Category Archives: Heritage Trails

Chichester merits UNESCO World Heritage Status

Why we believe Chichester merits consideration

When one studies William Gardner’s map of the City of Chichester dated 1769 it becomes clear how little of the really important elements of our great City have actually changed over all the years.














Nairn and Pevsner in their 1965 edition of the Buildings of England record that the Romans occupied Chichester almost immediately after the conquest and encircled its 100 acres with a wall much of which remains today. It misses its four cardinal gates and perhaps these could be reinstated.

But within its walls lie not only the Cathedral, distant views of which are dominant within the largely flat landscape, but also its precincts, the Market Cross, St Mary’s Hospital and a plethora of Georgian architecture lining its medieval street pattern. Of all the periods of English building, none has surpassed the Georgian era and we have numerous examples of houses rebuilt from about 1700. Dr Thomas Sharp’s 1949 report Georgian City commissioned by the City Council includes the pertinent remark that ‘Chichester is a very special city indeed which probably holds more of the purity and true essence of its type than any now remaining in England. It is an important and irreplaceable part of the national heritage’.

The Chichester Society Executive Committee believes that this kind of history could make Chichester a prime candidate for UNESCO World Heritage Status when one considers the good fit we make with UNESCO’s criteria for selection spelt out below. It can take years to submit an application but these delays may be acceptable if Chichester becomes better known both nationally and internationally. Our September newsletter will be asking our members what they think.

Do you agree that we should try? Please let us have your comments

The Selection Criteria for Inclusion

To be included on the World Heritage List, sites must be of outstanding universal value and meet at least one out of ten selection criteria.

These criteria are explained in the Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention which, besides the text of the Convention, is the main working tool on World Heritage. The criteria are regularly revised by the Committee to reflect the evolution of the World Heritage concept itself.

Until the end of 2004, World Heritage sites were selected on the basis of six cultural and four natural criteria. With the adoption of the revised Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention, only one set of ten criteria exists.

Selection criteria
  1. to represent a masterpiece of human creative genius;
  2. to exhibit an important interchange of human values, over a span of time or within a cultural area of the world, on developments in architecture or technology, monumental arts, town-planning or landscape design;
  3. to bear a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization which is living or which has disappeared;
  4. to be an outstanding example of a type of building, architectural or technological ensemble or landscape which illustrates (a) significant stage(s) in human history;
  5. to be an outstanding example of a traditional human settlement, land-use, or sea-use which is representative of a culture (or cultures), or human interaction with the environment especially when it has become vulnerable under the impact of irreversible change;
  6. to be directly or tangibly associated with events or living traditions, with ideas, or with beliefs, with artistic and literary works of outstanding universal significance. (The (UNESCO) Committee considers that this criterion should preferably be used in conjunction with other criteria);
  7. to contain superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance;
  8. to be outstanding examples representing major stages of earth’s history, including the record of life, significant on-going geological processes in the development of landforms, or significant geomorphic or physiographic features;
  9. to be outstanding examples representing significant on-going ecological and biological processes in the evolution and development of terrestrial, fresh water, coastal and marine ecosystems and communities of plants and animals;
  10. to contain the most important and significant natural habitats for in-situ conservation of biological diversity, including those containing threatened species of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science or conservation.

The protection, management, authenticity and integrity of properties are also important considerations. Since 1992 significant interactions between people and the natural environment have been recognized as cultural landscapes.

The extent of our history was captured in part by our Heritage Trails  -details of which are on our website here  where they are available in downloadable form or can be followed on a  smartphone or tablet as you walk around our City. Printed versions may be available from the Novium and other locations.

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

The Market Cross

City cross 1835Chichester’s Market Cross is rightly judged one of the most impressive in England (it’s rivals at Salisbury or Wyndmondham cannot really compete, as the first is clearly smaller and the second is of timber, not stone). It was commissioned and paid for in 1501 by Bishop Edward Storey, whose incumbency spanned the last years of the medieval and the first years of the Tudor periods. Perhaps there is symbolism to be found here? For not many years after Storey’s death in 1503, Thomas Cromwell’s agents, acting under the orders of Cromwell and Henry VIII, tore down the shrine of St. Richard in the cathedral and transported it away in several carts for their own enrichment. Times had changed dramatically in thirty years, and many people may have yearned for the ‘good old days’ of the medieval past (not, of course that they would have conceived it in those terms!)

