What it’s like to live in Littlehampton
PUBLISHED: 10:48 20 February 2018
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The West Sussex coastal town isn’t just for tourists. With new attractions and plans to expand the future is bright
Littlehampton is off the A259 coast road, which stretches along the south coast from Folkestone to Chichester. It is the last stop on Southern rail’s London Victoria line, with regular direct trains to Portsmouth, Bognor, Angmering, Worthing, Hove, Brighton, Gatwick, East Croydon and London Victoria.
It is served by Stagecoach and Compass Travel buses, including the 700 Coastliner to Chichester and Brighton and the National Express Shuttle to Bognor and London.
Despite several local history books claiming little of note happened in Littlehampton prior to the 19th century, there has been a settlement on the coast since Romano-British times. The Saxons supposedly founded a small settlement at the mouth of the River Arun around the fifth century. And Littlehampton was the harbour where Matilda landed when she came from France to make her claim to the throne of England, launching the civil war of 1139 known as The Anarchy. According to Ben Darby’s View of Sussex prisoners from the Battle of Crecy in 1346 were brought into Littlehampton, and 40 years later 80 French vessels captured in the Channel were taken to the harbour – along with their cargo of 20,000 tons of wine. The harbour was important for shipbuilding during the Tudor period.
But it was tourism which really transformed Littlehampton – initially as a passenger destination from France before Newhaven came to prominence. Famous visitors included the artist John Constable, and the Romantic poet Byron who is reported to have swum in the Arun. Fellow poet Coleridge is said to have struck up a friendship with Dante translator Henry Francis Cary after hearing him reading Homer in the original Greek to his son along the beach.
Although the town is much more developed than in those days, it is still something of a tourist destination, attracted by the combination of shingle on the East Beach and sand dunes on the West Beach, as well as the wide expanses of green leading up to the beach. And in recent years new attractions such Studio Weave’s Longest Bench and the RIBA Award-winning East Beach Café have encouraged more visitors to explore the town.
Annual festivals and events
Every June the seafront green hosts Armed Forces Day in aid of the Royal British Legion, with parades, guest performers and free activities.
In its 65th year the 2017 Littlehampton Bonfire broke all records and raised more than £10,000 with its street collection. The night features a torchlit parade with imaginative costumes ranging from Native Americans to Tudor dress.
Other regular dates in the Littlehampton diary are February’s Pancake Olympics in the High Street, which in 2017 featured three pancake-themed disciplines including pancake curling, and in August the Screen on the Green showing classic movies and the Sandcastle Competition on the seafront.
The modern town centre has a mix of independent and chain stores, with further shopping along the river and an out-of-town Morrison’s in Hawthorn Road. There is a library, the Look and Sea Centre with displays about Littlehampton’s marine heritage, a museum in the Grade II listed manor house, and the Windmill Cinema and Theatre which reopened in 2014 after a public appeal. There are doctors’ surgeries in the town centre and nearby Rustington and Wick.
As well as the long shingle expanse of the East Beach there are sand dunes on the West Beach over the other side of the river, a large expanse of green space which is used in the summer for live events, and Harbour Park offering rides and amusements. There are also plenty of open spaces in various parks. In 2017 work began to replace the existing Sports Dome with a new swimming and leisure centre. It is due to open in 2019.
Littlehampton has its own town council and mayor. It comes under Arun District Council and West Sussex County Council. It is represented in the House of Commons by Conservative Nick Gibb who has been MP for the constituency of Bognor Regis and Littlehampton since it was created in 1997. In 2017 he received 59 per cent of the vote, an increase of 7.6 on the 2015 election.
For Littlehampton mayor Billy Blanchard-Cooper it is the community spirit which has kept him in the seaside town for the past 25 years. “There are so many different community groups offering so many different things to do,” he says. “I couldn’t live anywhere else now – I would miss the beach and the river too much. Escapism is so important and they are great places to go and switch off. We have some lovely parks like Mewsbrook which has 1920s-style shelters, a beautiful pond in the middle and a miniature railway.”
A particular attraction for him is the beach with its large green which hosts events through the summer. “On the other side of the river you have the nature reserve with the sand dunes,” he says. “It’s like being in a completely different world – there are two completely different sides to the beach with the shingle and sandy areas. The town has everything that you need – with the cinema and theatre at the Windmill and Smarts Amusement Park [renamed in 1995 as Harbour Park]. There’s a lot of interest in the town at the moment – Arun Council has put in bids to redevelop the seafront area and there are plans to regenerate the High Street. There is also £19m being spent on a new swimming and leisure centre. And there are lots of extra houses being built in Wick, which are being carefully planned so we don’t lose our green spaces.”
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