KEVIN GORDON - Seaford in front line of French threat

One of local historian Rodney Castleden's books on Seaford's rich history.
One of local historian Rodney Castleden's books on Seaford's rich history.
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Last week I wrote about the special summer exhibition in Seaford’s Martello Tower Museum. The exhibition has been created to remember that this year is the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo and how Seaford became an important garrison town, with eyes facing towards the sea in fear of a French invasion.

I was therefore pleasantly surprised to find that local historian Rodney Castleden had written a book to accompany the exhibition.

Rodney has written several books on Seaford’s rich history, so I know exactly what to expect; a well researched, well illustrated and uncomplicated book.

His book Forlorn and Widowed (Seaford in the Napoleonic Wars) does not disappoint.

Seaford is often overlooked when it comes to Sussex history. In medieval times it was a busy port, one of the largest on the south coast, but by the 18th century it had the feeling of a forgotten backwater.

But don’t think it was not an important town. There were not only thousands of soldiers billeted in two large batteries (forts), but also plenty of political visitors including George Canning, the ill-fated Prime Minister, and William Huskisson MP who also had an untimely death when he became the first person to be killed by a railway train. The two men stayed at Seaford House in Crouch Lane which, many years later, became the home of the Poet Laureate, Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

The majority of the Seaford population during the Napoleonic threat managed a meagre living from the sea and the land. They would have been bemused by the comings and goings of the military and the various political visitors, although when it came to local elections they had no vote.

Rodney’s book really brings a Sussex seaside town to life. He not only gives a fascinating account of the political shenanigans of the time but also details the every day life of its population, the court cases, the accidents and the tragic deaths of everyday people.

Some events received national coverage, including the mutiny at Blatchington Barracks in 1795 and the ‘Seven Ships Disaster’ which resulted in the deaths of dozens of sailors in the seething waters of Seaford Bay during a storm in December 1809.

I have covered many of these in my previous items for the Sussex Express but Rodney has eeked out new sources of information and writes with the background of years of historic research.

I really enjoyed Rodney’s book and would heartily recommend it not only to those interested in local history but also students of military and parliamentary history. It not only gives a snapshot of Seaford but a snapshot of England during troubled times.

Forlorn and Widowed (Seaford in the Napoleonic Wars) by Rodney Castleden has 200 pages and is published by Blatchington Press at £11.99. It is available from Seaford Museum and also available online via www.lulu.com.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about an early morning trip to Tide Mills to explore the coastline to find shipwrecks exposed by the extraordinary low tides.

Ed Jarzembowski who accompanied me now believes that the partially submerged wreck we saw could well be the brigantine Catherine, which was driven ashore at Tide Mills in March 1914.

The ship (home port Folkestone) was en route from the Channel Islands to Newhaven with a cargo of granite.

The Newhaven Lifeboat went to its rescue and the the crew were saved.