial state and although he recommended a new entrance to the canal, he did not recommend a new lock since ‘such a work would I fear be beyond your means’. He estimated the new entrance, wing walls, excavation and gates would cost £24,000.

Rendel quite agreed with the cancellation of the Wood and Hall contract, which he thought was the most sensible action in the circumstances. But he did not agree dredging should be stopped and felt it should be continued with in order to deepen the harbour. His ideal was a depth of 7 feet on the bar in the most favourable conditions. This could only be achieved by constant dredging and by extending the west pier for around 200 feet. He was precise about the length because if the extension were longer, it would take too great a strain from heavy seas and need constant repair. The west pier acted as a groyne to stop the eastward drift of shingle. But shingle accumulated along the west side and gradually extended seaward until it came around the end of the pier and was swept into the harbour. That was why continuous dredging and extending the west pier were so important.

In his view it would be useless to attempt repairing the Wish groyne. But the Trustees did not agree so long as it did not cost more than £150.

Messrs Hill of Gosport was the firm responsible for the extension of the west pier. Rendel recommended them and their tender of £3,431 was the lowest in any case. The firm had recently completed a large groyne at Hastings and Sir John Coode spoke highly of them. The pier extension went swiftly ahead (what a relief for the Trustees) and Rendel purposely modified the head from circular to square in case a further extension should be found necessary in the future.

In November 1878 the Trustees went on a penny-pinching campaign. They wanted to save money by getting rid of the resident engineer because they thought employing a clerk of the works (at a lower salary) would be quite sufficient. Rendel urged them not to follow this course but the Trustees refused to listen and dispensed with the services of the unfortunate Mr Smith. Rendel himself had appointed William Archibald Smith in the spring of 1878 and Smith travelled all the way south from Leith. There were other staff reductions too and three labourers and two carpenters were fired. Notice was also given to one of the light-keepers, which left Thomas Blann on his own to look after the lighthouse at Kingston as well as the light on the east pier.

If this makes the harbour authorities sound unduly harsh in their labour relations, it may be relevant to recall that earlier in 1878 they were generous to Edward Collins. He was a carpenter employed at the harbour who had accidentally lost an eye. The Trustees paid him £2-10s for loss of work during his illness and 10/- a week from January to March until he was fit enough to resume his duties.


copyright © J.Middleton
Aldrington Basin, Hove looking west to Portslade in 2011

The history of Shoreham Harbour is being added to every day and so any stopping place will seem abrupt. However, the foregoing pages have been an attempt to illustrate the development of the harbour from contemporary records and plans. It has no doubt become apparent that the authorities occupied a fine line between a modest profit and dangerous debt. But by the end of the 19th century the time of gentlemen amateurs was fast running out. In order to survive commercially, efficiency and progress had to be the order of the day. The Trustees made a start by meeting every month instead of quarterly like the Commissioners (and not always then if too few turned up).

Financial difficulties did not cease with the close of the 19th century and indeed finances were not properly regularised until the 1920s after a particularly nasty hiccup. Since then the harbour has gone from strength to strength. In 1933 the Prince George dock was opened and in the 1950s an ambitious development scheme costing £3 million was undertaken. In 1966 resonator chambers were constructed that at last reduced wave action inside the harbour, which had been a long-standing problem. Dredging operations continue to be a fact of life but nowadays the shingle is put back on the beaches instead of being sold for ballast as used to happen.

Finally, it is pleasant to record that today Shoreham Harbour is one of the most thriving small harbours in the country.

This wonderfully detailed map dates from April 1945 and was obviously created for mariners approaching Shoreham Port. It is interesting to note that the spires of St Leonard’s Church, Aldrington, and St Andrew’s Church, Portslade, are mentioned as reference points, while unfortunately the spire of Our Lady, Star of the Sea and St Denis, in Church Road, Portslade, can no longer be seen because the church has been demolished. It is also interesting to note the names of the wharves, and their location.


1970 – In November, when a fire ripped through a timber yard, more than a dozen families were evacuated in their night-clothes from their homes in St Andrew’s Road, Portslade.

1989 – On 1 August a fire broke out at Sussex Wharf in the harbour. The fire could be seen for miles around, and it took around 40 firemen two hours to control the blaze. A 70-ft luxury motor cruiser with a fibreglass hull was destroyed. It was being constructed inside a temporary building by Hove company Parintree for businessman Royston Leicester, the man behind the restoration of the Alexandra Hotel in Brunswick Terrace. The value of the vessel was put variously at £100,000 (Brighton & Hove Leader) and £250,000 (Evening Argus). Also destroyed were 200 tons of peat and 200 tons of timber being stored at the wharf by the Sussex Haulage Company; a crane was lost too. Total damage was estimated at £3.5 million.

