The City of Chichester: The port

A History of the County of Sussex: Volume 3. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1935.

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'The City of Chichester: The port', A History of the County of Sussex: Volume 3, (London, 1935), pp. 100-102. British History Online [accessed 15 June 2024].

. "The City of Chichester: The port", in A History of the County of Sussex: Volume 3, (London, 1935) 100-102. British History Online, accessed June 15, 2024,

. "The City of Chichester: The port", A History of the County of Sussex: Volume 3, (London, 1935). 100-102. British History Online. Web. 15 June 2024,


Chichester, although ranked as a PORT, had no direct access to the sea; ships coming to the town were obliged to lie at Horemouth by the mouth of the estuary; (fn. 1) at Dell Quay (fn. 2) further inland near Appledram; in the creeks of Fishbourne, Swenes-mouth, Wittering (fn. 3) or Itchenor; (fn. 4) or even as far off as Sidlesham. (fn. 5) Under a charter of Henry I the citizens of Chichester obtained liberties in the ports of Wittering and Horemouth, and these were confirmed in the first charter granted them by Henry II (1155). (fn. 6) They further claimed 'anchorage and culage' (keelage) and other customs on land and water in the port of Horemouth as rights held by Henry III and Edward I and granted to the city by charter of Edward II. (fn. 7)

These charters may have been the origin of the city's port, the limits of which apparently followed the coast line of the Rape of Chichester and were defined in 1680 as follows: From Hermitage Bridge by Emsworth to Horemouth, Selsey Bill, Pagham Point, and the eastern boundary of Felpham parish, thence back to Horemouth and up to Dell Quay. (fn. 8) The sole wharf was to be at Dell Quay, and is defined as approximately 90 ft. in length and 49 ft. in breadth. About 1580 this quay was said to have been 'longe sithens buylded by the righte honorable the Lorde Fitzwillms' (of Cowdray, High Admiral 1536–40). (fn. 9)

From the earliest times the port seems to have lain in two divisions. Horemouth is defined in 1606 (fn. 10) as extending from Hayling, or 'the Westdeep,' to 'the sault mylle and as much inward as the full sea marke in the harbour.' The lower portion of this creek appears to have been known as the 'Forehavene,' and in 1387 the Countess of Norfolk claimed that it was within her manor of Bosham. Decision, however, was given that it was within the liberty of Chichester, and that therefore stallage was payable in the city for oysters, cockles and shrimps taken there. (fn. 11) The other division, known as Wittering, or in the 17th century 'Underyng' (probably by corruption from 'Vuderyng'), extended from between Selsey and Pagham to Sidlesham mill. Although this harbour belonged to the city, the issues of the Archbishop's manor of Pagham in 1312 and 1348 include small sums 'for the farm of the port of Wyderyng.' (fn. 12) Its extent was apparently enlarged by inroads of the sea early in the 14th century, and an inquiry as to wool-smuggling in 1345 refers to 'the new port, namely at Sidlesham.' (fn. 13) Most of the smuggling was done from Wittering, as opposed to Horemouth and Dell; possibly because it was easier to evade the customs officers there.

The first reference to the export of goods from Chichester is the licence given in 1226 to Emery de Rouen, a Chichester merchant, to ship a cargo of wool, bacon and cheese from thence to Flanders; (fn. 14) but there is no doubt that a considerable amount of trade must have been passing through Chichester port at a much earlier date.

The wool customs were collected at Chichester practically without intermission from 1226, when the customs on wool, woolfells and hides were excepted from the grant of the farm to the citizens; both these and all other customs were again excepted from the grant of the farm in perpetuity in 1316. (fn. 15)

The Crown frequently pledged these customs for payment of debts. In 1300 the merchants of Bayonne were entitled to receive the customs of Chichester and were given custody of one part of the cocket seal until satisfied for what was owing to them. (fn. 16) In 1312 the issues of the Chichester wool customs were granted to the merchants of Aix (? Agen) in payment for wines bought for the king's household. (fn. 17) In 1314 the dues and seal were assigned to William Servat, merchant of London, (fn. 18) in 1329 the customs of Chichester in common with those of all other ports were made over to the Bardi (fn. 19) and in 1340 to William de la Pole. (fn. 20)

The Crown appointed all customs officials, as was the rule at other ports. But in 1339 the mayor, bailiffs and citizens of Chichester were instructed to elect a controller of customs, according to an ordinance recently made by King and Council. (fn. 21) Soon afterwards the customs officials in all ports were accused of negligence and ordered to be superseded, no matter on what terms they held their office. (fn. 22)

