By Tim Lambert
Littlehampton was founded by the Saxons. They landed at Pevensey in the 5th century and they carved out the kingdom of the South Saxons (Sussex). The Saxons founded a small settlement by the mouth of the River Arun. It was called hamm tun, which means the farm or hamlet by the river meadow. In time the name changed to hampton and the prefix little was added to distinguish it from Southampton.
By the 11th century, Littlehampton was a tiny port. The inhabitants lived by fishing or farming. However, at the time of the Domesday Book in 1086 Littlehampton was still a very small settlement overshadowed by Arundel.
In the year 1139 England was in the grip of a civil war. Both Stephen and Matilda claimed the throne. In that year the forces of Matilda came from France and landed in Littlehampton.
During the reign of Henry VIII, there was shipbuilding in Littlehampton. However, during the 17th and 18th centuries, Littlehampton was again a small port serving Arundel. It didn’t really grow until the 19th century.
At the time of the first census in 1801 Littlehampton only had a population of 584. It was a large village rather than a town. Littlehampton was still a tiny port. In the late 18th century and the early 19th century, there was a shipbuilding industry in Littlehampton.
Furthermore, in the late 18th century, Littlehampton began to develop as a seaside resort. In those days people believed that bathing in seawater was a cure for all sorts of illnesses. Among the wealthy spending summer at the seaside and bathing in seawater became fashionable. Seaside resorts such as Bognor, Worthing, and Brighton grew up.
Lord Byron visited Littlehampton. So did the poets Coleridge and Shelley. A bathhouse was built in 1802 and a theatre opened in Littlehampton in 1807. St Mary’s Church was built in 1826.
The opening of the Wey and Arun canal in 1816 improved the fortunes of the town. It was then possible to travel from London to Littlehampton by boat. As a result, Littlehampton grew larger. By 1841 the population had more than quadrupled to 2,270.
In 1853 Littlehampton was allowed an elected Board of Health as it had grown from a village into a little town. The coming of the railway in 1863 also boosted the growth of Littlehampton. It made it far easier for visitors to reach and as a result, the resort grew rapidly. The Esplanade was built in 1868.
In the 1880s Littlehampton gained drains and a piped water supply. Then in 1893 Littlehampton was granted an urban district council. By then its population was approaching 5,000. Meanwhile, a lifeboat station opened in Littlehampton in 1884.
In the early 20th century Littlehampton continued to be a small seaside resort. The first public library opened in the town in 1906. A hospital opened in Littlehampton in 1911 and the Arcade was built in 1922. By 1931 the population of Littlehampton was over 10,000.
In the later 20th century Littlehampton continued to grow. By 1973 Littlehampton had over 17,000 inhabitants. A new road bridge was built over the Arun in 1973. The High Street was pedestrianised in 1981. A pedestrian bridge was built in 1982. The Civic Centre was built in 1986. A new railway station opened in Littlehampton in 1987.
The first museum in Littlehampton opened in 1928. However, Littlehampton Museum moved to the Manor House in 1991. Meanwhile, Littlehampton Rugby Club was founded in 1985.
Millennium Clock Tower was built in 2000. Littlehampton Academy opened in 2009. Today Littlehampton is a flourishing resort. Today the population of Littlehampton is about 25,000.