Tuesday, May 5th 2015
Today’s jaunt is to the ancient city of Chichester in the county of West Sussex. According to legend, Sussex came into existence in AD 477 when a man called Ælle arrived on the south coast with three ships and wrested control of the country from the locals. Whatever the truth of that, a kingdom was certainly carved out in the south-east of England and called Suþseaxe (‘suthseaxe’), that is, [Kingdom of the] South Saxons. In modern times, it has been found convenient to divide this large spread of land into two parts, West Sussex and East Sussex, each a county in its own right.
Chichester became the capital of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom and, turning to legend once more, we learn that Ælle named it after his son Cissa. Adding to his name the Anglo-Saxon word ceaster, used to designate an old Roman settlement (whose remains are still to be found under the city centre), we arrive at Cisseceaster, ‘Cissa’s town’. (In Anglo-Saxon, ‘c’ before ‘i’ or ‘e’ is pronounced like ‘ch’ in modern English). With the coming of Christianity, Cisseceaster became a see and, with the building of its cathedral, a city, today the tenth smallest in the UK.
We arrived, as usual, by train, and disembarked at Chichester’s small but busy station. The railway line crosses a road just beyond the end of the platforms (the train in the picture is crossing that road now) and when trains are about, the road is closed with level-crossing gates. Vehicles are stuck until the gates open but pedestrians can either wait, or, if they don’t mind the climb, cross overhead via the pedestrian bridge.
We have visited Chichester several times before (see, for example, Roman baths and modern art in Chichester), so today I spent little time photographing the town, saving my energies for other things.
This sculpture in walnut by Barbara Hepworth introduces our first destination in Chichester, the Pallant House Gallery. All art is interesting (though I am not too sure what to make of Hepworth’s strange shapes) but we had come to see a specific exhibition, Leon Underwood: Figure and Rhythm.
As far as its own collection of artworks is concerned, Pallant House generously allows visitors to take photographs as they please but in the case of visiting exhibitions, whose works and therefore copyrights they do not own, photography is not allowed. I am therefore unable to show you anything of the Leon Underwood exhibition. If you wish to gain some idea of this artist and his work, you could perhaps look at Leon Underwood (Wikipedia) and pursue your interest from there.
After visiting the exhibition, we went on a quick tour of the permanent collection. There we saw a few old friends. This window alcove has been cunningly used to house two works of art. At the back is a painting by Howard Hodgkin, entitled Grantchester Road. The label tells us (in part) that ‘In this painting of the interior of Sir Colin St John Wilson’s house in Cambridge, Hodgkin has included himself, half-obscured by a vertical black pillar, almost to give a sense of scale as in an architect’s drawing’.
The object in the foreground is by Eduardo Paolozzi and is a maquette or model for his sculpture of Newton that resides in the forecourt of the British Library in London. (See Sunny Saturday.) This is a rendering in three-dimensional sculptural form of the drawing of Newton by William Blake. (For example, see here.)
We were surprised to encounter this work, Regarding Guardian 2, in the upper gallery because we had previously observed it at the bottom of the stairs. It is a fascinating piece. Would you call it figurative or abstract? I suppose it partakes of the qualities of both because while it represents some sort of creature, making a believable case for its existence, we know that such a creature does not exist and that the piece must therefore have a symbolic meaning. One of the gallery’s documents has this to say about it:
In Regarding Guardian 2, sculptor Dhruva Mistry has used a range of symbols to describe his religious beliefs and explore ideas about transformation. These symbols are personal to the artist but are also open to interpretation by the viewer:
• Why is the Guardian blue? What do you think it symbolises?
• What sort of animal is the Guardian? Why does it have wings and horns?
• What does the skull symbolise and why does the Guardian have its hoof on it?
You may recall that I have previously photographed other guardian figures by Mistry, namely the pair in Victoria Square, Birmingham (see A library in Birmingham).
I liked this view of the Cathedral through the window of one of the rooms in the gallery. There is something of the quality of a Dutch interior about the photo except that there is hardly any interior visible! Avoiding over-exposing the view through the window was the main issue.
