Littlehampton in Saxon times (AD430) was known as a settlement called Hamton. Later, after the Norman invasion of 1066, books referred to the town as Hantone. At this time, Arun became one of the main routes for travel between England and Normandy, and the whole estuary was known as Arundel Haven. Until the late 15th century the Arun river was 10 miles east at Lancing, combining with the River Adur. However, its mouth became blocked by shingle and tides pushed the Adur east, whilst the Arun was thrust westwards. As a result, fresh exits formed and around 1500-1530, the Arun broke through near Littlehampton.
18th Century Littlehampton
Many years later, after improvements to the rivers course, Littlehampton was fast becoming a ship-building and trading port. The area was therefore a likely landing place for an invasion by Napoleon’s forces and in 1759 a fort battery was installed upon a mound to guard the Harbour entrance. This is where Harbour Park’s Adventure Golf now stands.
Once safe, Littlehampton soon established itself as a seaside resort. Wealthy people travelled down because bathing in the sea was considered good for your health and it was even thought that drinking a pint of sea water was good for you. Unfortunately, only wealthy people could afford to visit the town at the time because travel was expensive and most people worked six and a half days every week.
However, from 1863 onwards travel became more affordable due to the arrival of the first passenger steam trains, and within the year Littlehampton gained a railway station, which encouraged more visitors to the area. By the 1880s, the town was receiving 2 – 3 thousand visitors per day during the summer season, these included writers and artists who were attracted by the relaxed peaceful atmosphere.
One of the most recognisable landmarks of Victorian Littlehampton was the tower windmill, which stood on the site of Harbour Park from 1831-1932. Originally, built for a millwright called Henry Martin the property expanded and passed hands many times before being demolished by Billy Butlin’s funfair in 1932. In addition to its flour making purposes, the mill was continuously used as a point of reference for ships wishing to seek shelter in Littlehampton’s harbour.
Butlin’s Entertainment Centre
Nevertheless, Butlin’s Amusement Park was a great attraction and with the rest of Littlehampton holding its maritime charm, the area was soon referred to by Edwardian families as ‘The Children’s Paradise’. During the war the park closed from 1941-1945 and the building was used for storage and the gathering of troops going overseas. The building suffered bomb damage during that time; but was repaired and reopened after the war as part of the Butlin Holiday Camp Empire.
A New Era
In 1977, the Billy Smart Circus family bought the park, and set about re-equipping it into a family Amusement centre. In 1994 the current owner, Gary Smart oversaw a sizable redevelopment of the site. The name changed from Smart’s Amusement Park to its contemporary Harbour Park, which reflected the theme running throughout the site and its unique location on the seafront and riverside. Over the next few years major works were undertaken and the final phase was completed in the year 2000. Harbour Park therefore, entered the new millennium with an exciting look, whilst managing to retain the Smart family values of providing a friendly, fun and entertaining family venue. In fact, Billy Smart still watches over the park in the form of a magnificent bronze statute located in the main building.