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What others say about Bosham. Article 3

A small attractive village on one of the small inlets of Chichester harbour Bosham (pronounced 'Bozzum') has played its part in our countries history. Before the Norman Invasion Bosham was an important part of the Saxon world, it is one of only five places that appear on the map attached to the 12th century "Saxon Chronicle".

Vespasian, commander of 2nd Legion in Britain (Later to become Emperor) landed here in 42AD he later built a villa in the area. It was also used by the Romans as a port.

Before St Wilfred brought Christianity to Sussex, St Bede wrote of a Celtic monk called Dicul who had a small monastic order at Bosham. Dicul established a church in the 7th Century on the remains of the Roman Basilica dedicated to Mithras. By 750 AD the village was being called Bosanhamm, meaning the watermeadow of Bosa.

King Canute had a palace at Bosham. It was here at Bosham that King Canute ordered the tide not to come in. He was continually being told how all powerful he was and he decided that his courtiers needed a practical lesson in his mortality and to demonstrate that he was just a King and nothing more he placed his throne at the edge of the sea and commanded that the waves should stop, obviously they didn't. King Canutes young daughter was buried in the church in 1020, she drowned when she slipped and fell into the millstream. Canute himself died in 1035, Harold I Canute's illegitimate son was then elevated to King by popular demand. His reign was a short one, he came to the throne on 1037 and died in 1040. With the support of Earle Godwine Edward the Confessor became king in 1042. In 1066 Edward became ill and died, Earle Godwine then placed his son Harold II on the throne.

Earle Godwine of Wessex father of King Harold II lived in or near Bosham, as did Harold II himself. Earle Godwine was the real power in the country and he ruthlessly murdered anyone who had claim to the throne. As shown on the Bayeux Tapestry, Harold went to mass at Bosham in 1064 prior to meeting William of Normandy, it was at this meeting that Harold told William he would be claiming the throne of England for himself. Harold was destined to be the last Saxon King of England. Some say Earle Godwine's body was brought back to Bosham after the Battle of Hastings and claim he was buried beneath the chancel arch.

In 1664 the Great Plague was sweeping through the country, when the plague reached nearby Chichester the citizens shut the City gates and sealed themselves in, in an attempt to stop the plague from spreading to people outside the City. The fishermen of Bosham took it upon themselves to help as best they could and left food outside the city gates, this continued until the plague had passed. In recognition of this, the fishermen were allowed to sell their fish in the market without having to pay a fee.

On the 4th August 1865 the chancel arch was excavated, two coffins were discovered. One contained the bones of an eight year old girl; the coffin itself was typical of coffins used during the reign of Canute. The larger coffin contained the bones of a 60 year old man who suffered from arthritis in one leg. It is known that Earle Godwine had a limp.

Bosham (Bozz'm) has invariably had a good press. A random trawl through half a dozen travel books produces the same sort of language: "One of the most charming places in Sussex... Outstandingly pretty ... a gem of a place." And so on.

Only E.V Lucas, writing at a start of the century and ever on the out-look for a phrase to stop the reader in his tracks, called Bosham "a slut", showing a vast tracks of mud at low tide. On the other hand, he said, at high water she was " a fair abode of peace."

Bosham stands on a little peninsula between two tidal creeks at the eastern end of Chichester's inland harbour. As well as providing a sanctuary for migrating wildfowl - shelduck, wigeon, Brent geese, waders and many more - it is a wonderful centre for sailing. Artists, walkers and weekenders love the place, and at this time of the year it draws visitors like a magnet.

Particularly those with a sense of history. Where else would you find in a local parish church the original chancel that is depicted and named in the Bayeux Tapestry? With Harold entering it to pray before crossing the Channel from these very waters more than 900 years ago to parley about the English throne with William of Normandy.

An earlier king, Canute - he of the "turn back the tide" story - also knew Bosham. The body of a young girl, discovered in a small Saxon coffin when the church floor was being renewed in 1865, was almost certainly that of Canute's daughter who was drowned in an adjoining brook. Later on, in the unfolding story of our island history, there are more footnotes about this waterside community.

Plague Story

During the Great Plague of 1665, which killed an estimated 70,000 people in London alone, the fisherman of Bosham are said to have saved the population of Chichester from starvation. The story goes that the city was sealed off when a single visitor died, it was thought from the plague. No-one was allowed in or out, and appeals for food were posted at the main gates. Supplies of fish and other food were deposited by the Bosham men and taken in after dark by the citizens, who left coins for payment in buckets of water as a form of sterilisation. In the years following the plague, any hawker who was charged with trading in Chichester without a licence and was found to come from Bosham was invariably let off. Documentary evidence for all this is not available, partly because records for the period are missing, but it has support in an oral tradition that, three centuries later, is powerful today. Angela Bromley-Martin, a researcher and lecturer who has produced several works on local history, says the story is firmly believed by families whose links with Bosham go back many generations.

Up to the early part of this century, Bosham was still a place where life was supported by the sea. In Mrs Bromley-Martin's book Bygone Bosham (Phillimore, 1978) are photographs of fishing boats, shipbuilding yards, oyster beds and the Quay lined with schooners and barges. At one timer Bosham was second only to Whitstable in the oyster industry. Up to 40 boats dredged them from the Solent and the French coast and deposited then in the Sussex harbour until they were big enough for market. The trade ended when stocks were wiped out by limpets soon after the first world war, but it is now being revitalised.

Many recognisable signs of those seafaring days are still to be seen in the village. The Quay and the tiny High Street are lined with cottages that were once the homes of fishermen. An old building known as the Raptackle and now leased by Bosham Sailing Club, was used to house rope and gear for the busy shipping business.

Today, in a phrase of Angela Bromley-Martin, Bosham is for "the tired and retired, the weekenders and the yachtsmen."

If it were not for its geography the village would doubtless by now have decked itself with accoutrements to woo revenue-generating tourists: restaurants, cafes, flatlets, a promenade, boat trips and plenty of places to park the car. Everything, in fact, likely to make the residents shudder.

Caught by the tide

The fact is that Bosham was not designed by nature to provide a popular day out for the family. It is not a particularly easy place to find. There is no beach, no sand, and bathing is virtually out of the question. The tide sometimes swamps Shore Road and despite the warning signs, motorists who leave their cars on hard standing when the seas is out of sight, get caught by the dozen, summer and winter. (If the salt water can be washed out quickly there may be hope. Completely submerged, the car is a write-off. Which was the fate of a brand-new Rover among those caught last year.)


Bosham church as depicted on the Bayeux Tapestry

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