Home » The Sussex town fighting to reopen its French-owned beach

The Sussex town fighting to reopen its French-owned beach

“For some of us it has made it feel safer,” says local resident Abi Blanshard. “Some of the dark bits, the underpasses, you can be a bit reluctant to walk through. It just feels a little bit nicer, a bit cleaner, safer. My partner works down at the food bank and the people he’s spoken to love it.”

This is all new ground for Newhaven. People have lived in the area since the Stone Age, but modern-day Newhaven came into existence in the Middle Ages when the harbour at Seaford Head silted over and the River Ouse was redirected here instead. By the 18th century, a breakwater and piers were introduced and a little coastal community, a “new haven”, was born.

A period of prosperity followed. Sussex oak was exported to the Continent, while wines and spirits were shipped in. During the mid-19th century, the arrival of the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway brought jobs and doubled the town’s population. Later, in 1863, a passenger ferry to Dieppe was introduced, which was put to use during the First World War to transport soldiers to Normandy.

These days, Newhaven remains a popular gateway for Britons heading to France by car. Otherwise, this is very much a working town, centred around construction and manufacturing but certainly not tourism. Things could have taken a different course. In 2012, Newhaven was chosen as the site for Britain’s biggest water park, which included plans for a 400-room hotel. The project was shelved by its Kuwaiti developers when it emerged the mooted site was on contaminated land. What did open that year, however, was a giant waste incinerator which remains in operation today.

After completing the mural trail I crossed the swing bridge to the Sidings on the east side of the harbour. Here I found a pop-up bar run by the acclaimed Lewes-based craft brewery, Abyss, who transported the beer kegs here by boat and bicycle. At the site there is a rotation of food trucks, one called Kabak serving shawarma boxes, and a pizza place called Corvaglia, on my visit. More than 1,000 people attended the festival on its first day, far exceeding expectations, and Abyss has confirmed it will remain at the site all summer.