As we did our weekly shopping yesterday and had no other chores in view, we set off bright and early for the seaside. Though the day was indeed bright and sunny, there was a cold breeze blowing.
We caught a bus for London Bridge only to find that the bridge itself was closed for building work and that buses were being diverted. We were taken on a long detour, crossing the river by Southwark Bridge. The driver didn’t use the loudspeaker to warn us of the diversion but just called out. People upstairs didn’t hear or didn’t understand and as soon as the bus left its accustomed route there was a rush of people wanting to get off.
The rail route to Littlehampton from London is somewhat circuitous but is a pleasant enough ride as long as you are not in a hurry. We first took a train to Gatwick and there boarded another that would take us to Littlehampton – provided we sat in the correct half of the train, which divides into two parts at Worthing. This train skirts the city of Brighton and calls at its sibling, Hove, after which it trundles along the coast to Littlehampton, offering interesting views along the way.
From the station, we walked towards the town centre and the High Street.
The beginning of the High Street is marked by what is today called Littlehampton United Church. Built in 1861, the church today apparently serves two congregations, hence the slightly odd name. It is used by both Methodist and United Reformed Church congregations. I suppose that, in an age where people are increasingly seeing through the deceit and delusion of religion and, consequently, church attendance is going into mortal decline with large numbers of churches being decommissioned, it make sense to combine resources in this way.
There is a strange twist to the High Street – literally. From the church it seems to curve to the right, which is the direction taken by motor traffic. The further section, however, is called Surrey Road. The High Street itself continues by shooting off to the left, now as a pedestrian precinct, the beginning of which is marked by the Millennium Clock. Littlehampton is, in my opinion, a lovely little town. It looks good and is a comfortable place to be in. Lapses in taste are therefore all the more surprising and to be regretted. I am prompted to that remarks because this is the ugliest Millennium clock I have so far encountered. I assume it is supposed to represent a lighthouse but if so, it’s a pretty naff attempt. I do hope they knock it down and put up something more becoming to their pretty town.
I love the pedestrianized High Street. Some other towns make them, but not enough do. There is such a difference in the atmosphere. People can wander at leisure, go in and out of the shops, stand and chat or sit in the sun. Compare that with places where shoppers are crowded onto narrow pavements with traffic continually grinding past inches from their noses.
The pasty shop claims that smugglers were once active in Littlehampton, supplying untaxed booze to, inter alia, the Crown next door (which they also own). I don’t doubt it. Smugglers would have been busy all along the coast, bringing brandy and other goodies from France and playing Catch-as catch-can with the Excise men. However, the link between that and Cornish pasties seems tenuous at best and the decor of the building somewhat over-egged (what is that grinning imbecile supposed to be doing with the rope?). And no, I didn’t try the pasties. I am a vegetarian and so called vegetarian pasties are even more stodgy and indigestible than the usual kind.
All self-respecting towns have a shopping arcade. The best examples are those that were built during the Victorian era, some of these being truly beautiful. Littlehampton’s Arcade dates, by its own admission, from 1922, and lacks the pizzazz of its Victorian counterparts. Nonetheless, I like a nice arcade and was glad to see this one. Content is as important as the wrapping, of course, and arcades survive or fail on the quality of the businesses within them.
In the High Street, outside L. Guess Jewellers shop, is a second town clock. Or, rather, it is now dedicated to the town, though I imagine it was once a typical jeweller’s clock, advertising that clocks and watches could also be bought and repaired on the premises. A plaque tells us that the clock was donated to the town in 1995 by L. Guess Jewellers and Littlehampton Town Council, which probably means that the Council funded its refurbishment. Still, if the keeps the clock running and in good order, I approve.
Continuing on into Church Street, we passed the Littlehampton Museum, which occupies a Grade II listed manor house. It is well worth a visit but is closed on Sundays.
Church Road is so called (as you might guess) because the parish church, St Mary’s, resides there. Personally, I don’t regard it as a particularly noteworthy piece of ecclesiastical design but perhaps it is better than it looks because English Heritage have given in a Grade II listing. This may be because it dates from 1826 and was designed by George Draper (though “extensively remodelled in 1935 by W.H. Randoll Blacker”, according to the listing text).
