Seaford

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Seaford is a coastal town in the county of East Sussex, on the south coast of England. Lying east of Newhaven and Brighton and west of Eastbourne, it is the largest town in Lewes district, with a population of about 23,000. The traditional Sussex pronunciation of the name has a full vowel in each syllable: /ˈsiːfɔːd/ “sea-ford”. However, outside Sussex (and increasingly within), it is commonly pronounced with a reduced vowel on the second syllable: /ˈsiːfərd/ “seaf’d”.

In the Middle Ages, Seaford was one of the main ports serving Southern England, but the town’s fortunes declined due to coastal sedimentation silting up its harbour and persistent raids by French pirates. The coastal confederation of Cinque Ports during its mediæval period consisted of a confederation of 42 towns and villages in all. This included Seaford under the ‘Limb’ of Hastings. Between 1350 and 1550, the French burned down the town several times. In the 16th century the people of Seaford were known as the “cormorants” or “shags” because of their enthusiasm for looting ships wrecked in the bay. Local legend has it that Seaford residents would, on occasion, cause ships to run aground by placing fake harbour lights on the cliffs.

“The wily locals exploited their rights to flotsam and jetsam to the full, even to the extent of luring ships onto the beach by lighting fires. Scores of vessels fell prey to the wreckers of Seaford shags. Grounded in the bay they were stripped of their cargos” – Lewes DC local history of Seaford

However, Seaford’s fortunes revived in the 19th century with the arrival of the railway connecting the town to Lewes and London. It became a small seaside resort town, and more recently a dormitory town for the nearby larger settlements of Eastbourne and Brighton, as well as for London.

The town lies on the coast near Seaford Head, roughly equidistant between the mouths of the River Ouse and the Cuckmere. The Ouse valley was a wide tidal estuary with its mouth nearly closed by a shingle bar, but the tidal mudflats and salt marshes have been “inned” (protected from the tidal river by dykes) to form grassy freshwater marshes (grazing marsh). To the north the town faces the chalk downland of the South Downs, and along the coast to the east are the Seven Sisters chalk cliffs, and Beachy Head. This stretch of coast is notified for its geological and ecological features as Seaford to Beachy Head Site of Special Scientific Interest.

The River Ouse used to run parallel to the shore behind the shingle bar, entering the sea close to Seaford. However, a major storm in the 16th century broke through the bar at its western end, creating a new river mouth close to the village then called Meeching but renamed Newhaven. Part of the former channel of the river remains as a brackish lagoon.

The town formerly had excellent beaches, which were supplied by longshore drift constantly moving sand along the coast from west to east. However, in the early 20th century a large breakwater was constructed at Newhaven Harbour and the harbour entrance was regularly dredged. These works cut off the supply of fresh sand to the beach. By the 1980s the beach at Seaford had all but vanished, the shoreline becoming steep, narrow and largely composed of small boulders. This made Seaford attractive to watersports enthusiasts (since water visibility was good and there was a rapid drop-off into deep water) but it discouraged more general seaside visitors. So in 1987 a massive beach replenishment operation was carried out, in which around 1 million tonnes of material was dredged from sandbanks out to sea and deposited on the shore. During a severe storm in October of the same year a substantial amount of the deposited material on the upper part of the beach was washed out past low tide level, leading to questions in the House of Commons. The beach has been topped up several times since then, giving the town a broad beach of sand and shingle.

The town’s publicity website states: For many, the main attraction in Seaford is the beach. This has an obvious attraction in the summer, when the sea reaches temperatures up to 20° Celsius (68°F).

In 1620 and 1624, the sheriff and jurat of Seaford was William Levett, of an Anglo-Norman family long seated in Sussex. William Levett of Seaford owned the Bunces and Stonehouse manors in Warbleton, probably inheriting them from his father John Levett, who died in 1607. Levett sold the estates in 1628 and died in 1635, his will being filed in Hastings.

The Levett family intermarried with other Sussex families, including the Gildredges, the Eversfields, the Popes, the Ashburnhams, the Adams, and the Chaloners. A seal with his arms belonging to John de Livet, Lord of Firle, was found at Eastbourne in 1851.

From 1894 to 1974 Seaford was an urban district run by Seaford Urban District Council. In the local government reorganisation of 1974 it became an unparished area which was part of the Lewes District Council area. This loss of independence was unpopular with Seaford residents and in 1999 the town became a civil parish within Lewes, with a town council. Municipal services within Seaford are now provided by three tiers of local government – the county council, the district council and the town council.

The town council has 20 members, four elected by each of five wards. The Seaford Community Partnership is a body incorporating representatives drawn from all three tiers of local government and from local civic groups. The partnership seeks to advise on long term development strategy for the town.

The parliamentary constituency of Seaford was a notorious rotten borough until its disenfranchisement in the Reform Act 1832 when it was incorporated into the Lewes constituency. Seaford returned three Members of Parliament who went on to become Prime Minister: Henry Pelham represented the town from 1717 to 1722, William Pitt the Elder from 1747 to 1754 and George Canning in 1827. Seaford is currently part of the Lewes parliamentary constituency.

Seaford has been twinned with the town of Bönningstedt, Germany, since 1984. Seaford has one of the longest serving town criers in England and Wales —Peter White— who was appointed to this honorary position in 1977 by Lewes District Council, and is now an appointee of Seaford Town Council.

Seaford has the westernmost of the South Coast Martello Towers, number 74, now a local history museum.

Seaford lifeguards patrol the beach and water each weekend and bank holiday from May to September. They are made up of volunteers, mainly young people, who give thousands of unpaid hours every year to train and help keep the public safe. They have been recognised as the best equipped and trained non-RNLI beach lifeguard unit in the country.

In 2009, Seaford became the first south east town to elect a Young Mayor. The town’s youth voted Oscar Hardy as Young Mayor and Eleanor Homan, Deputy Young Mayor.  The project continues to help get the young people of Seaford heard in both the town council and district.

Seaford railway station is the terminus of the line from Brighton via Lewes and Newhaven. The local train services are operated by Southern.

Parts of the nave, aisles and clerestory of the Church of England parish church of St Leonard are Norman work from the 11th century. The north and south arcades and most of the clerestory windows are Early English Gothic. The tower is 14th century and its upper part is Perpendicular Gothic. The transepts and polygonal apse are Gothic Revival additions designed by John Billing and built in 1861–82. There is some modern stained glass by the Cox & Barnard firm of Hove. The church is a Grade I listed building. St Luke’s Church, opened in 1959 and built of flint and brick, serves the Chyngton and Sutton suburbs of the town. It has been attributed to architect John Leopold Denman.

The Roman Catholic Church of St Thomas More was built in 1935 to replace a chapel in the grounds of Bishop of Southwark Francis Bourne’s home nearby. James O’Hanlon Hughes and Geoffrey Welch designed the flint and render building, which was extended in 1969 using artificial stone.

W.F. Poulton designed a Gothic Revival chapel for Congregationalists in 1877. The flint building has a distinctive corner turret. It is now a United Reformed church with the name Cross Way Clinton Centre, and has links with the town’s Methodist church, now called Cross Way Church. This was built in the Gothic Revival style of red brick in 1894.

The Romans are known to have had a camp in Seaford. In 1806–1808 a Martello Tower was built at the eastern end of Seaford Bay. It is the most westerly of the towers, numbered tower 74. During the First and Second World Wars there were large military camps in the town.

Note: this page is partly based on a Wikipedia page. Text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. Where possible, text is being updated to original, fully referenced research. ‘Our photos’ means we took the photographs. The Street View and street map visuals are courtesy of Google.

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