A Sense of Place

Foreword by David Tansley.

Whilst waiting in the reception area on a recent visit to County Hall, l spotted a large hardback book by Kim Leslie, former County Archivist, entitled “A Sense of Place: West Sussex Parish Maps”. Looking inside I found a sumptuously illustrated account of West Sussex and its villages through the medium of the numerous village maps which were produced to mark the Millennium.

It is a fascinating read with a wealth of information for anyone interested in the county or its history and would make an ideal “coffee table book” which one can dip into and go back to from time to time. The book includes items on Yapton, Ford, Bilsham and Flansham written by local historian Geoff Westcott which both Kim and Geoff have kindly agreed can be shared with a wider audience through the medium of YN&Vs.



A visitor once stopped in the village of Yapton and asked for directions to Yapton Road and was stumped when the local replied "which one?" Each of the four roads leading into Yapton we call Yapton Road: from Barnham in the west, Walberton in the north, Felpham in the south and Climping in the east!

The growth of Yapton in the last hundred years has been tremendous. From a sleepy Sussex village of 543 souls in 1801 the population grew to 715 in 1901 and then to just over three and a half thousand today. Hardly a village any longer; but the designations ‘village’ and ‘town’ are founded in the psyche of the inhabitants - Yaptonians definitely view their community as a village. The friendliness and affability of people meeting in the streets attests to the strong sense of community.

St Mary the Virgin, at Yapton

The population is an eclectic mix of people: young and old, professional and manual. lt is this wide range of people that gives Yapton its vibrancy and liveliness. Children play on the village green whilst the elder generation sit on the benches and discuss the weather. Often this is a repetitious conversation since Yapton is blessed by being located within the same weather ‘window’ that gives Bognor its famously sunny climate. It hardly ever seems to rain - blue skies are the order of the day, even if only a few miles away thick rain clouds can be seen in every direction. In the 19th century the parish nurtured acres of orchards, encouraged, no doubt, by the mild climate. Sadly none of the orchards exists today - replaced by the endless need for new houses - but the large commercial greenhouses growing cut flowers and pot plants for garden centres and supermarkets are testament to the continuing clement climate.



Former slaughterhouse

Old canal bridge

Looking at all the new homes built in Yapton in the last fifty years, you could be forgiven for thinking that Yapton is a young village. You would be mistaken. The church of St Mary dates from the 12th century, one of its oldest treasures being an early Norman tub font. The village probably dates back to well before the Norman Conquest. Over the centuries it has been known by many different spellings such as Abbiton, Yabeton and Yeapton. The name itself is thought to be a corruption of ‘Eappa’s Tun’, Eappa being one of St Wilfrid’s priests who tried to convert the locals to Christianity in the 7th century. Maybe it’s the local dialect that causes a problem, but Yaptonians are used to spelling out Y-a-p-t-o-n every time they give their address!

For much df the last two hundred years, Yapton seems to have been a place to pass through rather than linger within. The Portsmouth and Arundel Canal was opened through the centre of the parish in 1823, giving through access by water to London. But it had little effect on Yapton as there was no wharf here. Overall the canal was a commercial failure and disused by 1847 soon after the opening of the railway. The London, Brighton and South Coast Railway ran through the north of the parish, with Yapton having its own station until 1864 when the much larger Barnham station was opened.

Even today Yapton is full of passing traffic with commuters and business vehicles travelling between Chichester and Littlehampton. You don’t need to wear a watch in Yapton to tell the time; just listen to the traffic pouring along the road. The change in pace from noisy daytime to undisturbed night-time is eerie.


19th century Congregational Chapel


Being only a mile or so inland and with numerous rifes connecting the village to the sea, tales of smuggling are commonplace. Leave a door open and someone will as likely say "Do you come from Yapton?". This doesn’t refer to the welcoming inhabitants but to the custom of leaving doors ajar, according to one story so that the ghost of a ferocious black dog could pass unhindered through the village. Bad luck is said to befall anyone who fails in this regard! The Black Dog pub - recently renamed the Olive Branch -is said to have been named after the same beast, once owned by the 18th-century smuggler Thomas Kingsmill of the notorious Hawkhurst Gang.

Despite its unassuming appearance and unpretentious nature, Yapton has plenty to boast about. Where most villages are content with two or more pubs, Yapton has four including the Shoulder of Mutton & Cucumbers, which has one of the longest pub names in Britain. There are two Conservation Areas, fourteen listed buildings and a further thirty-one Buildings of Special Character in the parish.


St Andrew by the Ford

Bilsham Manor

The origins of Ford’s airfield go back to 1917 and its later use as a training station leading up to the Battle of Britain. Known variously as Ford Junction, then RAF Station Ford and from 1939 as HMS Peregrine as a naval air station, it was, by all accounts, a popular posting. Airmen frequented the local pub - no surprises there - later renamed the Shaky Doo, referring to a hazardous sortie.


Bilsham Chapel

Bilsham Farm

To the south of the village, but still very much part of the parish, are the two hamlets of Bilsham and Flansham. Bilsham’s few houses are scattered around its medieval chapel. Gerard Young (1912-72), writer, journalist and local historian, lived at Flansham which he celebrated in four delightful books full of passion for his surroundings here. In a nutshell he described Flansham thus:

Like most villages, no one has ever heard of it and no one can ever find it.   lt is a dead-end village; two lanes which lead to nowhere, a village which successfully frustrates the summer evening motorists who rattle up the lane with a condescending smile for the men still working in the meadows, and a few minutes later rattle back again without a condescending smile, having landed up in a ploughed field.

lronically it is these qualities today that are so attractive to the people of Flansham looking for seclusion and tranquillity.

Geoff Westcott

Original watercolours by Marion Griffiths

(Originally published in Yapton News & Views, May & July 2009)

Since this piece was written, three of the four pubs have either been demolished or converted to residential housing, leaving only The Maypole as the sole remaining pub in the village. GW 2017

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