Chichester, in West Sussex, England, is "A fat clucking hen of a town," or so the wall in the district museum will have you believe. It is like many southern county towns in that it looks as though someone has taken a Roman street map, and then dumped a peculiar mix of medieval and Georgian architecture (one part medieval, six parts Georgian) on top of it, which have then been filled with all kinds of shops. It has one of those skylines that are particular to this kind of city, where nothing seems to match. It is as though neighbours had been competing to see who could build their house highest and with the most number of chimneys. Inside the buildings are like rabbit warrens, filled with narrow staircases and tiny separate rooms. This makes shopping on a busy day a difficult experience.
Being roughly two miles from wall to wall, it is the second smallest cathedral city in England. Built around a Roman design, it has four main streets, North Street, South Street, East Street, and West Street, which meet in the centre at the market cross. Branching off from these are a number of small streets and alleyways, (twittens in the local dialect, but very few people use that now). These may be home to many small shops, coffee houses and eateries. The main streets are semi pedestrianised, being off limits to all vehicles but the local buses.
One of the oldest towns in England, Chichester has a wealth of history, as can be affirmed by anyone who has managed to wrangle a trip to the district museum's warehouse. (I would tell you where it is, but I have been sworn to a mild kind of secrecy.) A seemingly endless collection of objects dating back to Neolithic times. 256 and I once had the opportunity to paw through this collection. Bones, pottery, sarcophagi, Weaponry, door handles, fireplaces. They have everything.
Chichester has many historical buildings, the city walls themselves are of Roman origin, though they have been patched up and refaced so often in the past that their is very little Roman material left. Priory Park (one of the cities three parks, the others being Oaklands and Jubilee Park) is home to two ancient structures, the remains of a Motte and bailey, built by William I in 1066 as a way to secure his control in Sussex. Today it is nothing but a large flat topped mound in one corner of the park, a nice place to eat lunch, weather permitting, and provided there are no Townies. The other building in this park is the Guild Hall, the remains of an ancient Priory. It was used as a courthouse for many years. It was here that William Blake, the poet, painter and philosopher was tried for sedition. Today the building serves as a minor extension to the museum, I believe it is free to visit in the summer months, but donations are encouraged.
The gothic market cross was built in 1501. It was later slightly remodelled after Charles II returned from France. It now bears a bust of said monarch, as well as a handy clock face (so you can see just how late the bus is.)
The cathedral stands on West Street, the smallest cathedral in England say my very unreliable sources. Architecturally it appears to be a mess. Nests of flying buttresses have sprung up everywhere to support a spire that was never meant to be there. There is a stained glass window in the cathedral showing Bishop Luffa, who designed and commissioned the cathedral in 1070. He is holding a tiny representation of the cathedral in his hand, and indeed it has no spire. The spire was added in the 19th century, and has fallen down several times. Local lore claims that when Chichester cathedral has no spire, no King shall sit on the throne of England. As well as being a place of worship the cathedral houses some beautiful pieces of devotional art, and plays host to concerts, recitals, and exhibitions. The cathedral is also equiped with Britain's only free standing bell tower, which is in need of some repair, nets have been put up to prevent masonry falling on passing pedestrians, and it is visibly slanting. In the seventies the cathedral survived being gnawed on by Mr. Terry Jones in an episode of Monty Python's Flying Circus. He was attempting to become the first man to eat an entire Anglican cathedral.
Other historical buildings include the Corn Exchange, which now stands empty after many years as a McDonalds and a stint as a cinema twenty years ago.
The city is probably best known for the Chichester Festival Theatre, in Oaklands park. Opened in 1962, under the Direction of Sir Laurence Olivier, hexagonal in shape it was one of England's first large thrust stages. First built to play host to the prestigious Chichester Festival of Drama, a celebration of the Dramatic arts that runs from May to October every year. Some of England's finest and most influential thesps have appeared there. It shows both modern plays and classics, as well as touring companies, Ballet, Concerts and Stand-up Comedy. It also operates the Minerva, a studio theatre, and home to the Chichester Youth Theatre, who make the theatre a lot of money and don't get paid.
There is a canal in Chichester. Like most such large, still bodies of water it is wet and smelly. You can rent boats to row on the canal, but the risk of touching the water is far too great for most people.
Look out for the recently completed "Chichester Gate" Complex. It is a triumph of idiocy over aesthetics, a hulking grey squat thing. It was intended to attract people to the region, it is more likely to frighten them away. Don't get me wrong, the people of Chichester are thankful for the new facilities, (you used to have to get on the train and go the 30 KM to Portsmouth just to see a movie,) we just wish someone had put some thought into what it should look like.
On a personal note.-
Do all men think their homes so beautiful?
Despite modern blunders, for me the city still holds that same charm it always has. The view you get of Chichester from the south downs, the cathedral spire like a lance tilted to the sky, has become impressed upon my consciousness. I am from an old Sussex family. Whenever I have been away, whenever I return I look for that view, that spike glimmering above the horizon. All my life it has meant one thing. Home.
A labour of love.
This writeup is in the public domain.