In 1325 the cocket on wools and woolfells was removed for a short time to Shoreham. (fn. 23) In 1341, apparently for the first time, the port of Chichester was extended along the whole coast from Southampton to Seaford, as far as concerned the collection of customs on wool, woolfells and hides, the custom of 3d. in the pound and other petty customs due to the king. (fn. 24) At about this time Chichester, in spite of geographical disadvantages, seems to have ranked as the seventh port in the kingdom. (fn. 25) Ten years later the customs on wines were included with the others and the area of the port extended from Portsmouth to Winchelsea. (fn. 26) This area subsequently varied from time to time, but usually covered the coastline of the county. Chichester was one of the wool ports named in the Statute of the Staple of 1353.

A deputy Butler was appointed for 'Seaford, Shoreham and Chichester' in 1325, (fn. 27) for the same three ports, giving priority to Chichester in 1327, (fn. 28) and for 'Chichester, Seaford, Shoreham and Portsmouth' in 1347. (fn. 29)

The customs received by the city of Chichester were collected by a customer appointed by the mayor, and consisted of quay dues on goods shipped or landed within the lesser area defined in 1680. (fn. 30) In 1606 James Tailor, merchant, stated that he had been 'searcher for the Kinge and waterbalief for the cittie,' and that the water-bailiffs were appointed by the mayor and citizens, Richard Holmes having held that office 46 years earlier. (fn. 31) The bailiff received a half-penny on every quarter of grain, salt or coal for 'mesuradge,' and this was paid by freemen of the city, who were exempt from the petty custom of a half-penny the quarter. The city had to maintain three separate bushel measures for corn, salt and coal.

The earliest Customs Accounts extant for Chichester date from Easter to Easter 1287–88, 1289–90, and 1291–92. (fn. 32) The names of twelve merchants exporting wool and woolfells are given; eleven of them sent out only one shipment apiece, varying from 6 to 30 sacks, and making a total of 156 sacks and over 6,000 fells, while the twelfth, Ralph Pelle of Chichester, exported in four shippings 126 sacks and 6,900 fells. Five of the twelve merchants were men of Chichester or the neighbourhood, while of twelve shipmasters two were of Chichester and one (each) from Horemouth, Selsey, Sidlesham, Weymouth and Calais. Usually only one merchant's wool was carried in each ship. (fn. 33)

In the next set of accounts available (1323–26) the cocket was mainly at Shoreham (fn. 34) and there is little information about Chichester. (fn. 35) The alien trade with Chichester during the 14th century was small, covering a few sacks of wool exported, and miscellaneous merchandise, chiefly fish, fruit and vegetables (onions and garlic) with some wax and iron brought into the port. (fn. 36) A certain amount of corn was exported both by denizens and aliens. (fn. 37)

Between 1378–98 (the period next covered by a set of Particular Accounts) twenty-three merchants appear in the accounts of the receivers of Chichester. (fn. 38) Ten of them were Sussex men, two were London merchants; the others have not been identified. They exported to Calais and to Middleburgh, (fn. 39) and were probably not dealing in Sussex wool alone, but merely using Chichester as a port of shipment. This is also likely to have been the case with Richard Whittington, who was exporting wool from Chichester in 1404 and 1406 and 1413: (fn. 40) in 1406 he was licensed to retain £450 from Chichester customs, towards repayment of a loan to the king. (fn. 41)

Under the three Edwards the shipping in Chichester seems to have been almost exclusively English-owned, but by the end of the century many of the ships came from Flemish ports. Of thirty-four shipmasters named in the Accounts for 1378–98, three came from Chichester, Wittering and Appledram, while seven belonged to Middleburgh, Zierikzee, the Hook, etc. (fn. 42)

During the 15th century the wool trade gradually gave place to one in cloth: by the first years of Edward IV the Chichester Port Books deal with nothing but cloth, while at least half the vessels shipping it were Flemish. (fn. 43)

