Historic records and architectural histories: Selsey Maps

By Tim Hudson (guest blogger)

What types of historic documents do architectural historians use? Continuing with our guest written series, the once Editor of the Sussex Victoria County History and co author of the updated Pevsner guide to West Sussex, Tim Hudson, will be exploring the types of records used when researching built heritage. Each blog, Tim will look at a significant West Sussex building through a variety of historic documents available at the Record Office.

Today we look at the maps of Selsey.


Architectural historians regularly use old maps, of which the Record Office has a fine collection.  The small town and seaside resort of Selsey south of Chichester, not usually much noticed for its historic buildings, provides an example.

Estate plan of land at Selsey, it includes drawings of roads and plots belonging to Mary Penfold, and includes a list of references
Add Mss 2051 – Plan of Land of the property of Miss Mary Penfold in Selsey, by J. Butler

Estate maps often give outline plans of buildings, yielding termini ante and post for extensions and demolitions.  Sometimes there may be a vignette of a building itself.  Add MS 2051 shows the junction of Selsey’s High Street with East Street and West Street.  The building described as ‘Homestead’ survives just north of where the One-Stop shop is today, and intriguingly is called …The Homestead.

Homestead House is a red brick thatch cottage with white framed windows and front door. The front garden is exceptionally well maintained.
Homestead House, photograph courtesy of Tim Hudson

Inclosure of open fields and commons was accompanied by maps showing the allotments made and new roads created.  The latter were often straight and are sometimes taken to be Roman roads.  Hillfield Road in Selsey, laid out at inclosure in 1821, aims directly for the Bill.  Big houses were later put up alongside it and in streets to east and west. 

An excerpt of an inclosure map of Selsey, with Hillfield Road running through the centre straight to sea.
Par 166/20/2 – Section of the inclosure map of Selsey, 1821, featuring Hillfield Road
A clear blue sky and neatly pebbled road lead to Bill House, a white home in Selsey, featuring diamond tile design above the first floor windows
Photograph of Bill House in Selsey, photograph couresty of Tim Hudson

One of these specially featured in the recent revision of Pevsner’s Buildings of England, Sussex West, is The Bill House in Grafton Road of 1906-7 by the important Arts and Crafts architect M H Baillie Scott. [image]  Since it’s now a care home its internal courtyard isn’t accessible, but the building with its quirky off-centre lookout tower can be admired from the street.

OS 6” and 25” maps in their successive editions show how places developed.  The 6” map of 1912 has the line of the eccentric Chichester – Selsey tramway, with its three stations in the town that brought visitors to the seaside. The route can be hard to trace today.  For the history of the tramway see the WSCC publication Going off the Rails: The Country Railway in West Sussex, by Bill Gage and others (1997).

Two sections of the 6" 1911 edition O.S. Map for Selsey, with the tram/rail line running through the upper middle to the coats.
Two sections of the 6″ 1911 edition O.S. Map for Selsey, with the tram/rail line running through the upper middle to the coats.

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