Following the detailed survey of Emsworth’s foreshore and an intensive examination of the museum archives, details of Emsworth’s oyster industry have emerged from the past Based on the results of the Trust’s latest project, illustrator Marian Forster has created an artists impression of how the oyster pens on the town’s foreshore would have looked in 1900. Following three months of research and investigation, a picture is emerging of a major industry which exported almost five million oysters every year to destinations across the country.

oyster Exhibition

 Oysters have been fished in Emsworth and Chichester Harbour for centuries reaching its peak during the second half of the 19th century. At the height of the industry, about five million oysters a year came out of Emsworth and half the employed population of Emsworth earned their living from fishing and the industries that support it, such as boat building. The oysters were mostly dredged from the sea-bed by large smacks which brought the oysters from far and wide into Emsworth harbour. They were then transferred to either the oyster pens on the foreshore, or a large structure called the Ark where they were cleaned and sorted according by size. The bubble burst when the Dean of Winchester died in 1902 and the blame was laid on polluted Emsworth oysters. Following inspection of the oyster beds sewage contamination was confi rmed and the sale of Emsworth oysters immediately slumped. Emsworth’s prosperity went from boom to bust, and almost 400 locals lost their livelihoods almost overnight. How could the oyster industry grown to such a size in Victorian times and how did it all endso suddenly? The Emsworth Maritime and Historical Trust (EM&HT) and the Chichester District Archaeological Society (CDAS) have join together for a unique study of the old oyster beds on the foreshore at Emsworth. Using professional archaeological consultants from The Hampshire and Wight Trust for Maritime Archaeology have been working with volunteers, and supported by partner organisations and support staff to survey the oyster pens on Emsworth’s foreshore. Running in parallel, archivists from Emsworth Museum have been delving into the records held in Hampshire and West Sussex to help put the physical evidence discovered during the survey work on the foreshore. Funding for this project is through a grant from the Chichester Harbour Sustainable Development Fund.




Pictures and text have been taken from the Emsworth and Maritime Trust Newsletter April 2008.