SUSSEX has always been a mix of old and new.

Nowhere is that more clear than Arundel. Once a thriving trading post, it now lives off its rich history as a tourist town.

But dig deep enough and you find a hardy core of ‘mullets’, residents born in Arundel and named after the fish found in the River Arun.

Postman Martin Alderton, 62, is one of those. Leading walking tours on the side, he has spent coronavirus lockdown writing Arundel: A Postman’s View with partner Karen.

Sam Brooke spoke to him about the town’s lesser-known history.

“Most people leave and know nothing about here.”

If Arundel is known for one thing, it is its castle.

For many visitors the town is almost an afterthought compared to the grey behemoth looming over its walls.

But postman Martin Alderton thinks many tourists do not know what they are missing.

Having grown up in the town, the 62-year-old has been around the block as a firefighter, an Arundel FC player, and a postman.

The Argus: A postcard of Arundel's earlier daysA postcard of Arundel's earlier days

After a stint away he came back to his roots ten years ago. For seven years he has run walking tours in the town, showing small groups the town’s more unusual side.

“A lot of people have left and there aren’t many mullets around any more,” Martin said.

“It’s very much a tourist town now. As a postman and growing up in Arundel, I see thousands of tourists leaving the town knowing very little about it. 

"My history is Arundel’s history. My family has lived here a long time.”

So Martin has written Arundel: A Postman’s View with partner Karen to give tourists a taste of what is below the town’s surface.

Though it is very much associated with medieval times as the seat of the Earl of Arundel and the Duke of Norfolk, the town’s boom period did not come until the 18th century.

Its position straddling the River Arun meant it was an ideal changeover point for goods heading towards London or down the now-non-existent canal to Portsmouth.

The Argus: A look at the old High StreetA look at the old High Street

“Coach houses started popping up. We had 30 pubs at one point,” said Martin.

“Tall ships would come up the river from Littlehampton.”

The Norfolk Arms hotel, still standing in the town centre, was built in 1783 to accommodate traders stopping over for the night.

Naturally some of the money passing through the town began to be invested.

The grand Arundel Cathedral was built as a sanctuary for Catholics, paid for by the sympathetic Henry Fitzalan-Howard, the Duke of Norfolk.

The foreboding building makes Arundel one of a small number of British towns with a cathedral, as only towns with Protestant cathedrals are considered cities.

But St Nicholas’s Church a few minutes away is far more unique.

The Argus: St Nicholas's Church is one of the only bi-denominational churches in the worldSt Nicholas's Church is one of the only bi-denominational churches in the world

Built in the 14th century, the church had been badly damaged in the English Civil War when Parliamentarians battered it with cannons in a 1643 siege.

While the church itself was Protestant, its Fitzalan Chapel was owned and used by the Norfolks as a place to safely practise their Catholic faith.

For decades it had remained in disrepair until Arundel’s boom period began.

In the 1830s a rebuilding effort began, with the church still divided into Protestant and Catholic sections and with no plans by either denomination to leave.

Eventually in 1879 the Church of England vicar filed a lawsuit to try and sue the Norfolks out.

But his gamble was blocked by the Lord Chief Justice.

To this day St Nicholas’s still stands as one of the only churches in the world with two denominations, albeit now separated by a wall of glass.

By the late 19th century Arundel’s time in the sun was beginning to wane.

The advent of the railway meant canals and rivers were a less popular choice for traders.

The Argus: Arundel Cathedral towers over the town. Photo: David IliffArundel Cathedral towers over the town. Photo: David Iliff

“Arundel was quite busy up until the 1920s,” postman Martin said.

“When the railway came across the river at Ford then Arundel as a trading post started to fade.”

Not that it lost its importance in the 20th century.

During the Second World War Canadian and American regiments were posted outside the town and bridges were barricaded to prevent German invaders from crossing the river.

“My dad enlisted underage and was posted at Ford Aerodrome, which suffered quite a bit of bombing,” Martin said.

“They used to call Mill Road the ammunition dump because there were armoured cars along the road sheltering under the lime trees.

“But Arundel avoided the worst of it.”

Tourism is now the name of the game in Arundel.

In tiny Tarrant Street, what was once the A27 is now a chintzy lane of tea shops and pubs.

But Martin hopes his new book will encourage tourists to look deeper into the town and its more prosperous days.

Arundel: A Postman’s View is available in shops around the town and on Ebay.