The ButtermarketBishop Storey wished there to be a sheltered place in Chichester where honest tradesmen could be protected from the elements and so carry out their transactions without being drenched in rain or frozen by snow . The Cross was the focus on all such exchanges until the opening of the ‘Butter Market’ in North Street in 1807. But the opening of the new and more spacious building did not cause the old cross to become wholly redundant: it remained a focal point for informal business transactions and the focus for the social life of the city. Indeed rivalry and revelry could manifest itself around the cross. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, brawling and disputations were not uncommon, including those connected with the Whig/ Tory rivalry in the town. The following report from the West Sussex Gazette describes a rather less violent if discordant rivalry at the cross on New Year’s Eve in 1871:-

Our citizens have usually a demonstration round the ancient Cross on New Year’s Eve, and on Saturday last the muster numbered upwards of 400 men, women, and children, all chatting and laughing, and anxiously looking at the lighted face of the clock, as the minute hand gradually drew near its fellow, resting on the XII. The Christmas Band – a body of musicians partly recruited from the ranks of the Rifle Band, with several amateurs – had been engaged for the past week in playing at various houses in the City and neighbourhood, and on Saturday evening they perambulated the principal streets, playing merry tunes and followed by a great crowd. Having done the accustomed tour, they drew near the Cross, waiting for the hour to strike………But on Saturday night there were two [bands] in the field, for the Theatre Band has also hastened to the meeting place, and Mr Cooke’s musicians were determined to show their loyalty to the Queen and hearty greeting to the New Year. So when the hour began to strike the two bands struck up, the people shouted aloud, and cornet, double bass, and drum went heartily to work. Greatly in favour of noise, but wonderfully antagonistic to harmony, the two bands played different airs – one blew out with might and main the National Anthem, whilst the other as persistently struck up the much-loved hymn to friendship [Auld Lang Syne]. The din did not last long, however, and at the close, and when the hour was fairly rung out, and the year of grace 1871 ushered in, the mass of people, with one common impulse, began to move round the Cross, singing in unison “Should auld acquaintance be forgot,” and having completed circling the old edifice the third time, a hearty cheer arose, and then all rushed off to bed.”

While writing out this quotation, Thomas Hardy’s ‘Under the Greenwood Tree’ came to my mind and the Mellstock Village Band that toured the village during the festive season, to a mixed reception. Interestingly Hardy’s novel was published in 1872, the year after the musical cacophony described at Chichester – I wonder if a copy of the West Sussex Gazette could have passed across Hardy’s desk that year?

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!


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



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


Alison 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.


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.

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.


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






The Four Chesnuts

The Four Chesnuts, 234 Oving Road

Many visitors to this pub must assume the licensees can’t spell – surely the pub should be called ‘The Four Chestnuts,’ with a ‘t’? However it turns out that the spelling is quite deliberate.

It was spelt without a ‘t’ in the early  nineteen century, although a ‘t’ was added in more recent times. About thirty years ago the pub was taken over  by Jeff Glass and Carol Thackeray, and they decided to revert back to the original spelling, telling a local reporter that they liked the idea of going “back to ye olde English,” – adding, “The new signs are staying as they are, even if people say they are not spelt correctly.” And so it has remained.

The Chichester Punch


‘Punch’ was the most well read satirical magazine of the Victorian era. It commenced in the 1840s as a stout defender of Free Trade and Liberalism, although later turned to support the Conservatives.

In 1868 a version of the journal was started in Chichester under the name ‘The Chichester Punch’, claiming it was the ‘son’ of its ‘honoured father’, and that such a publication was needed to counter the Chichester Courier (forerunner of the Chichester Observer), which it dismissed as a ‘weak-ly’ paper.

The Chichester Punch claimed to have offices at ‘Punch Office’ in North Street. It would seem that its publication coincided with the General Election of 1868. It is not known whether publication continued after the election.

Thomas Pryer – A Lifelong Cicestrian

thomas-pryerThomas Pryer, lifelong resident of Chichester, was interviewed by the West Sussex Gazette in 1936, when he was 91 years old. The ‘Gazette claimed he was their oldest reader, who remembered when the ‘papers first edition was published in 1853.

Pryer remembered seeing old cottages that stood opposite the Cathedral in West Street being demolished. He attended the Oliver Whitby (‘Bluecoat School’) in West Street. He recalled that for supper they were given beer in ‘tin mugs’ and that in the morning the same mugs – unwashed – were filled with milk for breakfast.

He claimed that in his youth he met the great Free Trade advocate, Richard Cobden, and also Henry Manning, who would later find fame as Cardinal Manning – the first Roman Catholic cardinal in England since The  Reformation.

Memories of nineteenth century Chichester

An old resident was interviewed by the West Sussex Gazette back in 1887. His name was not given but it was said his memories went back ’70 or 80 years,’ to the start of the nineteenth century. This man remembered that the first gas lighting in Chichester was at The Cross in 1863, which was working in time to celebrate the wedding of the Prince of Wales that took place in that year.

The old man remembered the fairs that were held annually at St. Pancras and that that attracted people from a wide area. He recalled : “Now, at this fair it was a rare place for young men to buy their whips. And it was great fun to hear them snap their whips when they were walking about the town with their sweethearts, for of course, they always brought those in, and bought them new ribbons for their caps and bonnets.”

He also remembered the Henty Brewery, which is his youth was known as Humphries Brewery.

The White Horse Inn, Northgate

The White Horse Inn at Northgate closed many years ago, but it is known to have dated back to the mid-seventeenth century.

