Emsworth the Built Environment 


Emsworth Conservation Area

The entire core of Emsworth is designated as a conservation area which protects the unique character of its built environment.

Emsworth lies at the head of the western arm of Chichester Harbour and the Conservation Area encompasses the older part of the waterside town which lies to the south of the A259, between two mill ponds. Although predominantly Georgian in character, the 19th and 20th Century development adjoining Bath Road and Bridgefoot Path is also included.
The mediaeval street layout remains, with St Peter's Square as its natural focus, although many of the buildings which now front onto these streets date from the 18th Century. The history of Emsworth is inextricably linked with the Harbour although this association has now changed from earlier commercial activities to tourism and recreation.

During the Saxon period, Emsworth was part of the Parish of Warblington, whose ancient Church served the whole area until comparatively recent times. This explains why, unlike most towns and villages the Parish Church is found outside the historic core. A lowering of the sea level in the 12th Century led to the decline of Warblington, when the creek became too shallow for boats at most stages of the tide, and a corresponding growth in the town of Emsworth which was still accessible to sea traffic. By 1231 "Emelsworth" is found in contemporary records, and in 1239 Henry III granted a charter for a weekly market and an annual fair. By 1341 the town was sufficiently established as a trading and fishing port, to be one of the five ports in Hampshire ordered to provide a ship for the fleet sent to protect the Channel Islands from French attack.

The town suffered a decline as a result of the Black Death and appears to have only gradually recovered.

Nevertheless, by the 18th Century Emsworth was a prosperous town and the chief port of Chichester Harbour. This prosperity was associated with the change in agriculture from grazing to arable farming. There were three mills in Emsworth and two more on the Sussex side of the River Ems where locally grown corn was milled and exported by ship to feed the growing population of London. Many of the fine Georgian houses date from this period.
Pigot's Directory of 1821 describes Emsworth as a market town whose "inhabitants live by building ships and boats, by rope and sail making, by trade in timber and by fishing." Oyster fishing, in particular, flourished during the 19th Century but declined rapidly at the beginning of the 20th Century, following cases of food poisoning and concerns about the quality of the Emsworth Oysters.
The expansion of the town during this century is related more to its position as a suburb of Havant and Portsmouth rather than with the economic growth of the town itself. There are no longer any trading or shipbuilding activities and although fishing still provides an occupation for a few inhabitants, tourism and recreation have largely superseded commercial activities.

Emsworth contains a number of Listed Buildings, fronting onto the principal roads, which form the nucleus of the Conservation Area. Many of the non-listed buildings, even some of the more recent ones are good examples of their type. They conform to the pattern of building within the centre and reflect the gradual evolution of the built environment, and where they have avoided unsympathetic alteration make a positive contribution to the special interest of the Conservation Area.

Very few buildings appear to date from before the 18th Century and the majority of older buildings within Emsworth are Georgian. Queen Street in particular contains fine examples of small scale domestic architecture of this period. Some buildings are particularly distinctive within the 
designed with their own identities. However the symmetry and proportion of the Georgian period which are also reflected in many of the later buildings in Emsworth, together with the limited palette of building materials, help to unify the various designs into coherent groups of buildings.

Continuity of Scale an Design
Emsworth has managed to retain its small scale intimate character and charm. Building heights rarely exceed three storeys and individual building plots identified on early maps and plans have largely survived intact. The narrow frontages of these plots give the building a strong vertical emphasis which is reflected in the proportions of the shop-fronts, windows and doors within each individual elevation. By conforming to these constraints of height and width new development has generally reflected the domestic scale of older buildings within the Conservation Area. Pitched roofs are characteristic of most buildings within the Conservation Area.

Where buildings have been redeveloped or new buildings constructed, those with a traditional roof treatment harmonise best with their surroundings. Extensions with pitched roofs, which do not dominate the original building are most appropriate. Some overlarge flat roof extensions to commercial premises which can be seen from public viewpoints detract from the area.

Spaces and Townscape Quality
The buildings lining the principal roads radiating from St Peter's Square are invariably two or three storeys high and situated on the back edge of the pavement. They are frequently linked or closely spaced and when viewed obliquely give the impression of a continuous street frontage. These factors, in combination with the narrowness of the historic road framework, produce a pleasant enclosed urban character which is given added interest by the curve and bends of many of the roads and the slight rise in South Street and Queen Street.
The enclosed character is less evident at the eastern end of King Street where the building frontage is less continuous being interrupted by gardens and walls and not all of the buildings are situated on the back edge of the pavement.

At the eastern end of Queen Street, gaps, vacant sites and single storey buildings contribute to the erosion of the urban character which is also evident in parts of South Street and School Lane. Some postwar development in Bath Road and off King Street, fronting onto the harbour, is suburban in character which differs from the overall pattern of development within the conservation area. 

