Chichester once had nine parish churches, catering for a population, that in the seventeenth century, did not exceed 2,000 inhabitants. Today only two of these churches, St Paul’s, and St Pancras, are still open for worship. As well as the Anglican churches, there were a number of nonconformist chapels that are also included in this trail. Churches and their clergy played a pivotal role in the life of the city. A person’s social standing, as well as their piety, could be judged by the church they attended. Anglicans, Methodists, and Baptists often lived separate social as well as religious lives. The city’s Roman Catholics were the most marginalised of all religious denominations – a situation that persisted within living memory.
The digital trail is updated as necessary so the contents will differ from the original paper-based trail, a pdf of the original printed trail is available here. First, however, you may wish to read a short biography of a notable personage who became sexton and verger at the Cathedral.
The Shoemaker poet
A humble Chichester shoemaker, who left school at eleven, 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 forty-seven, latterly at a premises in Little London.
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, Wiliam 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.
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 ‘To the British Oak’, was “one of 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 shoemaking.
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. The collapse of the cathedral spire in 1861 greatly distressed Crocker, and it was said to have contributed to his untimely death later that year.
Crocker lived at 28 South Street and today there is a blue plaque on the building that commemorates his life in the city.
To view the map you are recommended to enlarge it by clicking on the four-cornered symbol in the top right hand corner. Note that some additional information has been provided for stop 3 St Cyriac’s from here
Your starting point is the pedestrian symbol in West Street. Click on marker 1 and follow the trail line and marker numbers in sequence clicking on each marker for more information about the building or object.