Thorney Island is best known for its military airbase, but before the airbase was built there was a small but thriving village here. The thirteenth century Church of St Nicholas is the best remnant of West Thorney.
Thorney Island historyThe fate of Thorney Island was determined by a chance event on 25th September 1933.
A Hawker Fury biplane crashed on Thorney Island on that day, killing the pilot. When officials from the Air Ministry decided to check the scene of the accident they realised that Thorney Island would make a top class site for an airbase.
And so it was that hundreds of years of the history of the small village of West Thorney came to an abrupt, if not permanent, standstill.
Thorney Island airbaseWith a war in the offing the judgement of the men from the ministry proved sound.
Thorney Island was well used by the RAF in the second world war. Bombing raids on German ports and shipping, reconnaissance flights and coastal patrol operations all took off from Thorney during the war.
Once peace arrived the airbase continued in service - it had been metalled in 1942 and substantial amounts had been spent on its infrastructure. The RAF finally left Thorney Island in 1976.
In the 1970s Thorney Island became a haven for so-called Vietnamese Boat People - refugees from the war in South Vietnam seeking a new life and safety in the United Kingdom.
Eventually Thorney Island found a new role with the arrival of the Army - specifically the Royal Artillery, whose 47 Regiment called Baker Barracks home.
West Thorney villageLife at West Thorney on Thorney Island had always been tough. Until the twentieth century the island was much more remote than it is today.
Thorney was a genuine island in those days - although it was possible to ford the flats between Thorney and Prinsted on the mainland at low tide, but this was a precarious business. The church records at Thorney contain details of a number of deaths caused by the sea and misjudged crossings.
The remnants of those dangerous currents no longer flow through the Great Deep - the channel which separates Thorney Island from the mainland - because modern engineering and the partial silting up of Chichester Harbour means that you can now pass to and from the Island without realising that you have left the mainland.
Nature at Thorney IslandUnsurprisingly, with such a large amount of shoreline on Chichester Harbour, Thorney Island is a valued Nature Reserve.
There is a popular walk around the Thorney Peninsula to Longmere Point and the sandbanks of Pilsey Island - the central part of Chichester Harbour.
This walk forms part of the Sussex Border Path.
Walkers should note that there are some restrictions on access to Thorney Island due to the military presence, but don't let that put you off.
East ThorneyThere was once an East Thorney by the way - on the other side of Chichester Harbour near East Wittering. The parish has now almost completely been washed into Bracklesham Bay.
Where to stay near Thorney Island
THORNEY ISLAND INFORMATIONThorney Island Primary School
Thorney Island village school website.
St Nicholas's Church
The church of St Nicholas at West Thorney is part of the parish of Southbourne.
THORNEY ISLAND FIREWORKS AND SAILINGThere's a popular firework display at Thorney Island each year.
Thorney Island Sailing Club take advantage of Thorney Island's prime position in the heart of Chichester Harbour, but they are an army only sailing club.
Map of the Thorney Island area
- Chichester Harbour yacht clubs
- Boat Builders in Sussex
- Where to moor your boat
- Other Watersports
- Yacht Brokers
- Yacht Chandlers
- Other Sailing Clubs in Sussex
- Sea fishing
- Pagham Harbour
- Bognor Regis
- Burgess Hill
- East Grinstead
- Haywards Heath