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Honouring Admiral George Murray is important for Chichester

Local Historian Alan Green on George Murray’s life, and plans for a commissioned sculpture in the cit.

There can be few living in Chichester who have not now heard of Admiral Sir George Murray following the “Murrayfest” held in 2015 and the recent newspaper publicity about the proposed statue of Murray and Nelson by Chichester sculptor Vincent Gray. Admiral Murray’s importance to the country as a whole as the naval officer of whom Nelson famously said “Murray or none”, is well known, but why is he so important to Chichester as to justify his own statue?

Admiral Sir George Murray around 1815 by Charles Woolcott (Image: with thanks to Ian Murray)
To sea aged eleven

George was the middle one of three surviving sons of George and Ann Murray all of whom went on to become prominent citizens, much involved with the life of their native city following the example of their father who was an alderman.1  George was born in January 1759 and baptised at St Peter the Great on 16 April that year.2

In 1770, at the tender age of eleven, George Murray joined the Royal Navy, rising swiftly through the ranks. He served under Admiral Horatio Nelson at the Battle of Copenhagen in 1801 when the two men became very close friends. He was then sent to the Mediterranean serving as Captain of the Fleet under Nelson, and on 23 April 1804 he was promoted to rear admiral.

A rare photograph of Admiral Murray’s former house taken in the early 1930s (Author’s collection)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Naturally Murray spent most of his active service at sea but missed the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 as he had to remain ashore to sort out the estate of his late father in law; had Murray been at Trafalgar perhaps he, rather than Hardy could have been alongside Nelson when he died.

Life as a civilian

Admiral Murray made a significant impact on Chichester with the building of his grand new house on the corner of North Street and Guildhall Street (now The Ship, also known as the Harbour Hotel) between 1804 and 18063 John Marsh, that great Georgian diarist, obviously thought it rather pretentious when he recorded his first visit to the house on 7 February 1807:

On the next day we fix’d our first visit to Mrs G Murray at ye Admiral’s new House in North Street, term’d whilst it was building the Admiralty . There we met a large company in two rooms of six card tables, one of them a Commerce party of 13.4

After 1808 Admiral Murray did not go back to sea but instead became fully involved in the social life of his native city. John Marsh records several events at the house including the entertaining of royalty; the Prince and Princess of Hesse Hombourg no less (she the third daughter of George III) visited Chichester on 18 June 1818 and Marsh records that “[after] 2 & 3 o’clock… they went to breakfast at Sir G Murray’s”.5

He was also a member of the Book Society whose meetings were held at The Admiralty.

The entry on the mayoral boards in the Council Chamber recording George Murray’s year of office.
(Photo: Alan Green courtesy Chichester City Council)

George also followed his father in serving on the Corporation, but prior to this he was awarded the Freedom of the Merchants’ Guild by the Mayor in September 1800. In October 1802, he was nominated for the office of Portreeve and in September 1815 he was elected Mayor.6

Admiral Murray was clearly a man of great wealth whose income enabled him to live a lifestyle commensurate with the scale of his new house: he amassed a considerable wine cellar which was put up for auction on 27 July 1819 after his death and realised £672 15s 6d – equivalent to £47094 at today’s prices7. Not only that, he sent his son George to be educated at Winchester College which cost him some £45 per term in fees.8

George Murray died at his North Street home in Chichester on 28 February 1819 aged 60. John Marsh lamented the loss of his friend, recording with genuine feeling in his journal:

Besides the loss to the Corporation and our Book Society, a valuable member of each, the society in general of Chichester and its vicinity had a great loss, there being no-one who was more universally liked or esteemed.9

Whilst the funeral services of his two brothers were held in the church of St Peter the Great, which at that time was still in the north transept of the Cathedral, that of George, on 8 March 1819, took place in the Cathedral proper, after which he was buried in the Close in the area bound by the cloisters known as Paradise. 10

The unveiling of the blue plaque to Admiral Sir George Murray on the Ship Hotel by The Mayor of Chichester, Cllr Alan Chaplin, on 24 June 2013 (Photo Alan Green)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A fine monument to George, and his wife Ann who died in 1859, can be seen in the Sailors’ Chapel in the Cathedral. In 2013 a blue plaque to him was installed on the front of The Ship bearing those immortal words None but Murray will do.

