When I had time to stop and stare
I found the town that isn’t there.
It isn’t there again today.
I’m glad that town has stayed away.
For my birthday treat my husband took me to St Leonard’s, East Sussex, for the weekend and on Saturday we trundled along the coast to blustery Norman’s Bay. There is nothing there. Well – there is. There’s a static caravan park, where some kids were playing football. There are public conveniences (closed, it’s off-season). There are houses in a linear sweep along the shingle facing the sea, and a converted something-or-other (defence tower?) left over from one of the Wars. It has some nice curtains in it now and a rather pretty balcony area.
Behind this, there are fields. A lot of fields. And lonely farmhouses with their backs to the sea, or tilted side-on. The trees are bent inland, and all the metal is rusting quietly in the way metal does in salt air.
Norman’s Bay apparently never had a train station (understandable) but one day in the nineteenth century a whale beached itself and Londoners excitedly rushed to see it, asking the trains to stop so they could jump off. The pub landlord enterprisingly put down some sleepers to assist them, and this is how Norman’s Bay ended up with a train station. I can’t corroborate this, I think I heard it second-hand from a story posted on a forum or something, but I like it so I’m blogging about it here. It’s as good a reason as any.
Anyway: this is where Pagham-on-Sea is not.
I uploaded my reference video to YouTube, both the original and one with better audio quality (or rather, just louder, normalised audio) and we discussed the geography and geology for a while, got very cold, missed our train and had to wait another hour for the next one.
You have to imagine that a chalk spar from the Weald elevates the land and creates cliffs or bluffs, so the shingled beach is lower down. The town itself is a splodge, not really a grid or anything as well planned as that, with horrible 1960s concrete bits and the usual decaying gentility of the seaside town Georgian bits and some surviving Victorian bits and one Tudor street with its back to the sea that led to the site of a gallows. You couldn’t just hang people in town, it’s Sussex not the Old West, so there’s a whole rationale behind why the gallows was there and which king allowed it to be constructed etc, but that’s probably for another post or a Twitter thread or something.
We debated where the two train stations are – Pagham-on-Sea Parkway, way out on the north-east edge near the new estate, and Pagham-on-Sea Town, which is basically Norman’s Bay station but we moved the train line back a bit. You have to do a bit of geography gymnastics, but it basically works.
Want to know what it’s like? Dive in to the Pagham-on-Sea page.
Still curious? Need more background? Try these posts: