Image: Coastal JJ
Famed for its Selsey Crab which is lauded across the globe, the town has a proud fishing heritage, with a fishing fleet moored offshore as fishermen can be seen bringing in their catch.
Selsey has more sunlight hours than anywhere in the UK, and its bathing water is rated as excellent whilst its shoreline is celebrated as a top UK diving destination.
Selsey’s miles of natural beaches play host to a huge variety of wildlife both on and off the shore; in warmer months, visitors may even see seals in and out of the water, a spectacle from which Selsey’s name originates.
The RSPB reserves of Pagham Harbour and RSPB Medmerry are home to countless species of birds and wildfowl and Pagham is a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).
Explore Selsey’s rugged landscape on foot or on bicycle or dive its crystal waters to find out what lies beneath. Capture a fabulous Selsey sunset and admire the impressive dark skies made famous by the late Sir Patrick Moore who lived in the town. Or just sit back and feast on Selsey’s world famous seafood.
Visiting Selsey is a must for those wanting to escape from reality and savour the great outdoors in a laid back, family friendly and dog friendly environment. It is a great town for those pursuing outdoor activities, wildlife/marine life enthusiasts, historians, photographers and gastronomic seafood enthusiasts.
Where is Selsey?
Selsey lies at the southernmost point of the Manhood Peninsula, is is surrounded on three sides by the sea so it's small island almost cut off from mainland Sussex. Bracklesham Bay lies to the west and Pagham Harbour to the east. Selsey Bill is the southern most tip. Under the sea, off both its coasts lie dangerous rock formations so significant, that they have names: the Owers Rocks and Mixon Rocks.
There is one road in and out of the town - which briefly becomes a bridge at a point known as "the ferry", crossing the water inlet at Pagham Harbour. The term ferry is used because there was at one time a ferryman who took people across to the island.
History of Selsey
In the Dark Ages, Selsey served as the capital of the Kingdom of Sussex, but the history of Selsey really begins in the 7th century when St Wilfrid, a Northumbrian cleric who had been exiled from his homeland, founded a monastery near what is now Selsey after a grant of land from Caedwalla, King of Wessex. The king gave extensive lands as an endowment and among those lands was Selsey. Selsey derived its name from the Saxon name of "Seals-ey", or Island of Seals as it was at that time.
Selsey became the seat of St Wilfrid's abbey, and later served as the centre of Wilfrid's new bishopric. The cathedral was moved to Chichester in 1075 and Selsey became a manor owned by the Bishop. Selsey remained in the Bishops' hands until 1561 when Elizabeth I forced the then bishop to surrender the manor.
A few years later the Spanish Armada appeared off Selsey. The English devised a plan to lure the Spanish fleet onto Owers rocks just offshore, but the Spanish Admiral saw through the plan and instead, turned his ships to head for Calais.
During the 18th century, like many Sussex towns, Selsey was a centre for smuggling, especially around the East Beach area. A grim reminder of those smuggling days is a blue plaque in Gibbet Field. The plaque records that in 1749 a pair of smugglers, John Cobby and John Hammond, were executed and hung in chains from a gibbet to act as a warning to other would-be smugglers. The warning had little effect. In fact, it was rumoured that the Rector of Selsey earned a commission on all kegs landed here by smugglers to avoid excise duties An underground tunnel ran from the beach to the old Rectory at Church Norton, clearly marked by an indentation on the surface of the land.
Much of the town centre is composed of old Georgian houses. Even older is Sessions House, a medieval building later used as a court by the Lord of Selsey Manor.
Another local landmark is Selsey Windmill - known as Medmerry Mill - a restored 19th-century mill of red brick, which operated from 1820 to the 1920s.
A walk around the town will reveal many small cottages and historic homes. Several of the most important historic sites in the town are part of the Selsey Heritage Trail, marked by special blue plaques that give a brief history of the site.
Former residents whose homes are noted include Air Commodore Edward Donaldson who set a new world air speed record of 616mph in 1946.
Other notable former residents include Eric Coates, the English composer of among other things, 'By the Sleepy Lagoon', signature tune of Radio 4's Desert Island Discs; inventor Colin Pullinger and Edward Heron-Allen FRS (1861-1943) built a house he called 'Large Acres' on Selsey High Street. His widely varied writing encompassed such diverse topics as violin making, ancient Persian texts, palmistry, and marine zoology. He made an enormous contribution to the local history of Selsey by writing it all down.
Just across High Street from the site of Large Acres is The Crown Inn, a picturesque Grade II listed pub established in 1831. Though the building has been a pub since that date it was actually built in the late 18th century.
One of the most striking historic buildings in Selsey is Selsey Hall on High Street. The Hall was built in 1913 in Art Deco style. It served as a cinema and a venue for concerts, variety performances, lectures and dances as well as films.
Also on High Street is Century Cottage, a lovely pink thatched building dating to the 18th century. At the corner of High Street and School Lane is one of the prettiest buildings in Selsey, a 17th-century thatched cottage known as Hollyhocks.
Further north along High Street is the parish church of St Peter with some interesting stonework and a priest's doorway. The church was built in 1865 using stones from the demolished nave of St Wilfird's Chapel at Church Norton. The 12th-century arcades from St Wilfrid's were incorporated into the new building and the church holds the early medieval font from the chapel. The remainder was designed in 13th-century style by the prolific Victorian architect JP St Aubyn.
The truncated remains of St Wilfrid's Chapel were used for a time as a mortuary chapel, then given full chapel status. It is now maintained by the Churches Conservation Trust and forms a popular stopping place for walkers enjoying the nature trails that dissect Pagham Harbour Nature Reserve. Beside the churchyard are the remains of an 11th-century moated castle motte.
Things to do in Selsey
Visit the Fishing Huts
The historic seaside town has been ruled by the sea and continues to be home to a sizeable fishing fleet. Selsey is well known for its fresh fish and local crab, which is absolutely delicious and can be bought directly from the fishermen’s huts on the seafront on the town's, East Beach.
The fresh air and quiet rural charm of this area have drawn tourists and visitors for years. The long beach is shingle but is popular for sunbathing and boating. It is also a site of geological interest. Being close to Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight, just across the Solent, there are always boats and ships on the horizon.The beach stretches for miles along the coastline as far as East Wittering and West Wittering and the entrance to Chichester Harbour. Bracklesham Bay is a Site of Special Scientific Interest, along with Pagham Harbour Both areas have rare flora and fauna which is of national importance. East beach is more sheltered than West Beach and joins with Pagham Harbour via a shingle bank. However, the best place to fly a kite on a windy day is West Beach.
Visit Pagham Habour
This is a lovely nature reserve on a sea inlet, and you can see ducks, geese and wading birds. From here, you can walk to the village of Sidlesham where there is a pub called the Crab and Lobster. It serves great food but it’s also nice for a mid-walk drink.
Selsey Bill Lifeboat Station
This is working lifeboat station on the beach front and it’s really interesting to go up to the viewing platform. There's also a small museum and lovely shop.
While you are in the area...
The historic towns of Chichester and Arundel are near by.
Selsey is ideal for those who want to escape busy city life for a time and enjoy peaceful walks along the coastline, wild flowers, bird-watching and exploring the local villages.
Discover more about this hidden gem at the Destination Selsey website.