A History of Selsey

By Tim Lambert

Early Selsey

Selsey is a seaside town in West Sussex about 7 miles south of Chichester. It was founded by the Saxons. In the 6th century, Saxons led by Aella landed near Pevensey. They carved out a kingdom in southern England called Sussex, the kingdom of the South Saxons. They founded a settlement called Seals eg (seal’s Island or Promontory).


At first, the Saxons were pagans but in the 7th century, they were converted to Christianity. St Wilfrid (634-709) was a leading light in converting Sussex. In 681 he built a monastery and a cathedral at Selsey and he lived there till 686. However, in 1075 it was decided that all bishops should live in town so the bishop moved from Selsey to Chichester.

At the time of the Domesday Book in 1086, Selsey had a population of about 160-170. To us, it would seem tiny but settlements were very small in those days. By the standards of the time, Selsey was quite a large village. It was owned by the Bishop of Chichester.

Through the centuries Selsey was just a quiet village. Some of the villagers made their living from farming, some from fishing (Selsey was known for cockles). In the 18th century, smuggling was common. Most of the time Selsey thrived although it was subject to floods.

Modern Selsey

In 1801 Selsey had a population of 564. By the standards of the time, it was a large village, larger than most in Sussex and its population grew steadily. By 1851 it had reached 934. By 1901 the population of Selsey was 1,258. Meanwhile, the Selsey windmill was built in 1820. (It replaced an older building). In 1861 Selsey gained a lifeboat.

In 1897 a railway called the Selsey Tramway opened from Chichester to Selsey and it encouraged the growth of the village. However, it closed in 1935. The Selsey Tramway had several stations, one at Hunston, Hoe farm halt, Chalder Station, (which served North Sidlesham), Mill Pond Halt, Sidlesham Station, (which served the south part of the village), Ferry Halt, Golf Club Halt, Selsey Bridge Halt, Ferry Halt, Selsey Town Station and (until 1912) Selsey Beach.

At first, the Selsey Tramway had many passengers (in 1919 it had 102,000). However, during the 1920s and early 1930s, it faced growing competition from buses. By 1933 Selsey Tramway only carried 21,000 passengers. Two years later it was forced to close.

Meanwhile, amenities in Selsey improved. It gained waterworks in 1908 and in 1914 work began on digging sewers and drains. In 1924 Selsey gained an electricity supply and in 1927 Selsey gained a professional fire brigade. In 1913 the first cinema opened in Selsey (but it closed in the 1950s).

Meanwhile, Selsey lost many men in the First World War and a War Memorial was erected in 1920.

However in the early 20th century although it was growing Selsey was still a village but in the late 20th century the population of Selsey grew very rapidly and Manhood Secondary School opened in 1965.

However, Selsey was not without its problems. In 1998 a tornado struck the town and damaged over 1,000 buildings. In March 2008 storms caused severe floods in Selsey. Yet today Selsey is a flourishing town and it is still growing. Today the population of Selsey is nearly 10,000.