What it’s like to live in Chichester
PUBLISHED: 10:29 13 December 2016
West Sussex’s only city is still booming with its combination of history and cutting edge culture. Duncan Hall finds out more
The A27 Chichester bypass is home of legendary tailbacks, with a ring of roundabouts to the south of the city leading to calls for a faster northern equivalent. Otherwise the A286 from Godalming and taking in Midhurst, or the A259 coast road both lead to the city’s central ring road.
Chichester has its own train station with regular direct trains to Brighton, London Victoria, Southampton, Portsmouth, Littlehampton and Horsham.
And the town is ridiculously well served by buses from Stagecoach, Compass, National Express, Emsworth & District and community transport companies Harting Minibus and Amberley and Slindon Community Bus.
Chichester is even accessible from the sea, with a range of sailing clubs based in Chichester Marina and Dell Quay.
Chichester’s importance in the south dates back to the Roman invasion in AD43. It was then known as Noviomagus Reginorum – a name which has since been part adopted by the local museum The Novium, which is located over the former Roman baths. The city was protected by a 6ft thick wall – parts of which can still be seen in the city’s parks. After the Romans left, the earliest written mention of Chichester is in a charter between King Ethelbert and Wilfrid, Bishop of Selsey which mentions the city by the name Cicestriae. It may have come from the name of a Saxon invader, Cissa. Chichester minted coins during the reign of early 10th century king Aethelstan, and a monastery is thought to have existed circa 956. The city, which was mentioned in the Domesday Book, prospered during the Norman Conquest. The first cathedral was built in 1091, although it suffered a series of fires in the 12th century and had to be rebuilt twice. A motte and bailey castle was also built in Priory Park by the French invaders, but was destroyed after the 13th century civil war.
Medieval Chichester became an important port, given the right to export wool, and a centre of cloth and needlemaking. The Market Cross was built in 1501 by Bishop Storey. During the 16th century the wool trade declined, and was replaced by malt and wheat as chief exports. During the English Civil War the town’s loyalties were split, and the city was taken first by the crown and then by Parliament. By the time of the first census in 1801 there were fewer than 5,000 people living there.
In common with the rest of the country the population of Chichester expanded through the 19th century. It had a piped water supply from 1875, and was connected by rail to Brighton and Portsmouth by 1847. A canal was also completed in 1855, but wasn’t a success and was closed by 1906. A rash of new building began in the 1960s, most notably the Chichester Festival Theatre which was created through public subscription. The town’s shopping arcades were built in the 1980s. It is now home to more than 24,000 people.
Annual festivals and events
Formerly known as Chichester Festivities, the Festival of Chichester takes over the city every summer, offering a family friendly programme of theatre shows, events and live music.
Chichester Cathedral hosts a Festival of Flowers every two years at the beginning of June, and host carol concerts and Christmas events throughout Advent.
Chichester Sloe Fair in Northgate car park has been taking place on 20 October since the early 12th century.
Chichester Cinema at New Park has an annual International Film Festival every August, which punches well above its weight with brand new premieres and carefully constructed retrospectives courtesy of founder Roger Gibson.
Nearby Goodwood hosts a series of events throughout the year, including several festivals of horseracing, the Festival of Speed, and the ever-popular vintage celebration Glorious Goodwood.
And down the road West Dean has a popular Chilli Fiesta in August and Apple Affair in October.
Jessie Younghusband Primary, Woodlands Lane, 01243 782192, Ofsted rating outstanding; Lancastrian Infants, Orchard Gardens, 01243 782818, Ofsted rating good; St Richard’s Catholic Primary, Cawley Road, 01243 784549, Ofsted rating good; Parklands Community Primary, Dumford Close, 01243 788630, Ofsted rating good; Rumboldswhyke C of E Infants, Rumbolds Close, 01243 782368, Ofsted rating good; Portfield Primary Academy, St James Road, 01243 783939, Ofsted rating good; West Dean C of E Primary, West Dean, 01243 811247, Ofsted rating outstanding; Aldingbourne Primary, Westergate Street, Westergate, 01243 542913, Ofsted rating outstanding.
Chichester High School, Kingsham Road, 01243 787014, Ofsted rating outstanding; Chichester Free School, Vinnetrow Road, Runcton, 01243 792690, Ofsted rating good; Bishop Luffa Church of England School, Bishop Luffa Close, 01243 787741, not yet inspected by Ofsted.
As well as all the facilities one might expect from a city – such as post offices and doctors’ surgeries – Chichester has its own university, a district general hospital St Richard’s, with A&E and maternity services, and a volunteer-run planetarium connected to the high school.
Chichester Festival Theatre and the smaller Minerva Theatre host cutting edge new theatre and popular musical and drama revivals through the summer, many of which transfer to the West End after being developed in-house. During the winter they host a touring programme of one-nighters and short residencies.
Pallant House Gallery in North Pallant is fast becoming one of the top contemporary art galleries outside London, having hosted critically acclaimed exhibitions about Peter Blake, Walter Sickert, Frida Khalo and Diego Rivera and British artists’ reactions to the Spanish Civil War. The Oxmarket Arts Centre in St Andrews Court also hosts free art exhibitions by local artists throughout the year.
The Novium in Tower Street is about to host its biggest exhibition to date celebrating the life and achievements of Commander Tim Peake on the International Space Station.
The town centre is a happy mix of chain shops and independent businesses stretching north, east, south and west from the Market Cross. There is also out-of-town shopping in Portfield Way with John Lewis at Home, M&S Simply Food, Staples, Pets at Home and Currys/PC World. Chichester Gate offers a Cineworld Cinema, bowling alley and range of fast food restaurants including McDonalds, Nando’s, Frankie and Benny’s and Gourmet Burger Kitchen. And another large shopping centre is opening in Barnfield Drive based around the existing Homebase store, with Wickes, Halfords and Iceland’s The Food Warehouse all recently opening their doors.
The city is packed with open spaces, including Oaklands Park, Priory Park and New Park as well as the Cathedral grounds.
And nearby Chichester Marina offers plenty of options for sailors and those seeking a bit of adventure.
Meet the neighbours
Chichester and its surrounding villages are home to Outnumbered star Hugh Dennis, best-selling author Kate Mosse, actress Patricia Routledge and DJ Tommy Boyd.
Other locals include Mercury Music Prize-winner Antony Hegarty (now known as Anohni), Brit Award-winning singer-songwriter Tom Odell, astronaut Tim Peake and the late Body Shop founder Anita Roddick.
As the only city in West Sussex, Chichester is home to Chichester District Council, which comes under West Sussex County Council. Its current MP is Conservative Andrew Tyrie.
Estate agent’s view
Chichester is becoming increasingly popular according to Alex Leigh, branch manager at Hamptons International in the city.
“People are gravitating towards the cities while the villages seem to be suffering,” he says. “There’s a real mix of families and downsizers who want the convenience of being close to a city. The prime locations are inside the city walls.
“It is a pretty, charming area – we have got the Waitrose effect with Marks and Spencer, a good range of restaurants, the theatres and the New Park Cinema. Goodwood and the West Wittering beaches are nearby, so there are lots of wider attractions. There is a good selection of state and private schools with Westbourne House, Prebendal and Oakwood nearby.”