In 1572 the Port of Chichester was held to include in its members Arundel, Shoreham, Rye, Hastings, Newhaven, Meresey (?), Sidlesham, Feckham (? Felpham), Meching, Winchelsea, Brighton, Folkestone, St. Giles (?), Itchenor, and Hythe. (fn. 44) These places had 148 vessels of 6 to 100 tons burden. Chichester itself had seven merchant ships, varying from 12 to 30 tons: there was one at Itchenor and three at Sidlesham. The harbour was probably unsuitable for larger shipping, but in 1584–5 an Act (fn. 45) was passed empowering the mayor to take ground up to 200 ft. wide for making a canal from Dell Quay to Fishbourne, Chichester being 'the best haven between Portsmouth and Thames.' The chief reason for the canal was alleged to be the bad condition of the road from Dell Quay to the city (a perennial difficulty) and the absence of warehouses and lodgings at the Quay. The projected course of the canal suggests that the citizens intended to utilise the bed of the Lavant, and to bring shipping up to the West Gate of the city. Nothing, however, appears to have been done towards carrying out this plan. (fn. 46) The harbour continued to deteriorate, partly owing to the deposit of ballast, and in 1661 it was stated that it was more difficult now for a vessel of 10 tons to come to Dell Key than it had been ten years before for one of 40. Goods had often to be carried by lighters half a mile down the creek; and the roads were worse than ever. (fn. 47)

In 1588 Chichester contributed one ship, the 'John' (of 70 tons and 50 men, Captain John Young), against the Armada. (fn. 48) Batteries were placed at the entrance to the harbour, at Cakehamstone, Selsey and Pagham, but apparently they were not kept in repair. (fn. 49)

Shipbuilding evidently progressed at this time, as in 1595 the queen gave a reward of 500 crowns to the merchants for building a ship of 300 tons. (fn. 50)

A customs return of the year 1595 shows £1,234 14s. 6¼d. (fn. 51) as a year's receipts at Chichester, or about the same as Southampton or Bristol; this figure, however, evidently covers all the members of this port as enumerated in 1572.

Throughout the Middle Ages there had evidently been frequent trade relations between Chichester and Ireland: wheat was exported to Ireland in considerable quantities at different periods, and in 1650–52 Chichester was provisioning the Cromwellian armies, to the extent of 1,000 quarters of wheat or 1,500 quarters of malt at a time. (fn. 52)

Wheat was also exported to the Low Countries in the early 17th century, (fn. 53) and after the Corn Bounty Act of 1688 Chichester merchants bought up wheat for export, building granaries and mills, and sending flour to London 'by the long sea,' somewhat to the detriment of the market at Farnham. (fn. 54)

Chichester was evidently a favourite port for privateers, or for the disposal of prizes, from the 14th century onwards, (fn. 55) and particularly during the French and Dutch wars of the 17th century. (fn. 56)

In 1660 (fn. 57) quarrels between the new and the old 'customers' of Chichester reflect the bitter feeling about 'the King's murder,' and disputes arose with the Admiralty.

In 1685 the mayor and corporation leased the 'key dues' for five years at £36 per annum, and a schedule was annexed to the lease giving the rates which had been paid from time immemorial on a long list of commodities (forty-one at least). It is evident that many of these dues were at the same rates as in the 13th or 14th century. (fn. 58)


