From fishermen to fine-dining... Emsworth’s great journey

Local historian Linda Newell. 'Picture: Ian Hargreaves (122567-6)
Local historian Linda Newell. 'Picture: Ian Hargreaves (122567-6)
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David Curwen, centre, hugs his mother with whom he wa sreunited. Completing the group is his brother Keith

THIS WEEK IN 1975: Reunited after 30 years – but only thanks to a kind stranger

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Emsworth is a prosperous town with smart houses which look out over the picturesque harbour.

Those former fishermen’s cottages now house two of the best restaurants for many miles, Fat Olives and 36 The Quay.

1800s A photograph of the Scadgell family

1800s A photograph of the Scadgell family

But who lived there before?

A new exhibition, Emsworth People Through Seven Decades, sheds a fascinating light on its past.

Local historians Linda Newell and Geoff Higgins have spent years trawling through Victorian census documents, going as far back as 1841. They have concentrated on the families, buildings and businesses, many generations back, which have made the town the place it is today.

Mr Higgins has slavishly transcribed the 1851 census of everyone living in the area.

Mrs Newell, the author of several books on her adopted home town, finds herself drawn off into fascinating family stories simply by finding one seemingly innocuous snippet of information.

She hopes visitors to the exhibition will throw more light on her current favourite old Emsworth families – the Dridges, Boutells, Farndells and Jones.

But she is particularly interested in the Parhams. She said: ‘They were all prominent local families and I find them fascinating. The Parhams for example are scattered all over, there are lots of them. We know James Parham was one year old in 1841. Through the census we watch his family build up over the years, see him move home, have a family. When his first wife Eliza dies he remarries, aged 60, and has another family. Fitting all the pieces together is addictive. I really hope someone will bring in photos.’

The exhibition at Emsworth Museum runs until September 30.


The census shows people living in Emsworth lived hard lives, very different to the prosperity which characterises the town now. But the view that they died young is not necessarily true.

Mrs Newell says: ‘A lot of babies died because we didn’t have the medical care, though Emsworth was probably better off than most places because we were fairly open, we had clean sea air.

‘We’ve discovered people who lived over 80 and they were considered to be very old indeed.

‘Life was hard. There were no modern appliances. If you wanted your house clean you got down on your hands and knees and scrubbed.

‘There was no old age pension. If you wanted to feed yourself you worked until the day you died. It was a totally different way of life.

‘They were totally committed to living from birth to death with the bare necessities but they had fun doing it.’


The Emsworth Water Carnival was an annual event in which all the fishermen would bring their boats onto the Mill Pond and there would be parades and fancy dress.

Emsworth Week raised funds for the Cottage Hospital and before that the hospital on King Street at a time when there was no NHS or social security.

It began in the mid 1860s and ran until just before the Second World War.


Every fisherman ever registered in the town appears in the exhibition in alphabetical order.

The depression around 1851 hit them hard and many were forced to move away to places such as Bucklers Hard. Some stayed but most came back to Emsworth, to their roots.

Mrs Newell added: ‘Emsworth has been evolving over time. This is the link to a past which is only 100 to 150 years ago and it’s shaped Emsworth into what we know it today.’


In the 1800s Emsworth had up to 18 pubs and the exhibition has names of each of the landlords.

The fishermen kept the ale houses going and often sunk all their wages in them.

Mrs Newell said: ‘You got paid once a week or when you got a catch. But it meant that women had to work because the men would very often drink all their wages leaving the family with nothing to live on. The women would have a little shop in the front room or take work as shopkeepers or servants. They had lots of children and the eldest would have to look after them.’

The Little Green was where Henry Adams estate agents stands now in North Street, The Anchor and The Sloop have also gone, as has The Locomotion in North Street and The Swan, in The Square.


William Scadgell and his wife Patricia, who live in London, are members of the Emsworth Museum Trust.

Their interest in history was sparked when they started researching Mr Scadgell’s ancestry.

The exhibition features his great grandfather John Scadgell, pictured, born 1828, who moved from Westbourne along with many other families when the railway was completed. He had six daughters and four boys. A family photo is believed to be from Mr Scadgell’s grandparents’ wedding.

John Scadgell was a cabinet maker and several generations owned an upholstery in what is now known as Hutchins in High Street. PG Wodehouse, the famous comic author and one-time Emsworth resident, sent his housekeeper a cheque for a wedding present and a receipt was found showing she spent it on bedroom furniture ‘at Scadgell’s’.

Mr Scadgell, now 82 and soon to be a great-grandfather himself, said: ‘It really is fascinating to be able to delve into the past like this. My journey into the family history has taken me to Cornwall and Devon, all the way back to 1600s.

‘It is completely consuming. Every time you find a little bit of an answer to something it throws up more questions.

‘We live in Bromley now but I lived with my parents in a house overlooking the sea in Warblington Road called Zealander.

‘Wearing my binoculars I could see the planes taking off from Thorney Island. We absolutely love it here and love coming to the museum.’