1995 – On 25 January there was a fire at Baltic Wharf, Wellington Road, which cause nearly £1 million worth of damage. Timber stock valued at £800,000 was destroyed, and the damage to the building was considerable. Firemen classed the fire as suspicious. It was thought possible that the firm might have been targeted because of its position at Shoreham Harbour where there had been major unrest and demonstrations against the export of live animals for slaughter abroad. However, the firm Travis Perkins has nothing to do with the trade.

2001 – On 11 June crowds of spectators gathered to watch fire crews tackle a blaze that sent clouds of black smoke billowing above Basin Road South. It was thought that the fire started when two contractors were cutting metal in the vicinity of a sub-station. The 11,000-volt transformer caught fire, and grain dust in a nearby grain silo could have exploded but workers turned a hose on the flames until the firemen arrived.


She was the fifth ship to bear this name and was a Sandown-class minehunter; she was launched on 9 April 2001.

In May 2022 HMS Shoreham was to be seen moored opposite Wellington Road alongside the south bank of the canal in order to bid farewell to the area before being de-commissioned at the end of her useful life. The ship had sailed from the naval base on the Clyde and arrived at Shoreham on 12 May escorted by RNLI boats. HMS Sussex served in the Persian Gulf from 2018 to 2021 as part of Britain’s maritime presence there; in fact during half of her twenty years of service, she had been deployed in the Gulf. There was a complement of 41 crew members; some of the men had specialised skills, such as being adept at dealing with dangerous devices, or being expert divers. Lieutenant Andrew Platt was in command.

Lieutenant Platt stated that ‘HMS Shoreham’s strong maritime links with our home-town have been of great support to a generation of sailors – and it is right that we express our thanks to Shoreham during this visit.’

People who had been associated with the ship, as well as members of the public, were allowed to take a tour of the ship.

A Government Grant

It was astonishing to learn in these hard times that Shoreham Port has been awarded £24,018 for improvements. This is because the government wants to encourage professional fishing, which it quaintly describes as ‘seafood careers’. Mark Spencer, Fisheries Minister, stated that grants from the UK Seafood Fund have already proved successful elsewhere. At Shoreham, the aim is also to improve facilities for recreational fishing with a new access path between the west arm and a car park. (Argus 23/10/23)


When I studied the following books, documents and plans in the 1980s, they were stored at Shoreham Harbour but since then they have been removed to the West Sussex Record Office at Chichester.

New Shoreham Harbour Minute Books

Volume 1 (25th June 1760 – 6th October 1812)
Volume 2 (5th January 1813 – 6th October 1822)
Volume 3 (1st April 1823 – 21st January 1845)
Volume 4 (18th February 1845 – 18th February 1868)
Volume 5 (21st April 1868 – 17th September 1878)
Volume 6 (23rd September – 1878 – 31st July 1884)

Documents and Reports

Letter to Committee subscribers August 1810
J Rennie’s Report 21st July 1810
W Clegram’s Report January 1815
W Chapman’s Report July 1815
W Chapman’s Supplementary Report 1815
Shoreham Harbour Act 1816
Daniel Alexander’s Report 18th December 1818
W Clegram’s Report March 1822
WP Pritchard’s Report 1843
Shoreham Harbour Act 1861
William Hall’s Speech 21st November 1881
JG McKenzie’s Report 27th January 1883
Historical Observations 1925-1940
Letter from AG Allnutt re Chapman /Clegram dated 19th December 1977
AW Skempton’s Lecture on Chapman 8th May 1974

West Sussex Record Office

SH 7 Letter files and Books 1775-1929
SH 9 Accounts
SH 11 Ballast 
SH 13/1 New Shoreham Harbour Act 1873
SH 13/2 Shoreham Harbour Arbitration November 1877
Deposited Plans
1810 QDP/W16
1811 QDP/W25
1815 QDP/W33
1876 QDP/W173
1881-1882 QDP/W184

Books and Periodicals

Brookfields (HC) Critical Period in History of Shoreham Harbour. Sussex    Archaeological Collections. Volume 88 (1949)

Farrant (John) Sussex Industrial History. Number 6 (1973-1974)

Martin (Edward A) Shoreham and its Struggle with the Adur. Sussex County Magazine. Volume 13 (1939)

Stephenson (Captain AG) Shoreham Harbour. (1949)

Ward (CR) Shoreham Harbour. Sussex County Magazine. Volume 7 (1933)

Copyright © J.Middleton 2012
page layout by D.Sharp