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Selsey facts for kids

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Selsey view from flight.JPG
Aerial view
Area 12.28 km2 (4.74 sq mi)
Population 10,737. 2011 Census
• Density 804/km2 (2,080/sq mi)
OS grid reference SZ854935
• London 60 miles (97 km) NNE
Civil parish
  • Selsey
  • Chichester
Shire county
Country England
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Postcode district PO20
Dialling code 01243
Police Sussex
Fire West Sussex
Ambulance South East Coast
EU Parliament South East England
UK Parliament
  • Chichester
List of places
West SussexCoordinates: 50°44′06″N 0°47′23″W / 50.73502°N 0.78977°W / 50.73502; -0.78977

Selsey is a seaside town and civil parish, about eight miles (12 km) south of Chichester, in the Chichester District of West Sussex, within the historic county of Sussex, England. Selsey lies at the southernmost point of the Manhood Peninsula, almost cut off from mainland Sussex by the sea. It is bounded to the west by Bracklesham Bay, to the north by Broad Rife (rife being the local word for stream or creek), to the east by Pagham Harbour and terminates in the south at Selsey Bill. There are significant rock formations beneath the sea off both of its coasts, named the Owers rocks and Mixon rocks. Coastal erosion has been an ever-present problem for Selsey.

There is only one road (the B2145) in and out of the town, which at a point known as "the ferry", crosses a bridge over the water inlet at Pagham Harbour. At one time Selsey was inaccessible at flood tide, and a boat was stationed at the ferry to take horses and passengers to and from Sidlesham.


According to Bede the name Selsey is derived from the Saxon Seals-ey and can be interpreted as the Isle of Sea Calves (sea calves are better known as seals).

Edward Heron-Allen identified at least twenty different spellings of the place that we now know today as Selsey.

A selection of versions as identified by Heron-Allen are:

  • Seoles - Old English
  • Seleisi - Domesday Book 1086
  • Celesye - Assize Roll 1279


The earliest evidence of human habitation in the Selsey area goes back to the stone age. Various stone implements have been found which date to the Palaeolithic period. People have been living in the area ever since.

Selsey frag
Picture of Anglo-Saxon gold fragments found on Selsey beach

It is believed that, in the Iron Age, the Atrebates (one of the Belgae tribes) built a city at Selsey, similar in status to the pre-Roman urban centre ( oppidum) at Hengistbury Head near Christchurch. So far there is no archaeological evidence to confirm this, although some have speculated that the old city that Camden refers to is, indeed the old Belgae settlement and was located at the Mixon rocks, now south of Selsey Bill.

There have been various finds of silver and gold coins in the Selsey area. Gold coins from the Atrebates rulers named Commius, Tincommius, Verica, Eppillus, and Cunobelin were found on the beach in 1877, it is thought that these coins would have been minted locally. The ancient British coins would have been superseded by Roman coins and there have been finds of them too. In addition, some Anglo-Saxon gold fragments were found on the beach between Selsey and Bognor, these were dated as late 6th/ 8th century and what made them particularly interesting is that they had a runic inscription on them, the fragments were handed over to the British Museum.

Selsey was the capital of the Kingdom of Sussex, possibly founded by Ælle. Wilfrid arrived circa 680 and converted the kingdom to Christianity, as recorded by the Venerable Bede. Selsey Abbey stood at Selsey (probably where Church Norton is today), and was the cathedra for the Sussex Diocese until the Council of London ordered the removal of the See to Chichester in 1075, during the reign of William the Conqueror.

Entry for Selsey in the Domesday Book

In the Domesday Book Selesie is mentioned under the hundred of Somerley:

"The Bishop(of Chichester) holds Selesie in domain. In the time of King Edward it was rated at ten hides, and so it continues. The arable is seven plough lands. There are two ploughs in the demesne, and fourteen villains with eleven bondsmen have five ploughs.".

The manor of Selsey remained in the Bishop of Chichesters hands until 1561, when it was taken over by the crown.

In July 1588 the Spanish Armada arrived off the Isle of Wight with the intention of attacking Portsmouth. The wind changed direction to the south-west. Men from the Manhood Peninsula serving under Francis Drake conceived a plan to lure the Spanish fleet onto the Owers rocks (off Selsey). However the Spanish Admiral, recognising the danger decided to head for Calais.

Blue plaque, Gibbet Field Selsey
Blue plaque commemorating the hanging of two smugglers in Gibbet Field Selsey in 1749

In 1647, a fatality was recorded following a cricket match at Selsey when a fielder called Henry Brand was hit on the head by the batsman Thomas Latter, who was trying to hit the ball a second time. The incident repeated one at Horsted Keynes in 1624. Thomas Latter may have been a relative of Richard Latter, one of the defendants in a cricket-related case at nearby Sidlesham in 1611.