  • 1. Early Chan. Proc. bdle. 75, no. 17. Rights of anchorage and culage; Cal. Pat. R. 1391–6, p. 323.
  • 2. Ibid. 1272–81, p. 412. Corn for Chichester brought to La Delle.
  • 3. Cal. Inq. Misc. i, no. 1467. Merchants of Chichester have withheld lastage in ports of Fishbourne, Dell, Swenesmouth and Wittering from Earl of Norfolk, to whose manor of Bosham it belongs.
  • 4. Cal. Pat. R. 1436–41, p. 342.
  • 5. Excheq. K.R. Sheriff's Accts. bdle. 588, no. 17.
  • 6. See above p. 84.
  • 7. Early Chan. Proc. bdle. 75, no. 17.
  • 8. Hay, op. cit. pp. 399–400; Exch. Spec. Com. 6501.
  • 9. a S.P. Dom. bdle. 12, no. 107, fol. 83.
  • 10. b Exch. Dep. by Com. Hil. 4 Jas. I, 17.
  • 11. Chan. Misc. bdle. 81, file 1, no. 26.
  • 12. a Mins. Accts. (P.R.O.), 1128, nos. 4, 11. In 1212 it was said that Archbishop Hubert, when justiciar, had appropriated the port of 'Werringes,' which had belonged to the city since the Conquest (Bk. of Fees, 73).
  • 13. b Anct. Indictments, 163, mm. 14– 23.
  • 14. Cal. Pat. R. 1225–32, p. 46.
  • 15. Cal. Chart. R. 1300–26, p. 314; Abbrev. Rot. Orig. (Rec. Com.), i, 186; P.R.O. Excheq. class 122, bdle. 32, no. 1; Customs Accts. 1289–90; Cal. Close R. 1279–88, p. 500, 'King's new custom in Chichester'; Cal. Pat. R. 1292–1301, p. 524, Custom on wool, etc.; 1313–17, p. 15. Writ of aid for mayor of wool staple directed to collectors in Chichester.
  • 16. Ibid. 1292–1301, p. 524.
  • 17. Ibid. 1307–13, p. 514.
  • 18. Ibid. 1313–17, p. 101.
  • 19. Ibid. 1327–30, p. 421.
  • 20. Ibid. 1338–40, p. 409.
  • 21. Ibid. p. 202. Similar instructions were sent to Bristol and Ipswich.
  • 22. Ibid. p. 507.
  • 23. Cheal, Hist. of Shoreham, pp. 99, 100.
  • 24. Cal. Pat. R. 1340–43, pp. 127, 136.
  • 25. Hall, Customs Revenue, ii, p. 17.
  • 26. Cal. Pat. R. 1350–4, pp. 176, 203, 532.
  • 27. Ibid. 1324–27, p. 185.
  • 28. Ibid. 1327–30, p. 324.
  • 29. Ibid. 1345–48, p. 253. John Chaucier deputy Butler. He was made collector of custom on woollen cloths and worsteds in the above ports and Southampton in the same year, ibid. p. 276.
  • 30. Munic. Corp. Com. 1835, pt. ii, p. 726.
  • 31. Exch. Dep. by Com. Hil. 4 Jas. I, 17.
  • 32. P.R.O. Excheq. class 122, bdle. 32, nos. 1, 2, 3.
  • 33. Ibid. nos. 4, 8; bdle. 135, nos. 5, 6, 8; Cal. Pat. R. 1324–27, p. 105.
  • 34. Cheal, op. cit. pp. 99–100. This was probably for the profit of the younger Despenser.
  • 35. S.A.C. lxx, lxxi, Foreign Trade of Sussex, by R. A. Pelham.
  • 36. Cf. ibid.
  • 37. Cal. Pat. R. 1364–67, p. 32, corn to Gascony; 1358–61, p. 11, corn exported by merchant of Middleburgh.
  • 38. P.R.O. Excheq. class 122, bdle. 33, nos. 1–34.
  • 39. Cal. Pat. R. 1385–89, p. 90.
  • 40. P.R.O. Excheq. class 122, bdle. 34, nos. 2, 3; Cal. Pat. R. 1413–16, p. 149.
  • 41. Ibid. 1405–8, p. 387.
  • 42. P.R.O. Excheq. class 122, bdle. 33, nos. 1, 5, 8, 12, 17, 18, 22, 29, 31, 34.
  • 43. Ibid. bdle. 34, no. 1.
  • 44. P.R.O. State Papers, bdle. 15, no. 22. The composite nature of the port dates back to the 13th century, at least. Cf. Gras, Early Customs Accounts, p. 105.
  • 45. Stat. of the Realm, iv, 729; cf. S.P. Dom. bdle. xii, no. 107.
  • 46. Ballard, Hist. of Chich. p. 60.
  • 47. a Exch. Dep. by Com. Hil. 22–23 Chas. II, 14.
  • 48. Defeat of Spanish Armada (Naval Rec. Soc.), ii, 329; Hist. MSS. Com. Rep. (Cecil), iii, p. 341.
  • 49. Ballard, op. cit. p. 59.
  • 50. Cal. S.P. Dom. 1595–7, p. 3.
  • 51. Hist. MSS. Com. Rep. (Cecil), v, p. 393.
  • 52. Cal. S.P. Dom. 1650, pp. 541, 546; 1651–2, p. 562.
  • 53. Ibid. 1628–9, p. 594.
  • 54. Defoe, Tour through Gt. Brit.
  • 55. Cal. Close R. 1377–81, p. 173; Cal. Pat. R. 1429–36, p. 279.
  • 56. Cal. S.P. Dom. 1628–9, pp. 227, 458, and many later entries.
  • 57. Ibid. 1660–61, p. 555; 1661–2, pp. 323, 471.
  • 58. Hay, Hist. of Chich. 401–4.