The monument to Admiral Murray and his wife Ann in the Sailors’ Chapel in Chichester Cathedral (Photo Bob Wiggins)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vincent Gray’s statue of Nelson and Murray will stand opposite The Admiralty in the front garden of 40 North Street (now Jack Wills); appropriately, this was the house of George Murray’s elder brother Richard.

How the twin sculptures of Nelson and Murray will appear when placed on a plinth at 40 North Street, Chichester. Image: courtesy of Peter Robson Architect

 

  1. WSRO St Peter the Great, Chichester, Parish Records
  2. WSRO St Peter the Great, Chichester, Parish Records
  3. For a detailed history of the house see The Ship Hotel, Chichester built as the house of Admiral Sir George Mur – ray by Alan H J Green. New Chichester Paper No 6, Chich- ester Local History Society & The University of Chichester 2014
  4. John Marsh History of my Private Life. John Marsh was a wealthy barrister who moved to Chichester in 1787. Every day he wrote about three pages in his journal giving us an authentic – if at times somewhat acerbic – picture of life in a Georgian cathedral city
  5. John Marsh– op cit
  6. WSRO C/3 Chichester Common Council minute book 1783- 1826
  7. Ian Murray collection. A copy of the sale catalogue marked-up with the prices
  8. Ian Murray collection – a statement of Admiral Murray’s account with the college. £45 is equivalent to £3,150 today
  9. John March op cit 10. WSRO Cathedral Close burial register
  10. WSRO Cathedral Close burial register

(This article originally appeared in the September 2018 edition of the Society’s Newsletter)

Goodwood’s Motor Circuit – a glorious mix of tradition and technology

Jon Barnett, the Motor Circuit’s General Manager, describes the history and future of this historic site from War-time fighter station to iconic star of the British motor scene.

The Goodwood Motor Circuit Aerodrome began life as RAF Westhampnett, satellite airfield to RAF Tangmere  during the Second World War. However, this story begins before the outbreak of the war when the 9th Duke of Richmond and Gordon gifted this land to the war effort on 7 December 1938. It was designated as an Emergency Landing Ground. But with the fall of France in July 1940, Westhampnett received its first residents: the Hurricanes of 145 Squadron. Being one of the most southerly fighter stations, it was kept very busy, playing an important role in the Battle of Britain. Several well-known fighter aces flew from RAF Westhampnett including Douglas Bader, Johnny Johnson and ‘Cocky’ Dundas, as well as many Commonwealth pilots. By July 1942 the Americans had arrived: on the 26 July the 31 Fighter Group of the United States Army Air Force flew from RAF Westhampnett to join their British comrades in combat; they were the first US Fighter Group in the European theatre. But once the Allies moved across Europe, RAF Westhampnett’s importance declined. It was officially closed in 1946.

From airfield to race track

Goodwood’s race track had its beginnings with the original perimeter re-fuelling road for the Hurricanes and Spitfires in the years Westhampnett was a fighter station. How did this come about?  The 9th Duke of Richmond – Freddie March – was a renowned amateur racer who had won the Brooklands Double 12 in 1930, later going on – as an engineer – to design both March sports car bodies and aircraft. He was approached by his friend, Squadron Leader Tony Gaze, who had flown from Westhampnett during the war years. Tony had raced his old MG round the service road in his down time, using fuel from the planes! This is why Tony was so sure the road would make a great race track and why he suggested converting the perimeter road into a motor racing circuit. Freddie March seized upon the idea. It wasn’t long before the Duke and Duchess officially opened the track by driving around the Circuit in a Bristol 400, then Britain’s state-of-the-art sporting saloon. The date was 18 September 1948, a Saturday. (The NHS was two months old).