Over the centuries that Selsey has derived an income from the sea, one of the enterprises was smuggling. In the eighteenth century Selsey Bill was very much more isolated than it is today, and the sand spit extended farther out to sea. There was only the causeway connected to the mainland and that was covered at high tide. The approach of the local riding officer would have been conspicuous in the extreme. The Rectors of Selsey reputedly claimed a tithe on all kegs landed there, and stories also tell of a passageway leading from the Old Rectory (at Church Norton) to the remains of a Mound, thought to have been built by the Normans. The course of the tunnel was marked by a depression on the surface of the ground as late as 1911.

In the 1720s one Selsey man ran a regular ferry service to France, traveling back and forth every five weeks, and other prominent Selsey figures made considerable fortunes just from part-time work in the free-trade.

Landings were not confined to Selsey itself: in a single run in 1743 2,000 lbs of tea were brought inland at West Wittering some six miles (10 km) away.

Selsey Tramway 1
Selsey Tramway Satirical Postcard circa 1907

In 1749 fourteen smugglers, members of the notorious Hawkhurst Gang, were accused of the murder of Mr. William Galley, a custom-house officer, and Daniel Chater, a shoemaker. Seven were tried and condemned to death at Chichester assizes; one died in gaol before sentence could be carried out and the other six were hanged at the Broyle north of Chichester. Subsequently, the bodies of two of the smugglers, John Cobby and John Hammond, were hung in gibbets at Selsey Bill so that they could be seen at great distance from east and west.

At the beginning of the 19th century, Selsey opened its first school. In 1818 premises were granted to the Rector and churchwardens of Selsey which were "on trust to permit the premises to be used for a schoolhouse or free school, for the gratuitous education of such poor children belonging to the Parish of Selsey as the said trustees or successors may think proper." The school was eventually taken over by the local authority in 1937.

Selsey was connected to Chichester from 1897 to 1935 by a rail link initially called the Hundred of Manhood and Selsey Tramway and later the West Sussex Railway. The light railway rolling stock was all second hand and not very reliable and the journey times lengthy. Various nicknames such as the "Selsey Snail" were attributed to the tram and comic postcards were issued reflecting its poor service.


Bracklesham Bay
Church Norton 1 - Apr 2013
Church Norton

The parish has a couple of Sites of Special Scientific Interest. Bracklesham Bay runs along the coastline of the parish. Pagham Harbour falls partly within the parish. The harbour and surrounding land is of national importance for both flora and fauna. The shingle spit is also of geological interest.

Sport and leisure

Selsey has a Non-League football club Selsey F.C. who play at The High Street Ground.

Whistler James The Beach at Selsey Bill 1865
The beach at Selsey Bill by Whistler 1865.

Selsey Cricket Club

Selsey Cricket Club was founded in 1834 and is one of England's oldest cricket clubs. Cricket had been played in Selsey before the club's foundation and a famous incident occurred in 1647, when a fielder called Henry Brand died, after being struck on the head by a batsman trying to hit the ball a second time to avoid being out.

A former President was Hubert Doggart, OBE, MA. He was the son of the sportsman Graham Doggart who rose to chair the Football Association. Doggart fils represented England in two Test matches in 1950. He was President of the MCC (1981–1982), the Cricket Council (1981–1982) and the Cricket Society (1983–1998), and he chaired the Friends of Arundel Castle Cricket Club (1993–2003). In the 1970s he played occasionally for Selsey CC.

Sir Patrick Moore, CBE was a former Club Secretary, an active playing member, and an Honorary Life Vice President. Selsey Cricket Club in Paddock Lane, is the home to the Sir Patrick Moore 3D Exhibition which recreates Sir Patricks study at his home "Farthings" with original items on show owned by Sir Patrick.

Selsey are a Clubmark Club running 2 men's League sides, 1 Ladies League side, several Junior sides and Sunday and Midweek Friendly sides.

Selsey Arts Society

The wide landscapes, exposed coastal location and diverse birdlife lure artists to Selsey, many of whom belong to Selsey Arts Society. The Society holds regular exhibitions and events. The list of artists, who have painted in Selsey, includes Whistler and Turner.

RNLI Selsey Lifeboat

Selsey Lifeboat Station - - 1408414
Selsey RNLI Lifeboat house

Selsey has an RNLI lifeboat station and shop on Kingsway, east of Selsey Bill. The station was established in 1861. In 2014 Selsey had a Tyne-class lifeboat and a D Class Inshore Lifeboat which had its own boat house just off the beach. In 2011 Selsey Lifeboat Station celebrated 150 years during which period lifeboat crew have received 10 awards for gallantry.


A tornado in 1998 left an estimated £10m of destruction and damaged Patrick Moore's observatory.


In 2015, around 50 Smooth-hound sharks were observed near the beach at Selsey.

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