On September 30, 1918, the 7th Duke of Richmond and Gordon gifted Priory Park to the people of Chichester for their leisure and as a perpetual memorial to the fallen in the First World War.
The centenary falls this year with a week of celebratory events from 21st to 30th September. To accompany this and provide a more permanent record, local historian Alan Green has selected in his new book 100 ‘objects’ (artefacts, people, events etc) that in some way are connected to the park. Drawing on a variety of sources and aided by a grant from the Chichester City Council the result is a cornucopia of colourful images spanning the period from Roman Times to the present day – passing on the way the Civil War in the 17th century, the Priory Park Society years in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and the interwar and war years.
All the ‘objects’ provide much to talk about, some being less familiar to the populace – so for some examples. The park has long been a location for public protest and pleasure. Thus, the Guildhall was the location for the trials of William Blake in 1804 (object 19) and of the Hawkhurst gang of smugglers in 1748 (object 16) while the Park was used for the protest rally against hospital closure plans in 2007 (object 90).
In contrast the Park’s grassy expanse has seen cricket since the 16th century (object 30), a bowling green from mid 17th century (object 39), tennis tournaments (object 47), and during the first world war entertainment for wounded soldiers (object 46).
Celebrations have over the years been conducted for royalty such as Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897 (object 37) and George V’s silver jubilee in 1935 (objects 60 and 61).
The span of true objects includes archaeological finds such as a fragment of an encaustic tile (object 9) from the long-lost Friary, the Coade Stone Druid statue (object 33) made of a patented ceramic, and locally-made cast-iron casement windows (object 29) in the refreshment room, these serving later as a clubhouse for cricketers and hockey players. The general public are now well served by Fenwick’s Café (object 94) started in 2013 as a temporary measure but now on a more permanent footing.
Personalities are not neglected, principally Charles, Earl of March and Kinrara (object 48) whose gift was the Park itself and who is the great-great-grandfather of the current Duke of Richmond and Gordon, the author of the book’s foreword. Various bodies were also granted the Corporate Freedom of the City of Chichester with the honour being conferred in the park, one being RAF Tangmere (object 82) in 1960, another the Royal Sussex Regiment (Object 74).
A support group was established in 2004 by the Chichester District Council and is now called the ‘Friends of Priory Park and Jubilee Gardens’ as its remit now includes the Jubilee Gardens.
Splendidly illustrated and furnished with an extensive index and references for those wishing to delve further, Alan’s book also provides a window on the life and times of the broader Chichester community.
It is published by Phillimore Book Publishing at £15 and copies are available from Kim’s bookshop, Waterstones, West Sussex Record Office and the Novium.
(1) The cartographic town plan was that of George Loader surveyed in 1812
(2) The illustration comes from ‘A Gentleman at Chichester’ A full and Genuine History of the Inhuman and Unparalleled Murders of Mr William Galley etc etc London, 1749
(3) Image from West Sussex Record Office
(4) Image from Alan Green
(5) Image from Chichester City Council