Racing in the early days of the Goodwood Motor Circuit before closing in 1966

The response was rapturous, for the British public had been deprived of motor racing during the Second World War when Brooklands had been forced to close its doors in 1939. Huge demand for wheel-to-wheel competition saw 85 drivers and over 15,000 spectators turning up to Goodwood to support the UK’s first professionally-organised post- war motor racing event. Imagine the picturesque scene at the foot of the Downs steeped in heritage. This same venue has since witnessed some of motor racings greatest heroes in action, including Juan Manuel Fangio, John Surtees, Sir Jackie Stewart and Sir Stirling Moss.

The Motor Circuit closes

By 1966, the Duke could foresee that the rapidly changing nature of front-line motor racing would require Goodwood to make sizeable investment in physical changes to the venue in order to continue. By now in his mid-Sixties, and by nature disinclined to follow the expensive dictates of the ‘authorities’, the Duke opted instead to stop all motor racing. Both he and later his son did have the foresight, however, to ensure the circuit continued to be used, and therefore maintained, for testing, Sprints and other uses for the next 30 years.

A new chapter
The Goodwood Revival is all about style! (Photo by Dominic James)

On 18 September 1998, exactly 50 years to the day since the Goodwood Circuit first opened, the 9th Duke’s grandson, the present Duke of Richmond, re-opened the Circuit in spectacular fashion – using a Bristol 400 identical to the model his grandfather had used half a century earlier. This was the very first Goodwood Revival meeting for which preparation had been meticulous, the Circuit restored to look exactly as it did in its heyday, down to the very last detail. Since then the Goodwood Revival has been held every year: thrilling wheel-to-wheel racing with some of the most valuable grid selections in the world, dancing to the sounds of rock ‘n’ roll, the joy of the fun fair and the smell of engines mingled with perfume. Experience the Goodwood Revival and you experience the romance and glamour of motor racing as it used to be: a step back in time to the years between 1948 and 1966, when the joys of motor racing allowed the post-war world to kick off its heels  and have a jolly good time.

The Circuit today

In addition to Goodwood’s Revival, the circuit today is a hub of activity year-round, now also hosting the two-day Goodwood Members’ Meeting in March. This weekend recaptures the atmosphere and camaraderie of the original British Automobile Racing Club meetings held from 1949 to 1966. But there is more, such as Motor Sports Association Sprints, Car Club Track Days and Manufacturer Press Days. Members of the public and corporate groups can get behind the wheel of their own car or choose to drive one from the Goodwood fleet, like the entire BMW M Performance range; or there is an eclectic mix of 1960’s classics including an Alfa, Porsche, Ford Falcon and MG amongst others.  Moving on – new experiences.

Chance to drive one of their classic Land Rovers

Goodwood’s Motor Circuit continues to evolve and a new addition this year has been the introduction of a fleet of six classic Series 2 Land Rovers. To understand the world’s love affair with the Land Rover, you need to drive one and preferably drive a classic. So we offer the chance to drive off-road across the Downs on farm and forest tracks. We make no bones about it, these vehicles have seen life and they have character and patina, which makes them totally unique. As quintessentially British as a plate of fish and chips, the boxy, utilitarian Land Rover has become an iconic part of what it is to be British.

(This article originally appeared in the September 2018 issue of the Society’s Newsletter)

A-Z of Chichester – an alphabetical guide to Chichester

Fancy a journey to Chichester’s ‘Little Ice Age’, a plunge in ‘Roman Baths’ or an introduction to needle making in the City? Then this book might be right for you. Local historian Philip MacDougall is the author of Amberley Publishing’s latest book from their A-Z series, this one dealing with Chichester. Within its 96 pages Philip spans the history of the City from the iron age to the present day providing over 70 snippets about places, people, events and curios.

The format (as for all A-Z titles) is an alphabetical list of topics with cross-referencing taking the place of the traditional book index – saving time in preparation perhaps but losing the facility to find that elusive information. Thus, if seeking information about Shippams you would not know that one entry can be found under ’Quintessentially English’.

As to examples of other entries the ‘ Es’ cover the history of ‘Eastgate Gail’, venues of ‘Entertainment’ throughout the years and the housing of ‘Evacuees’ during the second world war with highlighted cross references to the ‘Little Ice Age’, the ‘Corn Exchange’, ‘Sloe Fair’ and the ‘Council House’ for example.

