Chichester - a capital city in every way

PUBLISHED: 16:55 29 November 2010 | UPDATED: 18:04 20 February 2013

Chichester - a capital city in every way

Chichester - a capital city in every way

A look at the county town of West Sussex and its varied history.

Early History

Human occupation of land around Chichester dates back at least half a million years. Archaeological excavations at Boxgrove, about four miles from the city centre, found a shinbone and two teeth belonging to a hominid called Homo Heidelbergensis who lived before the great Ice Age. The archaeologists found the remains of a slaughtered horse and rhinoceros as well.
Fast forward 500,000 years and onto the invasion of 43AD. It is now believed that the invasion could have happened at Chichester harbour rather than in Kent.
Once established, the Romans set up a town on the site of an army base on the line of the Roman road, now called Stane Street, between Chichester Harbour and Pulborough.
The town had a forum, classical temples, public bath houses and an amphitheatre, as well as homes with water supplies and drainage. Large cemeteries were established on the edges of the town. Fashionable Roman pottery and other luxury items were produced at factories within the town, while some of the buildings received mosaic floors constructed by the craftsmen who had originally been brought to Britain to work at Fishbourne Palace.
By the early fourth century a wall with defensive gates and bastions had been built around the town. A new pattern of streets was laid out based around four main streets leading from the gates to the forum at the centre of town. Roads ran out of each gate to connect the town to the surrounding countryside and other major Roman towns and ports. The Roman streets eventually became the basis for todays pattern of North, South, West and East Streets. No Saxon remains have been found in Chichester but a story dating from 895 tells of a fifth century warrior Cissa arriving with his brothers Cymen and Wlencing and father Aelle by boat to found Cissa-caestre. The district museum does not believe that the story is based on fact and Chichester did not begin to retain its position as a trade centre until the ninth century.
Chichester developed quickly under the Normans after the invasion of 1066. In 1107 Henry I gave the Bishop of Chichester the right to hold a yearly fair. Now called the Sloe Fair it is held on the 20th October each year. A twice-weekly market was established in the 12th century and Chichester was given a Royal Charter by King Stephen in 1135.

A place to fill up

There are plenty of places to wine and dine in Chichester. For a great view of the cathedral through its glazed roof, why not have a bite inside in the Cloisters Caf. Or if you're visiting the Festival Theatre or just fancy French cuisine, pop into Comme Ca in Broyle Road. North Street is well served with The Dining Room at Purchases, set in the beautiful Georgian mansion of what used to be the countrys oldest wine merchant, Arthur Purchase & Son ,or if you fancy a gastropub why not try the George and Dragon, further down the road?
If healthy eating is your thing, then pop along to the organic, vegetarian delights of the St Martins Tearooms in St Martins Street. Or if the Georgian delights there are too modern then why not try The Buttery at the Crypt next to the Cathedral and dating back to the 12th Century. Slightly further afield there is West Stoke House, a restaurant with rooms, around three miles from the city centre, that has the proud boast that calling West Stoke house a B&B is like calling Harvey Nichols a dress shop. If you love fish then make a beeline for The Fish House, another restaurant with a hotel attached! All the rooms are named after famous fishing ports to keep with the seafood theme. The Fish House is at Chilgrove on the B2141 about six miles from the city.

Places to stay

If you want to be right at the heart of the city, why not try The Ship in North Street, the only hotel within the old Roman city walls. The hotel was recently refurbished and has 36 bedrooms. If you are visiting Goodwood, or futher afield, then try the Goodwood Hotel, at the heart of the estate. If you stay overnight you can also try The Kennels, the estates exclusive clubhouse for its golfing or racing members.

Chichester is a shopping hotspot with many fine independent businesses for everything from jewellery to bonsai trees. If you are looking for jewellery, why not try R L Austen in North Street. The store dates back to 1794 originally under the name E.H. Lewis. The business was bought by Dickie Austen, a fighter pilot and gemmologist in September 1964, and changed the name to R. L. Austen Ltd. If you want flowers try Blooms in Little London. If you fancy taking up shooting or just want some clothes to keep you warm and dry, why not pop along to the Chichester Armoury in West Street. If you are looking for antiques or fine art, you could try a sale at Henry Adams Auctioneers at Baffins Lane. For the bonsai, you have to go a little out of town to the Little Oak Bonsai and Plantasia Garden Centre in Street End Lane, Sidlesham, about four miles to the south of the city.

Chichester Festival Theatre

Since it opened in 1962 the Festival Theatre, set in the beautiful surroundings of Oaklands Park, has become one of the leading regional venues in the UK.
It must have helped that the first artistic director was Laurence Olivier. The theatre, which seats 1,206, was founded by Leslie Evershed-Martin CBE. The smaller Minerva Theatre, seating 283, opened in 1989.
Architects have been commissioned to carry out a study of the theatre, designed by Philip Powell and Hidalgo Moya and revolutionary in its time. The conservation management study is to evaluate the building's historic, architectural and cultural significance as its 50th anniversary approaches.
The Festival Theatre is one of the few post-war buildings to be designated as Grade II* listed.
Chichester Festival Theatre Executive Director Alan Finch, acknowledged that, as it nears a half-century, the theatre is beginning to show signs of ageing. The building is now operating well beyond its capacity both in terms of backstage facilities but also front of house. We would really like to reinstate the lost seating either side of the thrust stage and return the capacity to its original 1350 seats.
We need to assess the environmental aspects of the continuing operation and think about today's expectations. We urgently need to improve access into the auditorium and think about renewing ageing lift equipment. Our concrete building also needs attention if it is to survive the next 50 years.
We are considering all of this while acutely aware that cuts to arts funding and the continuing recession will present us with great challenges in the years ahead. The Study will help the theatre safeguard and develop an important heritage site that is of great economic significance for Chichester, the region and beyond.
It is anticipated that architects Haworth Tompkins, whose previous theatre projects include the Young Vic, the National Theatre and Liverpool Everyman, will have completed the study and identified future options by Spring 2011.
Theatre staff will then consult widely on possible plans with artists, staff, supporters and the wider community throughout next summer.

Nicholas Frayling
Dean of Chichester
I moved to Chichester in 2002 with great trepidation! Having ministered in the centre of Liverpool for 19 years, and lived in Toxteth for 15, I felt the culture shock would be great and it was!
I need not have worried. I have found Chichester to be an attractive, pocket-sized city, which has kept its historic centre and human scale. I received a warm welcome, but I am never sure how to respond when people say, Liverpool, that must have been a challenge. I want to reply Not as much as ministering in affluent West Sussex, but politeness usually wins.
Most of all, I love the fact that the city has grown around the historic Cathedral, which witnesses to the presence of God at the heart of human life.

Alan Finch, Executive Director of Chichester Festival Theatre
The Roman wall encloses a small but vibrant city where you can see some of the best exhibitions of contemporary art at Pallant House Gallery almost next to the beautiful mediaeval Cathedral. Chichester Festival Theatre in its parkland setting, loved by casts, creative teams, national and international visitors who come for each Festival is at the centre of an extraordinary cultural hub for the performing and visual arts and crafts, including the Cass Sculpture Foundation, the Weald & Downland Open Air Museum (where Chichester Festival Youth Theatre performed this summer), West Dean College and The University of Chichester. All of this within a short distance of the sea and the South Downs. With thanks to George Gershwin: Who could ask for anything more?

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