In Roman times Chichester Harbour was navigable all the way to Fishbourne and Roman galleys sailed as far as the wharf for Fishbourne Palace. Sea levels in the Middle Ages were higher and there are records of land being lost to the sea. Following The Great Flood of Apuldram in 1274 additional sea walls and sluices were installed.

The principal landing place was moved down channel due to silting of the upper reaches and for a time there was access to the harbour a little south of the mouth of the Lavant river. The channel led to the mediaeval village of Apuldram and its dry bed can be seen today. A landing place at La Delle was also established and a rent list of 1432 records the duties of a villain “to cart from La Delle to Chichester”. Exports were mainly wool and cloth derived from sheep grazing on the South Downs.

The wharf at Dell Quay was built in the 16th Century on the orders of Lord Fitzwilliam of Cowdray, Lord High Admiral from 1536 to 1540 (noted for defeating the Spanish Armada), and in 1580 it is recorded that the wharf had “longe sythens buylded by the Lord Fitzwilliam”. The Quay was the only official landing point for the Port of Chichester (i.e. Chichester Harbour), which in the 14th Century was rated the 7th most important in all England.   At that time there were no warehouses and no inn and this was on the reasons given for building a canal from the Quay to the town.

Permission was granted but on condition that the canal must not cut through lands belonging to the ‘Baron’ (Lord Howard of Effingham), and this made the scheme impractical. Instead the picturesque Crown and Anchor inn was build at the end of the 16th Century though at that time it was called Dell Key House.

During the 17th Century Fishbourne Channel needed constant attention. Silting and the practice of ships offloading their ballast as they approached the Quay, adding to it. However, after an extensive programme of dredging, ships of 40 tons could reach the Quay in the late 17th Century.

In the 18th Century coal from Newcastle became the principal import and there were three large stockpiles of coal around the Quay. A crane was build but was said in 1789 to be “much out of repair” and was later replaced by steam crane running on rails and then in the early 20th Century by a diesel powered one. The 19th Century saw the constriction of tide millas at the upper reaches of Fishbourne Creek and evidence of the walls to contain the mill ponds may still be seen.

A gale in 1925 wreaked havoc with the moored boats, and to facilitate cooperation among the owners, the Dell Quay Boat Club was formed which change its name to the Dell Quay Sailing Club in 1934. The club occupies the Quay itself along with the Chichester Harbour Education Centre and the Apuldram Fishing and Boat Club.

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