The Market Cross in 18th century

The `Cs’ include the history of the ‘Caledonian Ironworks’, the ‘Canal Basin’ and the ‘Corn Exchange’ and introduce two local personalities, member of Parliament and benefactor Sir William ‘Cawley’ and local poet Charles ‘Crocker’ and include cross references to ‘Union Workhouse’ and ‘Smith Brothers’.

Locations in the City for such as these are often provided but it would have helped the visitor if a street map or some illustrative schematic of the City had been included to aid orientation (this lack also seems to be a feature of all A-Z titles). Having relied on an alphabetical listing the issue arises as to how to deal with the less common letters ‘X’ and ‘Z’ for example. For the former the entry is ‘Xmas Delight’ describing Ernest Shippam’s gifts and support to those of his staff who enlisted in the First World War. This war theme continues under the entries ‘Zeppelin’ and ‘Zealous and Passionate for War’.

The Selsey Tram (we need one now!)

The author acknowledges in his introduction that the book provides a light touch to Chichester’s history so those wanting further information or more of an academic study are pointed to other book titles of local interest. Those seeking an easy read and a ‘wetting of the appetite’ to delve further may find £14.99 well spent on this publication and a useful addition to other A-Z titles that they might have already acquired.

The title can be purchased direct from Amberley Publshing at www.amberley-books.com or,  if in Chichester, from Waterstones in West Street or Kim’s bookshop in South Street, the latter being an antiquarian and specialist bookseller where you will certainly find a treasure trove of local interest publications.

‘Priory Park – Its story in 100 objects’ by Alan Green

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.

‘Friary’ Park 1812 (object 21) (1)

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).

Hawkhurst Gang (object 16) (1)

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).

Progamme of entertainment (object 46) (3)

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.

Fenwicks Cafe (object 94) (4)

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).

Freedom of the City (object 74) (5)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Acknowledgements
(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

Chichester; the good, the bad and the ugly

– two contrasting views on the city c.1900

These two line drawings by Arthur Evershed show scenes from Chichester now outside of living memory – but only just. What was Chichester like at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries?

Cathedral from South Street 1895

Two highly respected writers of their day, W.H.Hudson and E.V.Lucas visited Chichester a few years after Evershed made his sketches and they have left two very different impressions of the city, which only goes to show that beauty, both of man and building, rests in the eye of the beholder!

Chichester is a perfect example of an English rural capital, thronged on market days with tilt carts bringing a farmer or farmer’s wife, and rich in those well-thronged ironmongers’ shops that one never sees elsewhere. But it is more than this: it is also a cathedral town, with the ever present sense of dominion by the cloth even when the cloth [the clergy] is not visible. …..Whatever noise may be in the air you know in your heart that quietude is its true characteristic. One might say that above the loudest street cries you are continually conscious of the silence of the [Cathedral] close.
E.V.Lucas, Highways and Byways of Sussex, 1903

There are 12,000 souls in the town; that is to say, an adult population of 3000. This number includes a rather large body of clergymen and ministers, and perhaps a couple of hundred highly respectable persons who do not go to bars. To provide this village population with drink there are seventy public-houses, besides several wine and spirit merchants, and grocers with licences. To keep all these houses open, all these taps perpetually running, there must be an immense quantity of liquor consumed. At eight o’clock in the morning you will find men at all the bars, often in groups of three or four or half a dozen, standing, pipe in mouth and tankard in hand; and at eleven at night, when closing-time comes, out of every door a goodly crowd of citizens are seen stumbling forth, surprised and sorry, no doubt, that the day has ended so soon. In the streets, near the railway station, at the Market Cross, and at various corners, you will see groups of the most utterly drink-degraded wretches it is possible to find anywhere in the kingdom…..
W.H.Hudson, Nature in Downland, 1900

Market House (Butter Market) and its ‘cap and crown` on facade

Why has the Butter Market the emblem of a cap and a crown on its facade?

Two of the city’s leading historians, Alan Green and Andrew Berriman provided some answers

Firstly, Alan has suggested that we should refer to the building as the Market House rather than Butter Market.

