Chichester Harbour

Chichester Harbour

Chichester Harbour is the easternmost of the three major Harbours feeding into the Solent. Administratively it straddles the Hampshire/ West Sussex border and is run by the Chichester Harbour Conservancy.

The MAT's work in Chichester Harbour was prompted by an initiative between Chichester Harbour Conservancy, Sussex Archaeological Society, Portsmouth University and the MAT, to investigate the archaeology of the Harbour. The desired research work has since fed into a successful Heritage Lottery Fund bid.

Archaeological work has included geophysical survey, intertidal fieldwork, and recording. This has been aimed at enhancing the Sites and Monuments Record for the Harbour and tackling research on specific sites and areas.

Geophysical survey

In conjunction with the School of Ocean & Earth Science, University of Southampton, a high resolution side scan sonar survey of the Harbour was carried out.

The results show the subtidal detail of the harbour floor. Numerous views of the many moorings can be seen, but there are many other examples of interesting geology and unidentified anomalies. These anomalies are yet to be investigated by divers, they may be modern debris, but they could also be  of archaeological interest. 


The foreshore of the Harbour contains the abandoned remains of ships and boats. These vessels can range from substantially intact relatively modern craft, to only the keel and ribs just protruding from the mud. Other craft may lie totally buried within sediment.

The MAT investigated:

During April 2004, the MAT undertook a survey of four hulks on behalf of the Chichester Harbour Conservancy. These vessels were due to be removed as part of the Lottery Funded Project which will focus on a number of environmental projects around the harbour. A photographic and drawn record of the vessels was completed and preliminary research into their history and origin carried out.

The photographic and drawn record of one of the vessels, a Pinnace or tender, can be viewed as a pdf (436kb)

Hayling Island Wadeway

This causeway runs from the village of Langstone southwards to Hayling Island and is severed by two channels at all but the lowest of tides. It was long thought likely to date from at least as early as the Bronze Age, when there was significant activity in the area and the Wadeway would have been the only land crossing to Hayling Island until permission was granted to build a bridge in 1817. In 1821 it was cut through by the Portsmouth to Arundel canal.

The first documentary reference to the Wadeway dates to 1552 and the toll for crossing the feature. Later references mention the costs of maintenance. The first cartographic evidence of the Wadeway is found on Taylor’s 1759 map.

A topographical survey and recording of features on the Wadeway was carried out in 2000 in conjunction with local volunteers. Ten timber structures were recorded, which appeared to provide structural support for the causeway.

A more detailed survey in 2008 included excavation work and auger surveys to analyse the composition of the structure and seek artefacts to help in dating the structure. No significant artefacts were discovered, however a combination of radio-carbon dating, palaeoenvironmental analysis and other techniques indicated that the area was terrestrial in nature until at least the Post Roman period, and the causeway is most likely to have been constructed in the 13th or 14th century AD.

Fishbourne Channel

There is much speculation over whether the Romans carried out major engineering works to allow access to the Fishbourne Roman Villa. The MAT undertook an auger survey of subtidal deposits north of Dell Quay to produce a transect across this arm of the Harbour. A relatively large number of subsurface deposits were encountered, representing layers and lenses of material. Initial interpretation has been undertaken, although further field and palaeoenvironmental work will help progress these investigations.


The MAT joined forces with the Emsworth Maritime and Historical Trust (EMHT) and Chichester and District Archaeology Society (CDAS) to help lead volunteers who spent a soggy and cold January and February in 2008 surveying abandoned oyster beds on the Emsworth foreshore. Volunteers spent long hours on the foreshore racing to record the remains of the beds ahead of the rising tide.

The project, funded by a grant from the Chichester Harbour Conservancy Sustainable Development Fund recorded the remains of several timber-lined pitson the foreshore. These were dug to store oysters for a huge oyster industry that thrived in Emsworth in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The industry collapsed in 1902 after oysters contaminated by typhoid from a new sewer in Emsworth Harbour were served at banquets at Winchester and Southampton. The oysters poisoned several people and killed the Dean of Winchester.

Volunteers were given a day of foreshore fieldwork and survey training by the MAT and a guidance manual was created to assist them in the archaeological survey of the beds. The team recorded numerous beds, the positions of which were recorded with sufficient accuracy to identify the original pond owners from historic maps. The project culminated in a special display on the oyster industry at the Emsworth Museum that incorporated volunteers plans and records of the site.

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