Highways and Byways in Sussex/Chapter 19
Hove the impeccable—The Aldrington of the past—A digression on seaports—Old Shoreham and history—Mr. Swinburne's poem—A baby saint—Successful bribery—The Adur—Old Shoreham church and bridge.
West of Hove, and between that town and Portslade-by-Sea, is Aldrington. Aldrington is now new houses and brickfields. Thirty years ago it was naught. But five hundred years ago it was the principal township in these parts, and Brighthelmstone a mere insignificant cluster of hovels. Centuries earlier
The cliffs that make the coast between Newhaven and Brighton so attractive slope gradually to level ground at the Aquarium and never reappear in Sussex on the Channel's edge again, although in the east they rise whiter and higher, with a few long gaps, all the way to Dover. It is partly for this reason that the walk from Brighton to Shoreham has no beauty save of the sea. Hove, which used to be a disreputable little smuggling village sufficiently far from Brighton for risks to be run with safety, is now the well-ordered home of wealthy rectitude. Mrs. Grundy's sea-side home is here. Hove is, perhaps, the genteelest town in the world, although once, only a poor hundred years ago, there was no service in the church on a certain Sunday, because, as the clerk informed the complaisant vicar, "The pews is full of tubs and the pulpit full of tea"—a pleasant fact to reflect upon during Church Parade amid the gay yet discreet prosperity of the Brunswick Lawns.
New Shoreham Church.
Beyond Aldrington is Portslade, with a pretty inland village on the hill; beyond Portslade is Southwick, notable for its green; and beyond Southwick is Shoreham. Southwick and Shoreham both have that interest which can never be wanting to the seaport that has seen better days. The life of a harbour, whatever its state of decay, is eternally absorbing; and in Shoreham harbour one gets such life at its laziest. The smell of tar; the sound of hammers; the laughter and whistling of the loafers; the continuous changing of the tide; the opening of the lock gates; the departure of the tug; its triumphant return, leading in custody a timber-laden barque from the Baltic, a little self-conscious and ashamed, as if caught red-handed in iniquity by this fussy little officer; the independent sailing of a grimy steamer bound for Sunderland and more coal; the elaborate wharfing of the barque:—all these things on a hot still day can exercise an hypnotic influence more real and strange than the open sea. The romance and mystery of the sea may indeed be more intimately near one on a harbour wharf than on the deck of a liner in mid-ocean.
Shoreham has its place in history. Thence as we have seen, sailed Charles II. in Captain Tattersall's Enterprise. Four hundred and fifty years earlier King John landed here with his army, when he came to succeed to the English throne. In the reign of Edward III. Shoreham supplied twenty-six ships to the Navy: but in the fifteenth century the sea began an encroachment on the bar which disclassed the harbour. It is now unimportant, most of the trade having passed to Newhaven; but in its days of prosperity great cargoes of corn and wine were landed here from the Continent.
When people now say Shoreham they mean New Shoreham, but Old Shoreham is the parent. Old Shoreham, however, declined to village state when the present harbour was made.
New Shoreham church, quite the noblest in the county, dates probably from about 1100. It was originally the property of the Abbey of Saumur, to whom it was presented, together with Old Shoreham church, by William de Braose, the lord of Bramber Castle. It is New Shoreham Church which Mr. Swinburne had in mind (or so I imagine) in his noble poem "On the South Coast":—
Strong as time, and as faith sublime,—clothed round with shadows of hopes and fears,
Nights and morrows, and joys and sorrows, alive with passion of prayers and tears,—
Stands the shrine that has seen decline eight hundred waxing and waning years.
Tower set square to the storms of air and change of season that glooms and glows,
Wall and roof of it tempest-proof, and equal ever to suns and snows,
Bright with riches of radiant niches and pillars smooth as a straight stem grows.
Rise around it the heights that bound our landward gaze from the seaboard here;
Downs that swerve and aspire, in curve and change of heights that the dawn holds dear.
Dawn falls fair on the grey walls there confronting dawn, on the low green lea,
Lone and sweet as for fairies' feet held sacred, silent and strange and free,
Wild and wet with its rills; but yet more fair falls dawn on the fairer sea.
Winds are glancing from sunbright Lancing to Shoreham, crowned with the grace of years;
Shoreham, clad with the sunset, glad and grave with glory that death reveres.
Old Shoreham Bridge.
In the churchyard there was once (and may be still, but I did not find it) an epitaph on a child of eight months, in the form of a dialogue between the deceased and its parents. It contained these lines:—
"'I trust in Christ,' the blessed babe replied,
Then smil'd, then sigh'd, then clos'd its eyes and died."
Old Shoreham Church.
After the life of the harbour, the chief interest of Shoreham is its river, the Adur, a yellow, sluggish, shallow stream, of great width near the town, which at low tide dwindles into a streamlet trickling through a desert of mud, but at the full has the beauty of a lake. Mr. Swinburne, in the same poem from which I have been quoting, thus describes the river at evening:—
Skies fulfilled with the sundown, stilled and splendid, spread as a flower that spreads,
Pave with rarer device and fairer than heaven's the luminous oyster-beds,
Grass-embanked, and in square plots ranked, inlaid with gems that the sundown sheds.
In Shoreham River, hurrying down
To the live sea,
By working, marrying, breeding, Shoreham Town,
Breaking the sunset's wistful and solemn dream,
An old, black rotter of a boat
Past service to the labouring, tumbling flote,
Lay stranded in mid-stream;
With a horrid list, a frightening lapse from the line,
That made me think of legs and a broken spine;
Soon, all too soon,
Ungainly and forlorn to lie
Full in the eye
Of the cynical, discomfortable moon
That, as I looked, stared from the fading sky,
A clown's face flour'd for work. And by and by
The wide-winged sunset wanned and waned;
The lean night-wind crept westward, chilling and sighing;
The poor old hulk remained,
Stuck helpless in mid-ebb. And I knew why—
Why, as I looked, my heart felt crying.
For, as I looked, the good green earth seemed dying—
Dying or dead;
And, as I looked on the old boat, I said:—
"Dear God, it's I!"
The Adur is no longer the home of birds that once it was, but in the early morning one may still see there many of the less common water fowl. The road to Portsmouth is carried across the Adur by the Norfolk Suspension Bridge, to cross which one must pay a toll,—not an unpleasant reminder of earlier days.
Old Shoreham, a mile up the river, is notable for its wooden bridge across the Adur to the Old Sussex Pad, at one time a famous inn for smugglers. Few Royal Academy exhibitions are without a picture of Old Shoreham Bridge and the quiet cruciform church at its eastward end.
A pleasant story tells how, in some Sussex journey, William IV. and his queen chanced to be passing through Shoreham, coming from Chichester to Lewes, one Sunday morning. The clerk of Old Shoreham church caught sight through the window of the approaching cavalcade, and leaping to his feet, stopped the sermon by announcing: "It is my solemn duty to inform you that their Majesties the King and Queen are just now crossing the bridge." Thereupon the whole congregation jumped up and ran out to show their loyalty.