As far as ideas on the ‘cap and crown’, no one knows for sure but here are a number of possibilities:

Eleanor Coade, the female sculptor of the period is believed to have created the montage. Did she have revolutionary sympathies perhaps? Suggesting that the ‘cap of liberty’ would triumph over the crown? This was the era of the wars with Napoleon, but there is no reason to believe that Coade had such sympathies and even less reason to believe that the city authorities would have tolerated such sentiments being adorned on a public building!

At the time the Market House was being built French prisoners of war were being employed building a great flint wall around the Goodwood estate, so is the ‘cap’ a token of thanks to them? Again, doubtful, they were enemy prisoners and not doing it out of love!

John Wilkes, the radical agitator often sported a ‘cap of liberty,’ and he had quite a following locally – The Wilkes Head at Eastergate is still named after him. But his campaigning days were in the 1760s and 70s and he died in 1797, over decade before the Market House was built, so that does not add up either.

Andrew has pointed out that the cap of liberty dates back to Roman times and was awarded to free slaves so they could demonstrate their new won freedom – it is an ancient symbol. Could it, therefore, represent the new freedom given to the market traders? No longer would they have to shelter under the old cross, as wind and rain blew at them from all directions? Now they could take their comfort inside the new building. It is only a thought? Perhaps others have their own ideas? If so, please let us know!

**ADDENDUM**

Local historian, Alan Green has suggested a further theory for the ‘cap and crown’ emblem on the Market House in North Street:

Eleanor Coade was actually a manufacturer of artificial stone products (rather than a sculptor) and her catalogue includes statues and garden ornaments as well as architectural mouldings. All these were cast in moulds allowing mass production. It is my theory that the base of the Market House insignia was made up using her stock moulds which happened to include one of crossed maces, one of which had the cap of liberty. This had absolutely no significance to the Chichester crest but she obviously thought it made a good composition.

 

St Mary’s Almshouses – a deadly tale

St. Mary’s Almshouses (also known as St. Mary’s Hospital) is one of the most outstanding medieval buildings in Sussex. The building on the current site off St. Martin’s Square dates back to 1269, but an earlier building is believed to have stood not far from the present-day Market Cross at least a century before.

St. Mary's, medieval almshousesThe current building is a fine medieval tithe-barn type structure, that consists of a chapel and a series of small self-contained flatlets for poor widows of the city deemed to be worthy of charitable shelter. The running of the almshouses has not always been as it should. Following the fall of the city to Parliamentary forces during the English Civil War, puritan reformers sought to ensure that the funds of the hospital were directed towards the residents rather than into the pockets of the warden and the trustees. Similar concerns were still being raised over one hundred years later.

Today there are no such qualms and the charity is one of the oldest and most respected in the country.

In 1868, pioneering folklorist, Charlotte Latham, referred to St. Mary’s in her seminal work on the superstitions she still found ‘lingering’ in West Sussex. One superstition she recorded was the belief that after a death the front door of the deceased’s home must remain open until their burial, otherwise another death was sure follow.

A short time ago a death occurred in the St. Mary’s Almshouses at Chichester; and on the morning of the funeral, as soon as the body had been carried out, the niece of the deceased locked the door of the apartment, and had hardly done so when she heard the inmates of the Almshouses thumping and rattling it to force in open. On finding all their efforts useless, one of them exclaimed, “Hang that good-for-nothing woman! her locking this door before the old girl is buried will bring death among us pretty soon again.”

St. Mary’s is open to the public but only by prior appointment. Telephone 01243 783377

 

**ADDENDUM**

One lady who does not want her name used on Facebook or the web, but whom we can call ‘an old inhabitant of Chichester,’ wrote –

Your article about St Mary’s reminded me of the annual Harvest festival offerings at the Tower Street Primary school – now the site of the Novium. Every year a crocodile of pupils took food stuffs to the old ladies in the almshouses.  In the 1950s the inmates had a small cell like area about 10′ x 10 ft for their bed, cupboard etc off the nave.  There were rows of them each side.  There were dividing partitions but no ceilings as such.

