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The Haunted Shipwreck: A West Sussex Ghost Story
Those fortunate enough to visit the beautiful county of West Sussex in England can’t help but be impressed by the beautiful scenery and the picturesque towns and villages. To some the county epitomises England itself. The Battle of Hastings was fought on its bloodied soil and the first glimpses of the chalky cliffs of the Seven Sisters have lifted the heart of many a weary traveller returning home to Blighty. Steeped in history, West Sussex is dotted with castles, stately homes and Roman ruins. There is indeed, much to see and do, so you can be forgiven if a trip along the wending River Adur is not a priority. Pretty enough you may think, but unremarkable in an area rich in sights. In recent years though this meandering stretch of water has drawn more and more visitors to its muddy shores. Why? The answer lies in a ghostly tale of tragedy, loss and a ship wrecked on a stormy night in 1893.
The historic town of Shoreham-By- Sea was established by Romans at the mouth of the River Adur. Characterised by its shingle beach and muddy harbour it was once one of the most important channel ports. The relentless erosion of the sea and the shifting mouth of the harbour conspired together to diminish its role after the thirteenth century. Determined not to be consigned to history, the town continued to thrive due to its magnificent shipbuilding reputation.Today the shipbuilders have gone but visitors still flock to the town keen to enjoy the beaches, the old streets clustered around an ancient Norman church and the harbour crammed with boats and sailing ships.
A Terrible Storm
In the winter of 1893 a terrible storm hit the exposed coast of West Sussex. Shoreham-By-Sea was no stranger to such storms and its beaches had seen many wrecks cast up from turbulent seas. Efforts were made to batten down the hatches and the town held its breath. By morning the storm had passed and thankfully Shoreham remained largely unscathed. Only one fishing boat had broken free from its mooring, tossed and battered in the harbour it was eventually swept inland by the tide and carried upstream by the River Adur. The unfortunate fisherman who owned the boat must have thought that there was some hope of retrieving his vessel from where it lay cast aside on a muddy riverbank, after all it could easily have been washed out to sea. Without his boat, he knew that he and his family would face destitution. Day after day, the family worked to salvage their only chance of a decent life, but it was in vain. The fishing boat had sunk too deep into the mud. Eventually, realising it was hopeless, the family gave up. A force of nature had sealed their fate and destitution and starvation beckoned.
For many years the old shipwreck lay decaying next to the river which had swept it aside, a sobering reminder of the power of Mother Nature. As its wooden skeleton crumbled slowly away, so did the memory of the unfortunate fisherman and his family. That is, until locals noticed eerie and unexplained incidents taking place around the wreck. The first reports came from anglers out fishing as dawn broke over the River Adur. In the strange half-light of a misty morning the men abandoned their fishing rods and followed the sound of sobbing close to the river bank. Was it a lost child, a distressed adult, an injured animal? Someone or something surely needed their help. As they reached the spot from where the sounds emanated, they were shocked to discover they were completely alone. The surrounding area was deserted, the old shipwreck the only nearby object. The men retreated uneasy and convinced that what they heard was not a figment of their imagination. Since this report, others have come forward with their experiences. Many have claimed to hear sobbing and wailing. Others claim to have seen the ghostly spectres of a family. Hollow eyed and starving the phantoms seem oblivious to those who come near. Instead they remain fixed on their futile task, desperately striving without success to free their boat from the mud which holds it fast.
Misery Loves Company
‘Misery loves company’, so the saying goes, and this is certainly the case for the ghosts of the Adur shipwreck. Shrouded in strange mists that engulf the banks of this spooky channel within seconds, many have lost their way and convinced themselves that they are not alone. The beheaded ghost of a cavalier is rumoured to stalk the muddy banks. Is he waiting for a boat to collect him and reunite him with the Royalist Army? His ship will never come in. The cavalier needn’t fear that he will be bored though. Dancing along the banks Of the River Adur is the spirit of a grinning man. Wrongly put to death for a crime he didn’t commit, the poor soul who had learning difficulties during his lifetime claps and dances for horrified onlookers. Hiding in the shadows is a little girl with strange features. Timid and frightened, witnesses catch just a glimpse in the corner of their eye before the child disappears back into the mists of time. Her unusual features? She has the face of a dog. Perhaps the River Adur’s most famous spectre though is the ghost named the Blue Lady. Standing on the Tudor footbridge at Old Shoreham she is seen staring into the distance, her body wracked by sobs. Is she searching for a lost love or contemplating ending her days in the swirling depths of the river? We may never know.
One thing we can be certain of however, is that the county of West Sussex is so much more than castles, battlefields and beaches. This beautiful place is also a land of ghosts, ghouls and phantoms that will surely chill the bones of any visitor to their very core.
The Ghosts of the River Adur, West Sussex: A. L. Cuin
The Haunted Wreck- The River Adur, Shoreham: A.L.Cuin