PIECE by piece, journalist Allis Moss put together a personal picture of Littlehampton – and the result, A Jigsaw Journey, is now in the bookshops.
She describes it as a ‘roundabout ramble’ through the town, taking in the people and places, the myths and mysteries that have gone into making the resort what it is today.
Along the way, she searches for the legendary Knucker dragon, and for the home of the late comedian Ronnie Barker, as well as hearing of the exploits of historical characters such as Empress Maud, thought to have landed at Littlehampton on her way to Arundel, in an unsuccessful bid to claim the English throne from King Stephen in 1139, and Lord Byron, who almost drowned taking a sea dip in 1806.
“Littlehampton has rare gems, not strung out artificially on a necklace, but occurring naturally, studded here and there, precious seams and pockets running through between sea, river and town,” writes Allis.
“One of the best bits in the Jigsaw Journey was going dragon-hunting with local historian Alan Burnett.
“We followed in the footsteps of drovers and pilgrims who would have once walked the South Downs to Chichester Cathedral.
“People believed the dragon, called Knucker, lived at the bottom of a deep pool where watercress was once grown, and the area today is still eerily beautiful.
“Another challenge was finding exactly where Ronnie Barker had once lived in Littlehampton. Then I managed to find Ronnie’s letters and sketches – all to do with a bit of a rumpus when he was trying to change a window in his home that is actually in a historic stretch of the seafront. Once I’d located those, it told me where Ronnie’s old home was.”
Among the more offbeat personalities she met or heard about were the man addicted to fire stations, a taxi-driver who ran ‘Mouse Town’ and a beachcomber searching daily for buried treasure to earn a living.
She describes the book as a ‘pocket travelogue for the armchair traveller who would like to explore the town sometime soon or lose themselves in stories about it and its folk’.
Jigsaw Journeys has its serious side, too, with poignant stories of soldiers killed in the First and Second World Wars. “One of the saddest I heard was farmer John Helyer’s great uncle Dick, who lost his life in friendly fire in the trenches.”
Allis, who lives in Chichester, has worked on the Danny Baker Show on BBC Radios 1 and 5, as an international radio journalist and in local radio.
Jigsaw Journeys has been published with support from Littlehampton Town Council and is on sale at WH Smith, Littlehampton and Rustington, the Look and Sea Centre, Littlehampton, Littlehampton Museum, Rustington Museum, the Arundel Castle shop, Tesco, Littlehampton, branches of Waterstones or from Amazon.