We also had an annual Christmas nativity play in the school.  Bishop Bell invariably attended and as an angel – bit of miscasting there! – but with blonde hair down to my waist I was patted on the head in a paternal manner.

St-Marys_HospitalAndrew Berriman says that from his research he is sure that St. Mary’s – on its present site – was built in 1290. He has also supplied the attached illustration.

The Druid, Coade Stone and Alison Kelly

the-druidAlison Kelly who died in October 2016, was the architectural historian who researched Mrs Coade and her famous stone and helped rescue this pioneering eighteenth century woman from obscurity. Mrs Coade is believed to be responsible in Chichester for the crest on the Market House and ‘The Druid’ in Priory Park (who originally stood by in the city centre.)

Photo of the Druid courtesy of the Chichester Observer who campaigned for its preservation.


Alison Keyy Obituary - October 2016

The Unicorn

The Unicorn was one of the great pubs of old Chichester. It was famous for its catering at a time when very few pubs offered meals. The photograph from 1911 shows Christmas dinners being taken from the Unicorn to be delivered to the elderly widows living in Dear’s Almshouses. The dinners were paid for and delivered by members of the Corporation of St. Pancras – a mock corporation set up to celebrate the accession to the throne in 1689 of William of Orange following the overthrow of the Roman Catholic, James II. The St. Pancras district of Chichester had a long association with radical Protestantism dating back to the siege of the city during the English Civil War in 1642.

The old Unicorn was demolished and replaced by a new building in 1938, which later became newspaper offices, following the closure of the new Unicorn.

Pat Saunders, one of the research volunteers on the Chichester Heritage Trails project has done much original research on the inns and pubs of Chichester. This is what she has found out about The Unicorn –

Minerva Studios
The building during the time that it was leased to the Chichester Festival Theatre and known as the Minerva Studios.

The Unicorn in the picture above was demolished in 1937 and replaced by the present Art Deco building (left) which remained The Unicorn for a further 23 years. It was leased in 1962 to The Festival Theatre who renamed it Minerva Studios. Props continued to be made there until all operations were concentrated on the main Festival Theatre site. Between 1994 and 2015 it became offices for the Chichester Observer newspaper and the building will soon become a Sainsbury’s Local.

During the English Civil War all the buildings in the Eastgate area were raised to the ground by the forces of General Waller, including St Pancras Church. There had previously been an inn there (No 1 Eastgate square) The Lion. The Unicorn was built around 1670 to replace a victualling house in the occupation of Humphrey Collins.

In 1689 the Unicorn became the headquarters for the Mayor and Corporation of St Pancras, a charitable dining club set up to celebrate the Accession of William III and Mary II. Much of the inn was rebuilt in 1760. By 1807 the property passed to the brewers Humphreys of Westgate and later the Henty’s. In 1938 it was demolished again and rebuilt on the back of the old site. During the Second World War the landlord Arthur King always had a warm welcome for the RAF who came into town from Tangmere. They were drawn to a little upstairs bar with its walls crowded with signed photographs of Aces and RAF groups so that it was known as the Heroes Room. One regular was Douglas Bader.

In the 1950s the Unicorn was run by Doug and Kay Harcourt. They employed a part-time steward and chef, Frederick Phillips. They provided good value for money. Being close to St Pancras Church the pub held a lot of receptions for weddings, christenings and funerals, plus diners for the Mayor and Corporation of St Pancras.

Doug Harcourt was born in 1916 at Croydon; he left school at 15 to be an apprentice toolmaker and fitter but joined the Navy after a year. He transferred to the Fleet Air arm in 1936; then in 1942 as there was a shortage of pilots he transferred into the RAF. When he was demobbed in 1945 he went into the hotel business. He married Kay Durham in 1947 and their son Michael was born the following year. As a family they moved to the Unicorn in 1951. After the Unicorn was closed in 1960 they moved to Barnham to run the Railway hotel. Doug retired in 1981; he died in 2009.

