Over the centuries many talented people have either lived in Chichester or had close connections with the city. Some of them are still household names, while others have become more obscure. You will find here writers, artists, philanthropists, and holy men. Hopefully you will be inspired to read further about these diverse but talented personalities. One not included in the Trail is Fanny Cornforth the model, muse and mistress of the Pre-Raphaelite painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti – her life is described below.
Below is an interactive map for Trail 8 covering Chichester personalities. Note – there has been a change to the route from stop 9 compared to the printed version of the Trail and additional pictures and information have been added.
To view the map you are recommended to enlarge it by clicking on the four-cornered symbol in the top right hand corner. Start by clicking on the pedestrian and follow the instructions moving from marker to marker.
Fanny Cornforth (1835–1909) was the model, muse and mistress of the Pre-Raphaelite painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti. After the death of Rossetti’s wife, Elizabeth Siddal in 1862, Cornforth moved in as Rossetti’s housekeeper. She later fell on hard times and ended her life at Graylingwell Hospital (the West Sussex County Asylum), on the outskirts of Chichester.
Cornforth was born Sarah Cox, the daughter of a Steyning blacksmith. As a young woman she worked in service in Brighton. It is believed that she first met Rossetti in 1858. The circumstances are not clear, but she already had one marriage behind her, to a man named Hughes. She had, for whatever reason, adopted the alias Fanny Cornforth. Rossetti saw in her his feminine ideal: her image appears in some of Rossetti’s most famous paintings, including, Lady Lilith, Fair Rosamund, Bocca Baciata, and The Blue Bower.
By 1876 Rossetti, addicted to drugs and in declining health, was an increasing concern to his family, who stepped in to care for him. The family sought to limit the contact between Rossetti and Cornforth.
In 1879, Cornforth married a publican called John Schott and together they ran a pub called The Rose Tavern in Westminster. Yet Cornforth continued to see Rossetti, accompanying him on a trip to Cumbria in 1881. The following year Rossetti died. Before his death he gave Cornforth a number of his paintings. In the following years she was able to sell these paintings to secure extra income for herself and her husband.
John Schott died in 1891, followed eight years later by his stepson, with whom Cornforth continued to live. She then returned to Sussex. Her sister-in-law through Rossetti, Rosa Villiers, does seem to have given Cornforth limited support, but by 1905, Cornforth was living in the workhouse at Chichester. Two years later, under her married name of Sarah Hughes, she was admitted to the county asylum, where she was diagnosed with dementia. Nothing was known of her background at the time and her later life remained shrouded in mystery until details about her final years in Chichester were discovered in 2015. She died in 1909 and was buried in an unmarked grave in Chichester Cemetery: a sad end for a woman once known to the Pre-Raphaelite artists as ‘The Stunner.’
Further information on Fanny Cornforth and some of the other people included in this trail leaflet can be found at West Sussex Record Office and Chichester Library.