The History of Mewsbrook Park.
Written by local author Christopher Adam-Smith
Rustington or Littlehampton? Exactly where is our celebrated, award winning Mewsbrook Park? It really depends whether or not you are a local and the year in which you were born. In the 40s, 50s and 60s you would likely claim it to be in Rustington. Truth is however, it is slap bang on the borderline and was incorporated as part of the Littlehampton district in 1933 and is now owned and administered by the Arun District Council and carefully maintained by a small group of dedicated volunteers and local business interests in partnership with the all-year-round café and the pedalo and boat hire enterprise.
The lake itself, all two and a quarter acres of it, began life as a series of puddles formed on the swampland of the estuary waters that once was the course of the nearby River Arun. The river has long since moved westward and become a very attractive part of the larger town.
Work began on the site in the mid-30s originally designed as part of a flood relief scheme and then, as a boating lake, incorporated into the park area and proved itself to be very popular. The lake was fed by the infamous Black Ditch running deep and clear to the north of Littlehampton and into whose cold weedy waters many a young man found his long-jumping abilities not quite up to snuff. Later the lake was refurbished and was and still is used as a runoff for surface water necessitated by the many local developments, both housing and business, of the 20th Century. The level is maintained when needed by opening the sluice gate and allowing sea water to filter into the lake making the water brackish and not a great home for fish other than the ubiquitous minnow and stickleback. The rumoured existence of a giant snapping turtle that gobbles up cygnets and ducklings after dark is just that, a rumour… we think!
But history isn’t really about boundaries or size, it is much more about the people who lived and shared in this quiet section of the South Coast through peace and war. Imagine living in a seaside town in the 40’s and not being able to visit the beach. History is about mums and dads who enjoyed a peaceful weekend by sending their young sons out on day long fishing expeditions in a lake where there were no fish. It is about teenagers – mostly – spending the summer evenings a’wooing in the still lovely white, art deco shelters where once glazed windows protected the lovers from the vagaries of the south-westerlies that permanently bend the trees and can rise quickly from the sea. A stretch of clear water where, during the war when it looked as if Hitler might single out Littlehampton as good place to begin his invasion and the popular beach was mined and strewn with barbed wire, the lake was a safe place to swim and to picnic on the grassy banks.
Mewsbrook Park was and still is in these modern, troubled times a safe place. It is a clean place and litter free thanks to the volunteers. Although a popular area for dog walkers one seldom sees any dog mess largely because the local people respect the privilege of having such a place to exercise themselves and their pets. Ducks and swans together with gulls, the occasional little egret, the hunting sparrow hawk, moorhen and coot frequent the winter water and some nest there in the springtime. The trees abound with a large variety of birds and the border flowers show off an attractive, colourful display of butterflies.
Above all the park is an ideal example of different groups and individuals working together with a single aim: To provide a worthwhile facility for people, be they local or visitor, young or old, to enjoy and relax. Where better to lie back on the green grass, drink your coffee and listen to the occasional visit from the town band, the laughter of children in the playground or the soulful, mournful whistle of the popular miniature railway that operates from the park? We are pretty sure that your first visit to Mewsbrook Park will not be your last