An important harbour for the Romans, Saxons and the 14th century wool trade, Pagham’s fate was sealed by nature.
The West Sussex coast has experienced dramatic natural changes over the centuries and none more so than at Pagham. When seas rose to their present level some 5,000 years ago, river mouths were flooded, creating deep and sheltered natural harbours in the estuaries.
Some of these estuaries were fully or partially cut off from the open sea as, over time, the waves and currents moved sediment along the shore. This created sand and shingle spits that narrowed or cut off the mouth of the river.
Occasional massive storms have breached some spits and barriers, giving the land once more back to the sea, and changing the course of rivers. In other cases, estuaries have fully silted up, such as at Steyning and Bramber, leaving these ancient ports ‘abandoned’. As Pagham’s harbour gradually silted, so its wealth diminished; today it is an important local nature reserve.
Other sand bars
Nearby Chichester Harbour has suffered a similar fate. The sand bar blocking the entrance to the harbour has led to the silting up of its main channel, cutting off the former ports of Emsworth, Bosham, Dell Quay, Birdham and the old Roman port of Fishbourne.
The Roman villa at Fishbourne was one of the finest in England. Marble was shipped from as far away as Turkey and Egypt and a team of skilled Roman craftsmen employed to create its splendid interiors.