Sunday, July 15th 2012
We started today’s trip by taking a bus to St Pancras even though we could not catch a train there for our destination, thanks to the ongoing and seemingly endless railway works. Instead we took to the tube and travelled to Victoria station.
For once, the sun was shining and the sky was actually blue, just as it is supposed to be in summer but in view of the constant rain and dreary conditions of late, this seemed quite unusual and a welcome change. But how long would it last?
The question was soon answered. As our train rolled south and then west, the clouds gathered, covering the sky almost completely and for the rest of the day there was a continual threat of rain. Our destination, shown above was the ancient city of Chichester. (If you are wondering how I came to be standing on the tracks, the answer is that the road crosses the railway by a level crossing to the east of the station and I took the picture from there!)
From the station we walked into town, passing familiar landmarks such as the plain but functional Crown Court,
The Cathedral’s Canon Gate (built in the 16th century, rebuilt 1894),
and the 15th-century market cross (clock and belfry added in 1724). It was built as a covered space where goods could be sold and as a meeting place. It is still serving the latter purpose today.
I say “familiar landmarks” because, of course, we have visited Chichester before several times and will no doubt do so again. Our last visit was in August last year as recorded in A market town and a quiet beach.
From the Market Cross, we walked along West Street and past the Cathedral (originally built 1091-1123 but modified and rebuilt since then) and its detached Bell Tower (14th or 15th-century), the only example of a detached cathedral bell tower in England. We did not stop to explore these, as we had on other occasions because we had a particular destination in mind.
That destination was an establishment called The Novium in Tower Street, whose white paint and rectangular forms contrast strangely with the older buildings around it. Opened earlier this month, the Novium is Chichester’s new museum, replacing the old one that we have also visited.
The basis of the new museum is the Roman bath discovered and excavated in the 1970s. The excavation has been left open and forms part of the ground floor of the Novium. The wall behind the bath is used as a screen on which to project both moving images, re-enacting scenes from the bath when it was in its hey-day, and information in text form.
Chichester’s history goes back at least to the Roman period when it was known as Noviomagus Regnorum, and there are other Roman exhibits in the museum as, for example, the “Jupiter Stone”, an inscribed slab of sandstone which is thought to have been part of the base of a large statue of the god Jupiter.
On the first and second floors there are displays covering the history of the area from ancient to modern times. On the first floor we have a display based on the concept of “places”. To quote the leaflet, “It examines how the area has been used by people over time and how they have left their mark on the landscape”. I am not sure this really works. It struck me as a miscellaneous set of exhibits with no obvious order or uniting themes.
A small display reminds us that Shippam’s, makers of a famous range of fish and meat pastes, is a local firm.
The second floor at first sight looks more like the conventional museum with glass cases and free-standing floor displays but when I looked more closely, the cases seemed very crammed with material – a disincentive to close examination – and the layout was not particularly helpful to understanding what was being shown.
One item that intrigued me because I had not seen such a thing before was this wheeled contraption comprising mobile stocks, dating from the early 1800s. Were they made in order to be quickly moved to trouble spots or where miscreants wheeled through the streets to be humiliated? Both, apparently. This is a dual purpose machine!
As a gesture to the modern fad of providing hands-on sections for children, there was a set of military helmets which people can try on. This enables me to give you a treat: a portrait of Tigger!
On this floor there are large windows providing a view across the rooftops. Unsurprisingly, the Cathedral overtops everything.
Not only was photography allowed ion the museum (without flash), but we did not even have to ask. One of the assistants saw we had cameras and volunteered the information that we were permitted to take photos.
On the negative side, the cost of admission to the Novium is £7 for adults, which is very high for a town museum, especially as we seem to recall that admission to the old museum was free. £7 seems exorbitant to me, particularly when you consider how small the museum is over all and how little there is to see. I think the council really should reconsider its admission policy as well as looking at ways of improving the displays.
Leaving the Novium, we started to make our way back to the centre of town but by a roundabout route. Just opposite the museum is the new public library, designed in a round shape, rather like a drum. As it was Sunday, the library was closed so we couldn’t see inside. Another day, perhaps.
I spotted this wall in a road called The Woolstaplers and was intrigued by its mixture of old and new brickwork and the plants growing in the older part. Chichester was a wool port and the government made a lot of money by levying customs duty on wool. “Woolstaplers” were the people who traded in wool, buying from farmers, sorting and grading it and selling it on and they have been memorialized in the name of this street.
