Six Decades of Change across Chichester

One Cicestrian to witness the city’s changes is author and historian
Alan Green
Westgate Fields before the College and new road were built. Can you see the cows grazing? Photo: author’s collection

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This 1959 aerial photograph provides a telling snapshot of the city as it was 60 years ago and is very nostalgic for me as it shews the Chichester of my boyhood. As a (true) Cicestrian I have observed closely the changes that have occurred over those 60 years and will point out just a few features that can be seen in the view.

Alan Green in 1959 when a pupil at Central Junior Boys School Photo: author’s collection
Open Spaces

Most striking from the first glance is the vast open expanse of Westgate Fields (B) which at the time were the city’s water meadows, stretching down to the harbour intersected only by the railway and the A27. For a boy growing up in Chichester in the 1950s and 60s, Westgate Fields was a lotus land: a busy shunting yard to be observed from the long footbridge, the River Lavant and its many tributaries, copious mud and many dogs. Loss of the fields began in 1962 with the building of Chichester College, followed in 1964 by the ring road (Avenue de Chartres) which cut across from Southgate to Westgate, then a car park (later to be redeveloped as multi-storey) and a rapid expansion of the college, all of which completely filled the area north of the railway. South of the railway the Terminus Road Industrial Estate was to spread westwards to occupy the fields down to the A27 (F) .

Westgate Fields before the College and new road were built. Can you see the cows grazing? Photo: author’s collection

More lost open land can be seen to the north of the photograph. In 1959 East Broyle Farm (X) had just been sold for a private housing development. Starting in 1961, 412 houses were progressively built on the site known as the East Broyle Estate. Just below that was Little Breech Farm (Y)whichwas also to be developed for housing from 1967,this time by the City Council to provide affordablehomes.

The other expanse of open ground is Oaklands Park (C) where a notable absence from the photo is the Festival Theatre. Leslie Evershed-Martin had had his brainwave in 1959 but construction was not to start until 1961, bringing the one major change that surely no-one would dispute as having been for the better. The theatre apart, Oaklands Park has miraculously escaped the attentions of developers.

Infrastructure

It is noticeable how the westward expansion of the city had been arrested by the Midhurst railway line (E). Although it had lost its passenger services in 1935, a stump of the line still served Lavant, conveying sugar beet. When this traffic ceased the line served new gravel workings near Brandy Hole Lane whence trains took the mineral to Drayton, thus obviating heavy lorry movements through the city. When this in turn ceased in 1991, the line was turned into a cycleway/footpath known, by dint of someone’s baffling logic, as Centurion Way. The Romans did many things for Chichester but railways were not amongst them! Staying with transport, Southdown’s bus operations had transferred in 1956 from West Street to a purpose-built bus station in Southgate. The adjacent, and brand new, bus garage (Q) has a thin shell, prestressed concrete roof whose clear span was ground-breaking for its era. Although locally listed, its future is now under threat from the Southern Gateway Development Plan.

In Stockbridge Road is the gasworks (O). This had stopped producing coal gas in 1958 when gas was piped up from Portsmouth, The south end of the site was redeveloped as the GPO sorting office in 1964 but the gasholders were to remain in use until the arrival of North Sea Gas in 1970. The north end of the site would eventually be redeveloped by McCarthy and Stone as Brampton Court.

Schools, Ancient, Modern and Revised

In New Park Road can be seen what is now the New Park Centre (L) with whose facilities most readers will be familiar. In 1959 however, it was still the Central Junior Boys’ School where I numbered amongst its pupils. The school was to move to Orchard Street in 1964 after which the site was earmarked for redevelopment. Fortunately, it was to be saved by a vigorous campaign to convert it into a community centre – a victory for democracy! In 1962 I moved on to Chichester High School for Boys (I) in Kingsham Road. In the photograph its extensive playing fields can be seen, but the eastern end of them have long since been developed for housing (Herald Drive) and most of the outlying school buildings have since been demolished. The remaining buildings were abandoned in 2014. They still exist, but only just as they are boarded up awaiting their fate: Chichester High School for Boys was to cease to be just two years later.

Chichester High School for Girls was then in Stockbridge Road (J). After it had amalgamated with the Lancastrian Girls’ School in 1971 it progressively moved to newer premises in Kingsham and the Stockbridge site was abandoned. Chichester Gate was built on its playing field in 2003 and recently the main school building was converted into student flats.

Industry and Infirmary

Almost opposite the Boys’ High in Kingsham Road was Wingard’s factory (P) . Wingard made seatbelts and other automotive products and were a major employer in Chichester. They were taken over by Britax who eventually relocated after which the site was converted into housing.

Chichester still had two main hospitals in 1959; The Royal West Sussex (M) in Broyle Road and St Richard’s (S)off Spitalfield Lane. Both were relativelysmall so the two gradually amalgamated at StRichard’s which was to expand exponentially into thecurrent hospital. The ‘Royal West’ (as it was knownlocally) was converted into apartments namedForbes Place after one of its founders. There wasalso the separate Isolation Hospital on the south sideof Spitalfield Lane [not indicated] but that closed inthe 1960s. I can claim to have been an inmate of allthree!

The Cattle Market (K) was still very active in 1959 with cattle arriving by train, being grazed overnight in Westgate Fields and then driven to market on the hoof. The photo shews the site covered with sheds and pens all of which were to be swept away in 1990 when the market closed and was converted into – yes – another car park.

The Festival Theatre under construction in 196. Photo: author’s collection.
Destruction

Also seen still standing is the east side of Somerstown (N) This late Georgian development of artisan housing, had been condemned in 1958 as slums by Chichester City Council – a controversial action challenged in the national press by Sir Lawrence Olivier no less. Protest fell on deaf ears though and all was swept away in 1964. The site lay empty for 10 years before redevelopment took place but, whilst the new housing estate perpetuated the name Somerstown, it was a very poor substitute for what had been lost. Mercifully the west side of Somerstown was to be spared, its erstwhile ‘slums’ now being considered highly desirable residences. There was also to be destruction of many Georgian buildings in Southgate and Westgate in order to accommodate the ends of the aforementioned ring road, and this took place in 1963-65.

On the other side of Broyle Road is the Sloe Fair Field (V) taking its name from the eponymous fair that had taken place annually by Royal Charter since 1107. The field was tarmacked over to form a new car park in 1961 which deprived the fair of much of its charm. It invariably rained on 20 October resulting in the field becoming a quagmire making squelching through the mud an added attraction.

Envoi

Much of the change over the last 60 years has beeninevitable in order to provide for an ever expandingpopulation, but some, such as the wanton destructionof the east side of Somerstown and the obliteration ofthe water meadows, is difficult to forgive. One wouldlike to think that such would not happen today…

The same aerial view in 2079 will shew Whitehouse Farm (Z)developed with its 1,600 houses – but whatelse besides one wonders? I for one will not be hereto see it!

Alan Green is chairman of Chichester Conservation Area Advisory Committee and the author of several books on the city’s history.

(This article originally appeared in the March 2019 issue of the Society’s Newsletter. To see more from this issue go to our past Newsletters page)

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