Rose Ruffle, who was born in 1916, remembered working at the White Horse when she was fourteen. She worked long hours for little pay, just four shillings (20p) a week.

Mr and Mrs Price ran the pub and treated their staff with some disdain, as Rose recalled: “I was the servant, they were the owners and that was that, and I would be there washing the glasses and cleaning up. They had their fish and chips after closing, while I was cleaning. They didn’t let me join them. It was like that in those days.

Rose’s father had died in the First World War, so she had to try and earn money to help her mother who was struggling on a meagre war pension.

The Shoe-maker poet

A humble Chichester shoe-maker, who left school at 11, went on to become a poet of some renown, as well as becoming sexton and verger of Chichester Cathedral. Charles Crocker was born in Chichester in 1797 of poor parents. At the age of seven he was fortunate enough to win a place at the city’s Grey Coat Charity School (not to be confused with the more famous Blue Coat school). Here he learned “those religious principles which have rendered my condition more than commonly blest”. At the age of eleven, Crocker was apprenticed to a Chichester shoemaker and remained in that employment until he was 47, latterly at a premises in Little London.

John Thelwall
John Thelwall

During these years, Crocker began to write poetry. He wrote of the landscape about him, including the trees and beauty spots he came to know and love so well. His two best received poems were ‘The British Oak’ and ‘Kingley Vale’. He found his inspiration in the poetry of Oliver Goldsmith, William Cowper, and the Chichester poet, William Collins. Crocker was hugely influenced by a lecture given in Chichester by the polymath and political reformer, John Thelwall, on the life and work of John Milton. This one lecture, Crocker later claimed, inspired him to write verse more than any book he ever read.

A Chichester doctor, John Forbes, befriended Crocker, and encouraged him to publish some of his poems. Crocker’s collection, ‘Kingley Vale and other Poems’, appeared in 1830, to much acclaim. In one poem, ‘Labour and the Muse’, Crocker described how verse came to his mind as he worked –

How sweetly pass the solitary hours,
When prison’d here with toil I sit and muse
My fancy roving ‘mong poetic flowers,
Delighted with their beauteous forms and hues.

John Forbes
John Forbes

Forbes went on to become Physician to the Queen’s Household and was knighted by Queen Victoria. It was perhaps through Forbes’ London connections that Crocker was introduced to Robert Southey, who declared that Crocker’s ‘The British Oak’, was “the finest, if not the finest [poem], in the English language”. Crocker was now earning a good living as a poet and in 1844 he finally gave up shoe-making.

Crocker did not leave his beloved Chichester for the bright lights of London, but actually rooted himself more deeply in the city and its history. He became both sexton and verger of Chichester Cathedral. In 1848 he published ‘Visit to Chichester Cathedral’, the first ever guide book to the cathedral. As he grew older, Crocker delighted in taking visitors around the cathedral and telling them of its history and showing them the shrines and ornaments of that ancient place of worship.

Collapsed_spireOn 21st February 1861, during restoration works, the spire of Chichester Cathedral collapsed – crashing into the nave. The scene of destruction made a deep impression on Crocker, who believed the spire to be the crowing glory of ‘his’ cathedral – superior even to Salisbury’s. The Sussex antiquarian, Mark Anthony Lower, who visited Crocker shortly afterwards, found his friend distraught by the calamity that had overtaken his beloved cathedral. He did not recover from the shock and died six months later on 6th October. Crocker’s funeral was an impressive sight. The great and the good of the city followed the cortege in silent tribute. One friend noted, “the fall of Chichester spire killed but one man and that man was Charles Crocker”.

In March 2014, a blue plaque to Charles Crocker was placed on Kim’s Bookshop in South Street, Chichester, where the poet died in 1861.

When the Civil War came to Chichester

Exterior view of Cawley Almshouse

It is said there is no war worse than a civil war, with communities and even families being divided against each other.

In December 1642, civil war came to Chichester. As King Charles I sought to wrest control of his kingdom from a rebellious parliament, armed conflict broke out across the country.

Chichester was a city divided, with prominent citizens taking up the cause of king and parliament respectively. One of the city’s MPs, William Cawley, well known in Chichester for establishing almshouses for the poor, was a stern critic of the king. Henry Chitty was another parliament man and Captain of the Trained Band of Chichester – a seventeenth century version of the Home Guard. Ranged against them were Sir William Morley, who lived in the Cathedral Close, and Sir Edward Ford, the High Sheriff of Sussex, who had only recently being elevated to his position by King Charles.

An uneasy truce between the two factions broke out into armed conflict and lead to the city being besieged and under bombardment for several weeks. Sir Edward Ford, who lived at Uppark, raised the county militia, in an effort to dislodge the parliamentary forces in Chichester. Although he was initially successful, his victory was short lived, as a superior force under General William Waller laid siege to the city.

The story of those frantic days in December 1642 forms the basis of the 6th Chichester Heritage Trail. For more information click here