Chris Hare interviewed Doug Harcourt in 1999. Here he describes the Christmas savings of ‘tontine’ club that he ran at The Unicorn. He also remembers how different pub catering was in the 1950s to today. The interview extract is verbatim – transcribed exactly from the recording

The whole thing was, when we went there we had a tontine which people paid into and the brewery gave us interest on. Also, that was amazing, everybody paid in and had their Christmas money, you know. And it was paid into the bank and they gave us a good interest on it, and then of course a good party when we paid out at Christmastime. And the other thing was, there was much more – you see, we had a public bar, a private bar, and originally we had a ‘bottle and jug’ where people come in with their jug to get some beer. It was a focal point because you didn’t have television and things like that. And the other great difference of course was, there was ourselves, Kimbels in North Street which would cater for big parties, the Dolphin, and that was about all. Now every pub does catering, all the pubs up until the ‘60s, in all the pubs it was a wrapped pork pie and a packet of crisps. I mean, you didn’t have to do anything else. But now, also every sports and social club caters for outside parties. 

We would welcome any memories about The Unicorn, The Corporation of St. Pancras, the use of the new building by Chichester Festival Theatre or Doug Harcourt and his family.

John Keats and the Eve of St Agnes

KeatsOne cold winter in January 1819, the youthful poet, John Keats, found himself staying with friends in Chichester at 11, Eastgate Square. He got into the habit of taking tea with an elderly lady who lived in the Vicar’s Hall in South Street. The crypt below the building – which still exists today and is a cafe – is believed to be the oldest domestic building in the city, dating back to the twelfth century.

the_cryptThe crypt has had a long and mysterious history. Before the Reformation it was used by the church and indeed, even in more recent times, old waxen effigies from the cathedral were stored in the crypt. The writer and naturalist, W.H. Hudson had a strange and disturbing vision here which he described in his chapter on Chichester in his book Nature in Downland.

Did Keats keep returning to visit the old woman because he valued her company or was it to soak up the atmosphere of this ancient building with its strong associations with the turbulent history of an ancient city? Whatever it was that called him to make these visits, it inspired one of the most evocative and mystical poems in the English language.

Inside_the_Crypt
Keats based his poem on the folk belief that a girl could see her future husband in a dream if she performed certain rites on the eve of St. Agnes (20th January); that is she would go to bed without any supper, undress herself so that she was completely naked and lie on her bed with her hands under the pillow and looking up to the heavens and not to look behind. Then the proposed husband would appear in her dream, kiss her, and feast with her. In the original version of his poem, Keats emphasized the young lovers’ sexuality, but his publishers, who feared public reaction, forced him to tone down the eroticism.

Does Madeline, the young woman of poem represent a pure spirit in a dark realm? Is her lover a real man or rather an ethereal spirit – her fantasy of manliness and sensuality?

The ‘beadsman’ is one of the leading characters in the poem. He is described as  an old man and retainer of ‘The Baron,’ whose purpose is to pray for the souls of his aristocratic master and his family. Then there is Angela, the old woman (perhaps based on the old woman Keats visited in Chichester?) who helps bring the young man to Madeline’s bedroom.

The chill of winter pervades the poem as does the dissolute condition of the Baron’s guests and servants: the only warmth is that created between the two young lovers. The poem ends with uncertainty. Do all the protagonists die or are they elevated to new life? Are we left feeling hope or despair? It is left to the reader to decide.

Most remarkable of all is that Keats was only 23 when he wrote The Eve of St Agnes and he was to die in Rome only three years later – weakened by illness and unconsummated love.

**ADDENDUM**

Local historian, Andrew Berriman, has told us that Keats was in Chichester from January 21st to January 23rd, 1819; in his diary he wrote that ‘I went out twice at Chichester to old dowager card parties‘; among these ladies was Mrs. Mary Lacy, who lived in the crypt below the Vicars’ Hall, with its mediaeval pillars and arches and diamond windows; in the poem he describes the maiden  Madeline as sleeping in just such a room while waiting to discover the identity of her future husband; Keats described the room as ‘pale, latticed, chill, and silent as a tomb’; no doubt based on the room in which he had played the then fashionable game of ‘loo’ with the ladies.

Andrew Berriman

Click here to read the poem The Eve of St Agnes by John Keats