This fascinating item has all the charm of a dolls’ house. It is a model of an art gallery, complete with works of art. The difference between that and a dolls’ house, in which every object is a pretend version of the real thing, the objects here, though miniature, are real works of art, made by well known artists. (Please click on the image to see a larger version.) I think the best thing is simply to repeat the explanation given on the label:
This model modern art gallery provides a remarkable microcosm of English painting and sculpture from the 1930s. The brainchild of art dealer Sydney Burney, it was originally created for the exhibition ‘Children Throughout the Ages’ at Chesterfield House in London in April-May 1934 in aid of the Greater London Fund for the Blind. It remained hidden in a suitcase for many years, until it was brought to light and the model galleries recreated for Pallant House Gallery. Sadly a few of the original exhibits are missing, including miniatures by Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore, John Nash, Ben Nicholson and Charles Vyse.
We left the Pallant House Gallery and took the the streets once more.
We had lunch at the Buttery, a cafe restaurant situated in a restored late 12th-century building that belongs to the cathedral estate. The Buttery is in South Street and as we left, I took the above photo, looking north towards the Chichester Cross. Its Wikipedia entry describes it as ‘an elaborate Perpendicular market cross’. It marks the centre of the city and from it radiate four roads named after the main points of the compass, North, South, West and East. You will find a closer picture of the cross here.
We now turned south and followed the street to where it becomes Southgate and then across the railway line when it is Stockbridge Road. Here we find the beautiful Chichester Ship Canal Basin.
Opened in 1822, this relatively short canal joins the city to the sea at Chichester Harbour. It was abandoned in 1906 and became a rich natural habitat for wild life. With its commercial past behind it, the canal is being restored and maintained both as a wildlife corridor and as an amenity for pleasure use.
We had to keep in mind the return to the station to catch the train home but we had time to go for a walk along the tow path. We were fortunate that it was a sunny day as this made the scene all the brighter and more cheerful.
The ducks also thought so, as witness this group of Mallards resting in the sun on a landing stage. Besides duck, we saw coots, moorhens and black-headed gulls.
Perhaps because it was a week day, it was very quiet along the canal. We saw few people and only one cyclist1 and it was a pleasant area in which to wander.
Here we are looking back towards the basin, having walked along the tow path that you see on the left. How did I manage to apparently stand on the surface of the canal to take this photo? I cheated, of course. In order to install the bridge, two projecting piers had been built, one on either side, and I am standing on one of these.
In order to provide crossing points but still allow for free movement of shipping, swing bridges were installed. They are robust constructions of iron. This one is dated 1820 and called Poyntz Bridge, apparently the name of a major stockholder of the company that built the canal. He may lie easy in his grave knowing that his name lives on.
One of the pleasures of the walk came from the birds. In many places such as this, feeding the birds is discouraged or prohibited altogether. Not so here. At the shop in the basin, along with postcards, you can buy bags of special food. It is labelled as suitable for fish and birds. I am guessing that it is made from some formula that does not pollute the environment and that what the birds miss, the fish will clean up.
The food comes in the form of small pellets and we soon discovered that the duck, coots, moorhens and the black-headed gulls are used to being fed. They gobbled up the food as fast as we could toss it to them. The black-headed gulls were the most spectacular. They are as capable as other gulls of floating on the water but they are so agile in flight that they can catch food in the air or pick it off the surface of the water without touching down. They engaged in what I could only describe as ‘dancing on water’: they would swoop down, hover over the water with their toes dipping in, and pick up the food from the surface. As they bounced up and down, pecking at the food, with their feet on the surface, it really did seem as though they were dancing on the water.
In certain places along the canal there are important reed beds and these provide good nesting places for coots. Coots built their nests on the edge of the water or even on it in clumps of weed which they may supplement with rubbish collected here and there. I imagine that the canal locks ensure that the water surface never exceeds a certain level and that the coots have learned that they can safely nest in these positions without risk of flood. Though fearful of predators, they were more than happy to paddle over to us to receive the food we had to offer!
We had not come very far along the canal but had to think about turning back to catch our train home. This is a fine place in which to ramble, with the added attraction of being able to feed the birds and thus see them close up. Now we have found it, perhaps we will come on another day and devote more time to exploring the canal and perhaps reaching its end at the sea.
1I have already said that I deplore the policy of mixing cyclists and pedestrians on the same path. This is a particular problem on canal tow paths which are usually narrow.