Here we are looking along the narrow Crane Street. It is one of Chichester’s older streets though little remains of this apart from a couple of 18th-century houses. It is a pedestrian area and traffic is shut out by means of iron “cannon gun” bollards. Captured or obsolete cannon often came in handy as posts or bollards and you may still find some genuine old cannon being used thus. In turn, though, they influenced design and many modern bollards still retain a shape (and sometimes even a touch hole) reminiscent of cannon guns.
Then to the city walls. The town was enclosed in walls in the time of the Romans but the wall as we know it today dates from Medieval times. Although the fabric is Medieval, the wall stands on its Roman foundations and helped define and and shape the old city which long ago expanded beyond this boundary.
The wall offers a broad and easy walkway on which to explore the city. Its height gives you a chance you look over some of the buildings and obtain a panoramic view. You can also pretend to be a medieval soldier patrolling the city defences. (Come on, use a little imagination!)
Eventually, we turned into North Street, which for part of its length is pedestrian only, and leads back towards the centre of the town. The four streets named after the cardinal points of the compass all meet at the Market Cross.
Here we find the fine old Council House (the place where the town council met), built in Palladian style and dating from 1731, though buildings were added right up to 1881. The entrance lies within an extensive porch – a good place to shelter when it starts to rain!
On top of the building is a regal lion guarding an inscription in Latin. If you fancy yourself as a Latin scholar you can amuse yourself translating the inscription but as I failed at least once every Latin exam I ever took, I am not even going to try. I’ll borrow someone else’s version:
IN ORDER THAT THE COUNCIL AND THE PEOPLE OF CHICHESTER
AND THEIR POSTERITY MIGHT BE HAPPY AND FORTUNATE,
THIS COUNCIL HOUSE WAS BEGUN AND COMPLETED IN THE
YEAR OF OUR LORD 1731,
IN THE REIGN OF GEORGE II, ELECTOR AND KING
Chichester Market originally took place in West Street with cattle and food and other goods all mixed together. As time passed and traffic increased, the market caused congestion and it was decided to remove parts of it to other places. Accordingly, the Buttermarket (or “Butter Market”, as some prefer to write it) was built here in North Street in 1808 as a place where butter, cheese and similar foods could be sold. Today it has been redeveloped and is occupied by some familiar high street names. Regrettably, its original purpose has been lost.
On reaching the Market Cross once more, we kept on going and entered South Street. It was time for lunch and we knew just where we were going for it. The Buttery is a cafe restaurant in a 12th-century crypt belonging to the Cathedral. Despite being a little cramped it’s a pleasant place to go for lunch or a cream tea.
After lunch, we conceived the notion of catching bus to Arundel and having a look at the castle there and maybe a few other sights in the area. To this end, we betook ourselves to the bus station and looked for a bus to Arundel. This should be an easy enough task but it proved to be very difficult. None of the information panels showed Arundel and none of the buses currently parked in the bus station showed Arundel on their destination boards. How about the information office? Closed. How about staff? None visible. We eventually found a man dressed in bus driver’s uniform. “Which bus do we catch for Arundel?” we enquired. “Sorry,” came the reply, “I work the Portsmouth end and don’t know the buses at this end.”
We gave up. Arundel will have to wait for another trip.
Returning to town, we decided to visit the Pallant House Gallery instead and made our way thither. Along the way we saw…
some strange birds…
a Masonic Hall that can be hired for “events”…
and a cottage with bicycles in the window…
until we reached Pallant House Gallery. Built in 1712 for Henry Peckham, a wine merchant, it is today an extensive gallery of art. To the left of the original house is a modern extension which is the entrance to the exhibition. Photography was not allowed, so I cannot show you any of the art that we saw, and I think it would be boring just to describe it in words, so I will just say that I saw works from many periods from the 18th century to the present day, some of which I very much liked and others that left me unimpressed. I’m glad to have seen it, though, and will perhaps visit the gallery again another time when there are different exhibitions on view.
Pallant House is known informally as “Dodo House” because the two birds on the gateposts – really meant to be ostriches but rather inaccurately portrayed – look like the extinct bird, the dodo.
We spent some time in the gallery and I think it was worth the entry fee (admission is £5.50, including a reduction given to holders of the National Art Pass).
I enjoyed both the Novium and the Pallant House Gallery. Which did I prefer? That is hard to say though Pallant House is by far the more professional. Perhaps the Novium is still being developed and will improve in time. I hope so.
Chichester is a fascinating and historically important town and a beautiful town as well. A visit is always a pleasure and there are different paths you can take in exploring it and thus enjoy different aspects on different visits.