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Bed and breakfast availability
Chichester b&b, guesthouse and hotel accommodation

Chichester in West Sussex

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Chichester, Sussex. The county town of West Sussex, Chichester is also a cathedral city. It is an ancient place. The Romans, to whom it was known as Noviomagus, established an important base here on their landing in A.D. 43. There is much evidence of their presence, especially in the substantial remains of their defensive walls and one bastion; also at Fishbourne, where a palace, the largest Roman building yet uncovered in Britain, was discovered in 1960. The Saxons subsequently established themselves here. Aella, the first king of the South Saxons, gave the ceaster, as they called Roman towns, to Cissa - according to tradition his son. Cissa's Ceaster (both words pronounced with a ‘ch’) eventually became Chichester. The city's history has been generally peaceful and prosperous. All trace of its only castle, demolished in the 13th century, has disappeared, except for the mound on which it stood. The only serious disturbances were the two sieges of the Civil War, both comparatively short.

There are some old buildings in the city, but it is chiefly notable for its Georgian architecture, especially in a delightful street called Little London. The area known as the Pallants is graced by excellent town houses. It is quite easy for visitors to find their way around Chichester. It is divided into four parts by four major thoroughfares, East, West, North and South Streets, all meeting at a point dominated by the Market Cross, an ideal centre from which to tour on foot.

The Market Cross is imposing and complex, and described as the finest structure of its type in the country. Built at the end of the 15th century, it was a gift to the city by Edward Story, Bishop of Chichester from 1478 to 1503; it is sometimes called Bishop Story's Cross. It has undergone alteration over the centuries and has now been restored, but it largely retains its original form and character. It is an open-arcaded octagonal structure of Caen stone, with a massive central pillar from which spring flying buttresses. The whole is topped by an octagonal stone cupola rising to a height of 50 ft. It has fine stonework and makes a Chichester landmark.

Chichester Cathedral is substantially the church erected by Ralph Luffa, who was bishop from 1091 to 1123, although there have been many alterations and additions since then. The see was originally at Selsey, but was transferred to Chichester in 1075. The cathedral was built of stone from the Isle of Wight instead of stone imported from Caen, as was the practice in Norman times.

The first of the major alterations came in the late 12th century when much rebuilding was necessary after disastrous fires. Their effects are still being felt: weaknesses caused by the use of fire-damaged stone in the rebuilding of eight centuries ago are now having to be made good.

The 277-ft spire was added in the late 13th or early 14th century, but it collapsed with the tower in a storm in 1861. The storm blew for several days while teams of men strove to avert the disaster. This episode is recorded in some surprisingly good photographs displayed in the south transept. Sir Gilbert Scott built a new spire, a replica of the original, in 1866.

The nave has fine pillars and a high vaulted ceiling; it is separated from the choir by the impressive arched, carved stone Bell-Arundel screen, erected beneath the tower by Bishop Arundel in 1475. Happily it was taken down not long before the collapse of the tower and so escaped possible destruction or damage. It was restored in 1960 in memory of Bishop Bell (bishop from 1929 to 1958) and his name was added to that of Arundel.

At the east end of the choir is the modem altar backed by John Piper's modem tapestry in vivid colouring, hanging from a l6th-century oak screen. The choir stalls are finely carved and the misericords are noteworthy; the bishop's throne is an imposing piece of workmanship. On the south side of the choir are two beautiful 12th-century stone carvings believed to have been part of a stone choir screen of that period. They were found behind some choir stalls and erected in their present position in 1829. They depict Christ on his way to raise Lazarus from the dead and, secondly, the miracle performed. An 18th-century chandelier hangs over the centre of the choir.

The Lady Chapel contains some of the oldest work in the cathedral, the first three bays dating from before the fire of 1187, the two eastern-most bays from about 1300. There are several good stained-glass windows in this chapel. In the north-west bay is the reputed coffin lid of Bishop Luffa. On both sides of the nave are a series of chapels. One of these, the 13th-century Chapel of St George, is set aside as the chapel of the Royal Sussex Regiment. The names of those who fell in the two World Wars are recorded here. In the north-west tower is the Sailors' Chapel, a memorial to Sussex men who died at sea between 1939 and 1945 and have no known grave. The lower part of this tower dates from the 12th century but the upper parts are later.

In the south transept is Bishop Langton's great window, of the early 14th century. The tracery is of that period but the stained glass is late 19th-century, richly coloured, but not enough to thwart the bishop's original purpose of letting in more light. Below is Langton's tomb. Here also is a 16th-century painting on wood by Lambert Barnard depicting Bishop Sherburne receiving from Henry VIII an assurance of the rights of the cathedral. Below are painted medallions of kings of England, with some blank spaces where there had been portraits damaged beyond restoration by Cromwellian soldiers.

Other items of interest to look for in the cathedral include the fine Arundel tomb with effigies of Richard Fitzalan, Earl of Arundel, and his countess; also Graham Sutherland's painting Noli me tangere in the Chapel of St Mary Magdalene.

The late 14th- or early l5th-century bell-tower stands about 30 ft from the north-east entrance to the cathedral. It is the only bell-tower in England detached from its cathedral. The upper portion was refaced in 1964. Two of its peal of eight bells date from the 16th century, the others from the 17th and 18th centuries. The cloisters were built soon after 1400; the roof timbers remind the viewer of an upturned boat and are of Irish oak. An early l4th-century gateway at the end of Canon Lane leads to the palace. From Canon Lane can be seen the charming group of cottages in Vicar's Close which influenced Keats when he wrote ‘The Eve of Saint Agnes’.

Nearby cities: Portsmouth

Nearby towns: Bognor Regis, Emsworth, Havant, Hayling Island, Midhurst, Petersfield, Pulborough, Selsey

Nearby villages: Appledram, Bersted, Birdham, Bosham, Boxgrove, Donnington, Earnley, Eartham, East Wittering, Felpham, Fishbourne, Funtington, Lavant, Merston, North Mundham, Pagham, Sidlesham, South Mundham, Stoughton, Stoughton, Tangmere, West Itchenor, West Stoke, Westergate, Westhampnett

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