Now a quiet seaside town favoured by holiday-makers looking for a relaxing holiday, the area has been inhabited by man for thousands of years; remains of an Iron-age hill fort can still be seen half way up Seaford Head. The Romans were here too, with the remains of a Romano-British cemetery found north of the cliffs and after them came the Saxons; towns in the area, such as Exceat and Alfriston, still have Saxon names today.
The town grew up around the old port. A natural harbour was formed at the foot of the cliffs, where the River Ouse once joined the sea, and it was here in the wide estuary that the Normans established a cross channel ferry link. The town prospered, with large quantities of wool, spices and wine passing through the harbour, and in 1229 it became one of the Cinque Ports. Shipbuilding also became a major industry, with 75% of cargoes leaving the port in Seaford built vessels. The town was growing so rapidly that the Norman's even built a large and imposing church, on the site where the parish church stands today. Ancient maps show Steyne Road and The Steyne as 'Le Quayside' and the Causeway would once have been exactly that, a raised road across the marsh.
Over time, the shifting shingle banks that formed the harbour moved, causing the river mouth to silt up. Ships could no longer reach the quays and by the end of the fourteenth century, the town was so poor that it could not even afford to send its MPs to parliament. A storm in 1579 saw the mouth of The Ouse blocked so badly that the River broke through the shingle bank further upstream, creating a 'new haven' near the village of Meeching.
The demise of this once great port left the inhabitants of Seaford hungry and desperate. Still officially one of the Cinque Ports (Henry VIII even reaffirmed this status in 1544) and with the right to claim goods washed up on the shore from ships lost at sea, the villagers started to abuse their privileges. Wind powered navigation around the cliffs was difficult at the best of times, with many ships having already sunk off the coast. The villagers made matters worse by moving navigation lights and lighting fires in an attempt to guide sea bound vessels onto the rocks. They then waited for the rich
cargoes to be washed up on the shore and were even known to rob the bodies of drowned seamen.
The town saw renewed interest after the Civil War. By this time, there were few inhabitants and those that remained were very poor. Seaford still had the ability to elect two Members of Parliament as part of their Cinque Port rights, and local wealthy landowners saw this as an ideal opportunity to vote themselves or their peers into Government. Voters were bribed with hot meals and new clothes, or shipped into the town for just long enough to qualify as residents. Prime Ministers William Pitt, and George Canning were both elected to parliament in Seaford and it was not until the Reform Bill of 1832 that the political powers of the town were brought to an end.
The Seaside Boom
With the arrival of the railway in 1864, an attempt was made to capitalise on the popularity that many of the other towns along the coast were enjoying. Plans were drawn up for a pier, seafront gardens and magnificent Victorian buildings. Companies did start to build the terraces, but unfortunately the money ran out before the visitors came, forcing many of the construction firms out of business. For many years, Victorian facades stood on the plots of land in isolation. It is only recently that the building boom in Seaford has actually taken hold.
It is hard to believe that the town of Seaford, which has been through such a roller-coaster ride through the centuries, is today such a gentle and quiet place, popular with the holiday bound families of today. The town itself is devoid of the usual noisy attractions such as a pier and amusement arcades like it's larger neighbours, and this makes a very welcome change. A good beach can be found along the 3-mile (5 km) seafront and the cliff to the east of the town is a fantastic place to explore, walk and relax. Although a modern seaside town, many of the buildings in Lower High Street date from the 1700's and with the historic town of Lewes and the South Downs nearby, Seaford is ideally placed for a relaxing, yet interesting holiday.