At the centre of the road network is the triangular space of St Peter's Square which is the busy hub of the Conservation Area. To the north-west High Street widens at its junction with West Street, the A259 and North Street and produces an unsatisfactory space, which lacks a sense of enclosure and which is dominated by the carriageway. 
The most significant space within the Conservation Area is the Mill Pond which is bordered by Bridgefoot Path and Bath Road. These roads are lined by largely two-storey terrace properties mainly of late 19th Century and 20th Century construction. Although of modest design the appearance of these houses in enhanced by their waterside location and the fact that they have largely remained unaltered. The Mill Pond is retained at its southern end by The Promenade, with Chichester Harbour beyond. Although most buildings surrounding the Mill Pond are recessive in character, the Malthouse, the Slipper Mill and 66 Bath Road occupy prominent positions and provide the focal point of views from around the Mill Pond. The open area at the end of King Street , which fronts onto the Harbour lacks identity and has the potential for improvement.

Waterside activity has historically been part of the character of the waterfront at Emsworth. Originally associated with the fishing and trading activities of the town, it is today related more specifically with recreational sailing although commercial activities are still represented by fishing boats which operate from the Quay at the bottom of South Street.

Although predominantly an urban area trees contribute significantly to the character of the Conservation Area. (See Plan 4.) They provide a natural foil to the buildings and help soften the appearance of the urban scene as exemplified in King Street and Tower Street. They are attractive features in their own right and in some instances provide a focal point within the urban setting as for example the yew tree at the junction of Queen Street and Frankland Terrace. Some trees while significant in themselves and important in their local context also provide a background to views glimpsed between buildings and a skyline feature to longer views within the Conservation Area. Many of the significant trees within the grounds of Saxted House fulfill this role. Substantial tree planting along the margins of the A259 helps define and reinforce the northern boundary of the Conservation Area. Particularly good specimens which contribute to the amenity of the area are the subject of Tree Preservation Orders.

Walls have been the traditional means of demarcating boundaries within the Conservation Area. Although walls of stone and flint can be found brick, is the predominant material. (See Plan 5.) Of particular interest and character are the walls to Trentham House in Tower Street, 19 King Street and Brook Lodge, Havant Road. Sea walls of brick, flint and stone are a strong visual feature along the shore line, although their attractive character has been diminished where these walls have been rendered. Rendering has also been used for retaining walls to some of the gardens of the terraced houses in Bridgefoot Path. This is less attractive than the low front garden walls of brick which typify many of the boundary treatments of the properties fronting onto the Mill Pond.

The line of the Roman Road between Chichester and Winchester runs through the north of the Conservation Area although the main archaeological interest concerns the origins and subsequent development of the mediaeval settlement. On the basis of the significance and potential of the area the County Archaeologist has identified the majority of the Conservation Area as an area of archaeological importance and is consulted on any development which will cause ground disturbance.

development, for example at Spring Gardens behind High Street and Queen Street. Other substantial garden areas still remain between King Street and Queen Street and also at the southern end of Tower Street. These gardens provide a pleasing and unexpected contrast with the urban character of the street scene. (E, Plan 3.) The garden area to the west of South Street is now used as a car park which is largely concealed behind the surrounding buildings. (F, Plan 3.) However, the gap in the street frontage which is partly occupied by the public conveniences exposes the car park to public view and detracts from the urban character of the area. An interesting small courtyard space has recently been created off South Street by the construction of the Orange Row development. (G, Plan 3.) In Bath Road the Sailing Club car and boat park opens directly from the road. (H, Plan 3.) Some defining boundary treatment might improve the general appearance of this area.

Relationship with the Waterfront
The history of Emsworth is inextricably linked with the harbour although the association between the town and waterfront has changed from its earlier commercial base to one related largely to tourism and recreation. The relationship between the built environment and the adjoining Mill Pond and Harbour contributes to the character of the Conservation Area in a number of ways:

Despite being situated on the shoreline of Chichester Harbour and between two Mill Ponds, views of the surrounding water from within the town are not common. Views of the Harbour can be obtained from the southern end of South Street but it is only when the Quay is reached that the relationship between town and water is apparent. A public footpath runs along the foreshore and, although the whole length of the foreshore is accessible, it is from the Quay and The Promenade that the principal harbour views are gained. The nature of these harbour views change with the state of the tide, with extensive mudflats exposed at low water. However, whatever the state of the tide the sense of open space is the overriding impression.

The Promenade provides an opportunity for views back into the Conservation Area from the Harbour. The cluster of buildings and tiled roofs on the slight rise behind the Slipper Mill provides a focal point within the wider perspective. To the east the compact urban character of the town is less pronounced with suburban development occupying the sites of the former boatyards which once lined the foreshore. The most recent development on the John King boatyard has introduced a more traditional compact building form more in keeping with the overall character of the town.

With public access available around virtually the whole length of the Mill Pond, views across the pond from numerous vantage points are part of the local scene. Two buildings in particular provide a focal point to many of these views, they are the Malt House which juts into the Mill Pond at the southern end of Bridgefoot Path and the small cottage at 66 Bath Road which is prominently sited towards the south-west corner of the pond. The open expanse of water contrasts with the compact terrace houses, which comprise much of the surrounding development and provide both an attractive setting for, and enhance the appearance of these buildings.

buildings fronting onto the  Harbour between South Street and the eastern end of King Street have been constructed virtually up to the water's edge. This has produced a definite and striking boundary between the open Harbour and the built environment of Emsworth. In view of the prominence of this boundary, any future change should be most carefully considered with regard to its impact and appearance.

Courtesy Havant Borough Council






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