Further up the road is a much more interesting building, the Littlehampton Friends’ Meeting house. I don’t know how long there have been Quakers in Littlehampton but they seem to have become organized as a “meeting” relatively recently (the 1960s, I believe, though that is subject to correction). The building is obviously much older than that and has merited a Grade II listing from English Heritage who say that it was built “in 1835 or soon after” as a Penny School. There is a Wikipedia article which adds some more details, namely that the school was opened by a Mrs Welch in the manner of a “Dame school” as a one-schoolroom establishment with an attached schoolmaster’s house at one end. The building fell out of use as a school and was taken over by a group of Plymouth Brethren who, in turn, vacated the premises in 1965. It has been used since then by the Quakers as their Meeting House. I find this quite fascinating and wish I had a time machine so that I could visit the building at various points during its history.
My favourite building in this area is the old Free Library, now a branch of Littlehampton’s public library service, standing on the corner of Maltravers Road with Fitzalan Road. I have not been able to find out much about this beautiful piece of work, other than a reference to its opening in 1906. As far as I can see, it is not listed by English Heritage, which I find odd in view of some of the piles they thus dignify. If you think three views of the building a little excessive, well, sorry, but I do like it a lot!
Fitzalan Road was taking us towards the sea, which was just what we now wanted, but I stopped to photograph this house because I am always fascinated by houses with turrets (even pseudo turrets, as in this case). I then noticed that there was a dove, comfortably ensconced on a TV dish as though quite at home there. It gave me coyly sidelong glances as I took the photograph.
As we approached the seafront, we saw what appeared to be arbitrary squiggles in 3-D, but they weren’t that. They were…
…parts of an innovative seating system that ran along the seafront here, moulding itself to the environment without a break in its continuity, a really clever and amusing design, showing how art carry marry functionality to produce something that is both useful and aesthetically pleasing.
The beach seemed virtually deserted, something which I, in my curmudgeonly way, prefer. The weather may have been part of the reason, because there was a stiff, cold breeze blowing, and another part may have been the relative lack of the usual seaside entertainments.
I did, however, spot a photo shoot in progress. I didn’t wait to see exactly what they were doing but I did notice later that the balloons escaped and had to be chased!
Further along, we saw that there were bikers in the car park. It didn’t take long to realize that all the bikes were Harley Davidsons.
I was keen to find out who they were and so photographed this pair of gentlemen riders. In return I received a Paddingtonian hard stare but I at least got the logo: the Hogsback Chapter UK.
We went to a beachside cafe for refreshments and discovered that it was also the terminus of the Littlehampton Railway, a miniature system but one capable of carrying paying passengers. I didn’t see how long the track was but it seemed a quite popular attraction.
As we walked along the promenade, we had seen another sort of train, one with tyres and no rails. For some reason it’s called “Boat Train” and it carries passengers along the promenade.
We decided to take the “Boat Train” ourselves as the walk back along the promenade would be rather long. At a fare of £1.50 it was worth it.
Littlehampton is a seaside town but it is also at the mouth of the River Arun (which gives its name to the historic castle town of Arundel further up). Here at the mouth, the river is sufficiently wide and deep to form a harbour for pleasure craft and smaller working boats. Littlehampton is also known for its large flocks of swans who live on the fresh waters of the river and are not above begging for food from people.
Talking of food, it was time for lunch and as the Rajdoot Indian Restaurant was to hand, we decided to give it a try. We usually choose a vegetable thali, if there is one on the menu, but as there wasn’t, we chose a combination of side dishes with lassi to drink. We were the only customers (a lot of restaurants here open only in the evening) so we were served with great attention and enjoyed leisurely conversation with the manager and waiters.
Beside the river a flock of gulls was gathered and someone was throwing chips to them so there was a good deal of excitement and squabbling.
This young gull (his plumage still changing from juvenile to adult) had chosen a different strategy and was strutting his stuff on a wall, hoping to make an individual appeal to passers-by, many of whom had called in at the fish & chip shop and therefore possibly had titbits to share.
I am not sure what the appeal is of a Dutch Bike Shop but whatever it is, the business seems to be a success as it has been here as long as we have been visiting Littlehampton. For us, it marked decision time: what should we do next?
There were several things that we could have chosen to do but after due consideration we decided we had done enough for today and would prefer to return home. As we reached the station, a train for Victoria was pulling in and as our tickets were for “London Terminals” and not any specific station, we went aboard.
For a while, we had the carriage to ourselves but then it gradually filled up and soon we were retracing our circuitous route back to London. Littlehampton is a charming town with a mixture of seaside and riverine scenery, town streets and estuary walks. Still relatively unspoilt (there is a small fairground with carousels, dodgems and the usual rides), it doesn’t try to compete with the brasher seaside resorts but for people who enjoy a gentler environment it is just right.