Traces of settlers from the Bronze Age have been found in the area and fortifications were probably first built on Castle Hill in around 400BC. Roman coins dating from AD285 have been uncovered nearby and the Roman road 'Ermin Street' is thought to have started here.
The village set on the banks of the River Ouse was called 'Meeching' by the Saxons and was probably little more than a small fishing village, although they did build a church here. Now sitting at the mouth of the river, the area developed a great deal after 1579. The Ouse once entered the English Channel at Seaford, running parallel to the coast, until a great storm deposited shingle at the old river mouth, forcing the Ouse to find an alternative route to the sea. This was near the old village of Meeching and created a 'new' haven; sometime later, the name had stuck.
The area flourished, with Wealden oak, spirits, wine and slab ice passing through the port, and the emergence of a ship building industry. The railway came here in the 1840's and Newhaven was chosen as the railway company's main Sussex port, instead of Littlehampton. The stretch of river between the sea and Lewes was once destined to become the Liverpool of the south, but fortunately this never happened.
A passenger ferry service was established in 1847; it provided the shortest land and sea route from London to Paris, with passengers staying in 'The London and Paris Hotel', built
in 1848. The building was pulled down 100 years later. Today, Newhaven is the only significant cross-Channel passenger port in Sussex, with its regular service to Dieppe. It is also the only Sussex port deep enough to accept sea going vessels at all states of the tide.
Newhaven At War
War and the threat of invasion have always played a part in the history of the town. A number of fortifications were built along the coast at the time of the French uprising and Newhaven Fort, which now hosts a museum, is one of these structures. Louis Philippe fled France during this time, staying at the seventeenth-century Bridge Hotel, and the town played its part during World War II, when small craft sailed from here during the Normandy Landings.
The Town Today
As an industrial town and port, Newhaven is architecturally somewhat unattractive, although there is plenty to see and do. Not only does the busy port itself generate a great deal of interest, but other water-based activities can also be found nearby. The marina provides a range of water sports such as scuba diving, the lifeboat station and colourful fishing boats can be found on West Quay, and anglers can enjoy a spot of freshwater or deep-sea fishing, with boat hire available locally. If something even more relaxing is desired, then why not visit one of Newhaven's beaches, such as the shingle beach in the west, or the East Beach, which can be accessed near the old Tidemills Halt.