Emsworth, a borough of Hampshire, sits on the edge of Chichester Harbour (AONB). It’s a village the locals are proud to live in, everybody has a dog and, unique to the south, you’ll get a hello and a smile from most people. Community-feel welcomes you here across most doorsteps. The pubs are always busy and the surrounding woods, brooks and paddocks are much loved and open for strolls and dog walks. The bottom of South Street runs right into the harbour and is amock with all the birds in the book. The mill pond hard, which damns the River Ems, works perfectly as a feeding platform for them now that Emsworth’s historic shipbuilding days are over.
Emsworth came to be in the 13th century when King John divided it from Warblington and handed it to William Aguillon for the yearly rent of two gilt spurs. Shipbuilding on West Brook was common until it was dammed to create the mill pond and tidal mills were built on either side of the town – the Lord’s Mill on Queen St (1570) and later the Quay Mill and Slipper Mill on South St and in the East respectively.
In about 1760 the quay at Swear Lane was built by Thomas Hendy and Emsworth became important in the coastal trade of goods including flour, corn and coal, and exported sand and gravel dug from the harbour by ship throughout the country.
Fishing was always an important part of life in Emsworth and over time oyster dredging became popular until it greatly supported Emsworth’s wealth. Emsworth was once one of England’s finest oyster trading ports.
Where to eat & drink?
Emsworth was a bit of a pub hub back in the day. 14 pubs stood on corners across the village and Emsworth was notorious among the weekend flock of drinkers and socialites from a mix of demographics and military. A few have closed, but 8 good ones still stand. Loosen up on the golden mile loop with a pint in each, or stop for dinner. The 3 neighbours on South Street are ‘Bluebell’, ‘JJ’s’ and ‘The Coal Exchange’ each with an entirely different ambience. Classy pub grub is enjoyable in the Blue Bell, JJ’s flamboyant everything will blow your mind, and The ‘Coalie’ is a free-spirited joint.
If you’re weighing up where to eat in Emsworth, there are a couple of curry houses, but outstanding and unique is Darbar’s. This flash curry house is unconventional by British standards of Indian cuisine and you’ll notice an emphasis on specific flavour and finesse.
A local favourite and long-standing family-run restaurant, however, is the famous Italian, Nicolino’s. Little has changed on the menu over the years and it hasn’t needed to. The meals are hearty, large and rich like mama’s cooking for growing boys and girls. The service has character – no frills, (no need), they just have that Italian thing. You’ll leave here full and happy.
What to do in Emsworth?
The local market has run on Saturdays in the central square since Henry III permitted it in the summer of 1239. It’s quaint, and if you’re around it’s worth a visit. Typical to markets; cheeses and meats, hot food stalls and fresh veg from the rich soils of lowland farms around Chichester Harbour are all trading here. Emsworth has quite an arty influence with many art and textile shops and regular art trails showcasing the work of these talented locals whose creativity is blessed by the beauty of nature here.
The mill pond walk is a must and on it you can parade a quarter mile along the ten-foot wide hard with water on either side of you, feeling fully drawn into the harbour amongst the small fishing and sailing vessels. Swans, ducks, gulls and geese will be with you on the water.
From the mill pond, the coastal path goes about 2 miles all the way to Langston alongside woodland and fields. It’s a good hours trek and two iconic pubs await for lunch at the other end. The path floods at highwater springs but if so, you can find your way across the fields anyway.
Overall, Emsworth is a place of tradition and character and a keen visitor will find everything they need to leave feeling refreshed.