Selsey is the most southern parish in Sussex and is free from all the hustle and bustle of the larger seaside resorts such as Brighton or Eastbourne. The way of life here is slow and relaxed; the feel is more of a village than a town, although there are still plenty of things to do and see. The permanent population of 10,000 grows three-fold during the summer months when holiday-makers come here to enjoy the peace, tranquillity and long sunny days; they stay in guest houses or one of the many caravan parks that can be found in the area.
Originally called Sutton, the town lies on Selsey Bill, an area that sticks three miles out to sea and is geographically an island. Joined to the mainland by a ferry bank, which was built in 1809, the Bill is surrounded in the northeast by Pagham Harbour, the southeast and southwest by the English Channel, and in the northwest by Broad Rife, a brook running from Pagham Harbour to Bracklesham Bay. From The Bill it is possible to look across The Channel and see Bognor Regis in the east and Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight in the west.
It was here that St Wilfrid landed in 681, bringing with him Christianity. The county was the last to accept the faith and St Wilfrid converted the South Saxons; he also taught them to fish. He built a monastery on land that has since been reclaimed by the sea, as has a deer park. Selsey is also where the first sighting of the Spanish Armada was, in 1588.
Selsey was once connected to Chichester by a narrow gauge railway, the Selsey Tram, which was built in 1897 and used to carry people into the town centre. The tram closed in 1935 due to competition from cars and buses, but parts of the old route can now be followed via a way-marked path.
Today, it is the road that transports visitors here. The High Street, which is an extension of the main Chichester road, is the centre of commercial Selsey with its shops and banks at its southern end. The northern end is populated with a wide variety of private houses, many of them the typical flint and thatch cottages found
in the area. These include the pretty 'Crablands' and 'Sessions House', and at the southern end of the street, 'Homestead' which was built five centuries ago. Selsey contains many other interesting and historic buildings; the 'Listening Post', for example, was built during the First World War as a naval observation tower that listened for enemy airships. Dating to the fifteenth century is 'The Malthouse', which was later turned into a country mansion and was owned by the Wills tobacco family.
The sea has always provided a living to the inhabitants of Selsey. It was St Wilfrid who was thought to have taught the Saxons to fish and now one of the largest fleets of fishing boats in West Sussex is located here, on East Beach. They provide an annual income to the area of £3 million, with their catches of lobsters, crabs and prawns.
The sea also provides ample opportunity for the amateur fisherman. Flounder, dab, sole, plaice, thornback, stingray, silver eel, and bass can be found off the West Beach, with bass, sole, cod and flounder available off the East Beach. The nearby Chichester Canal also provides coarse fishing with its stocks of rudd, roach, tench, bream and perch.
Two centuries ago, income to the area was supplemented through smuggling. Silk, tea, wool and spirits were brought ashore at Selsey in order to by-pass the government's duty laws - by 1789, more than 12,000 gallons of spirits were being imported.
A number of interesting underwater sights can be found when diving off the coast. As well as a number of wrecks, a 112 feet (34 metre) long Second World War landing craft and a Roman road can be found off West Beach. A number of equally interesting subjects can be found off East Beach, such as the Mixon (a number of limestone slabs thought to be a Roman fort), and the Second World War Mulberry Harbours, which were temporary harbours used during the D-Day landings, the largest of which is 204 feet (62 metres) long, 56 feet (17 metres) wide and 60 feet (18 metres) high.