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  THE STORY OF SHOREHAM       HAVOC WROUGHT BY THE SEA  
                 
enable them to enlarge their house. In the enquiry held to ascertain whether this grant would be to the prejudice of the King it was elicited that the Priory was situated on the sea-coast on the east side of the town and that it was in imminent danger of being washed away, the ground on which it stood being specially subject to inundations from the sea. Probably the land which was given to the Carmelites comprised one of the long narrow acres lying south of the High Street and at right angles to it, and a half acre alongside of the acre. Indeed, an earlier grant, which had been made to the Knights Hospitallers-of whom later -expressly mentions a " selion " of land extending to the sea ; this term signifying a long narrow strip between other plots. Sir John Mowbray's grant shows that the north side of the property, till then owned by the Carmelites, lay at least a furlong south of the High Street Now it is hardly reasonable to suppose that the Priory, as at first built, was right upon the shore-in fact other grants to it make it quite clear that there. were houses to the south of it, and probably there was vacant land as well before reaching the beach. By the middle of the. 14th century, however, everything to the south of the Priory had been washed away and the buildings themselves were threatened.   As time passed on and the pressure on the east end of the town continued the Priory vanished in the waves ; then the land north of it, then part of the High Street, and finally some ground even north of the latter, till the washing away by the sea had formed the low cliff on which the modern houses in New Road are built. There can be little doubt that before this. cliff was formed " Tar-mount " sloped gradually southward to the sea. Looking at the town from the summit of the church tower it is evident that what was originally a fairly regular and right-angled arrangement of streets has been obliquely cut into at the east end.   The line of the High Street, if continued eastward now, would run out into the water in spite of the fact that some of the land lost here has been regained in more modern times. Moreover, it is quite apparent that the inconvenient "off-set" which connects East Street with the High Street proper can have had no place in the original " plan," it simply owes its existence to the fact that the sea, having eaten back so much of the town, forced the inhabitants to make this irregular little street at a much later date.   Hence the property on the south side of this " off-set " stops off, so to say, the main thoroughfare, while foundation walls of ancient buildings have been discovered in excavating in the road at this point, proving that the building line has been set back.
           
Now it is practically certain that no such devastation could have been wrought by the ocean unless it had possessed direct and unimpeded access to the town, unhampered by any great projecting spit of land and beach such as exists to-day. It is practically certain, moreover, that this direct access must have been from the south-west, and the damage wrought by the incoming tides on their way up channel. Winds and waves from the opposite quarter, powerful enough for such results, are extremely rare.This, then, is the chief proof that the river ran in a fairly straight course out to sea, with little or no diversion to the east. Possibly the beginnings of a spit of land and beach may have made their appearance by the period in question because the east part of the town is spoken of as being the part specially liable to floods.   This may indicate that the tides dashed themselves more against the eastern end because the western bank was beginning to form a protection to the west end of the town. Evidently it did not do much in this way, nearly the whole of the place south of the High Street having: eventually disappeared.  
  By the time that all this had happened, however (the latter half of the 16th century), Neptune's assaults had begun to work their own cure. A spit of land from the west side of the rivermouth had formed and had been receiving thousands of tons of beach annually.   It stretched itself further and further east till at length it masked the whole of the front of the town and protected it from further inroads. The river-mouth then lay opposite a point midway between Shoreham and Kingston Churches, and an eastern arm was forming out of lagoons where the sea had percolated through the beach in the same manner as at Lancing in our own day.   A considerable " hump " of beach had collected west and south of the mouth by this time, as may be seen from the map of the coast prepared in connection with the expected swoop of the Spanish Armada.   Anon, it seemed as though the sea were anxious to take this protection away from the town again.   The outer water's edge began to be driven further and further in till the shingle bank became very narrow from north to south.   Had not the system of groyning been introduced 27
           
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Copyright © Martin Snow 2002 All rights reserved
Revised 27 February 2002