By Tim Lambert
Emsworth began as a small Saxon village. At first, it was linked to the more important settlement of Warblington nearby. People from Emsworth worshiped in St Peter’s Chapel or in the church at Warblington. However, Emsworth was not mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086. It was probably too small to be mentioned on its own and was included with Warblington.
The name Emsworth was probably once Emel’s worth or Emil’s worth. A worth was an enclosure like a farm or hamlet surrounded by a palisade.
Although Emsworth started as a small settlement it soon grew to be larger and more important. In 1239 it was granted the right to hold a market. (In those days there were few shops and if you wanted to buy or sell anything you had to go to a market).
Emsworth was also allowed an annual fair. (In the Middle Ages fairs were like markets but they were held only once a year and people traveled long distances to buy and sell at them).
In the Middle Ages Emsworth was a busy little port. Large quantities of wine (the drink of the upper class) were imported from Europe.
In the 18th century and the 19th century, Emsworth was known for shipbuilding, boat building, and rope making. King Street is named after a man named King who settled there in the late 18th century and started a shipbuilding business.
During the 18th and 19th centuries, Emsworth was still a busy little port. Meanwhile, grain from the area was ground into flour by tidal mills. When the tide came in water was allowed to flow in behind a barrier. When the tide turned the water was trapped and it was only allowed to flow out under a mill turning its ‘wheel’. Flour from Emsworth was transported by ship to places like London and Portsmouth.
Timber from the area was also exported from Emsworth in the 18th and 19th centuries. Coal (a very necessary commodity when everyone had a coal fire) was brought to Emsworth by sea.
Emsworth was also known for its fishing industry especially in the oyster beds around the village. In the 19th century, it was also known for its brewing industry.
At the beginning of the 19th century, Emsworth had a population of less than 1,200. It would seem tiny to us but settlements were very small in those days. By the standards of the time, Emsworth was a large village.
At the end of the 18th century, it became fashionable for wealthy people to spend the Summer by the sea. People believed that bathing in seawater was good for health. In 1805 a Princess came to Emsworth and a bathing house was built where people could have a bath in seawater. Bath Road is named after it. However, Emsworth failed to take off as a seaside resort.
The Church of St James was built in 1840 and Queen Victoria visited Emsworth in 1842. Queen Street is named after her. Then in 1847, the railway came to Emsworth. Furthermore, in 1854 the village gained a gas supply. Then in the late 19th century, Emsworth gained a piped water supply and sewers.
By 1901 the population of Emsworth was about 2,000. It grew rapidly during the 20th century. By the middle of the 20th century, the population was about 5,000. (The 1,000th house in Emsworth was built in 1953). Today the population is about 10,000.
Emsworth Recreation Ground dates from 1909.
In the 20th century, Emsworth became a resort for pleasure boats. The oyster fishing industry declined after 1902 when sewage polluted the oysters. Some people died after eating oysters from Emsworth. Fishing oysters ended until new sewers were dug but the industry never completely recovered.
A museum opened in Emsworth in 1988. A new skatepark opened in Emsworth in 2006. Today Emsworth is an attractive village known for its 18th century buildings.