Chichester

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Chichester (/ˈtʃɪtʃɨstə/; Sussex dialect: Chiddester /ˈtʃɪdɨstə/) is a cathedral city in West Sussex, within the historic County of Sussex, South-East England. It has a long history as a settlement; its Roman past and its subsequent importance in Anglo-Saxon times are only its beginnings. It is the seat of a bishopric, with a 12th century cathedral, and is home to some of the oldest churches and buildings in Great Britain.

Chichester today is a local government stronghold, with three levels of government being administered there. It is also a transport hub, and the centre for culture in the region, with a Festival theatre and two art galleries. Nearby Chichester Harbour, together with the South Downs and the city walls, provide opportunities for outdoor pursuits.

The area around Chichester is believed to have played significant part during the Roman Invasion of A.D 43, this is confirmed by evidence of military storage structures in the area of the nearby Fishbourne Roman Palace. The city centre stands on the foundations of the Romano-British city of Noviomagus Reginorum, capital of the Civitas Reginorum. The Roman road of Stane Street, connecting the city with London, started at the east gate, while the Chichester to Silchester road started from the north gate. The city streets have a cross-shaped layout, inherited from the Romans: radiating outwards from the medieval market cross lead the North, South, East and West shopping streets.

The original Roman city wall was over two metres thick with a steep ditch (which was later used to divert the River Lavant). It survived for over one and a half thousand years but was then replaced by a thinner Georgian wall.

An amphitheatre was built close to what would have been the city walls, outside the East Gate in around 80 AD. The remains are now buried under land currently used as a park, but the bank of the amphitheatre is clearly discernible and a notice board in the park gives more information.

According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle it was captured towards the close of the fifth century, by Ælle, and renamed after his son, Cissa. It was the chief city of the Kingdom of Sussex.

The cathedral for the South Saxons was founded in 681 at Selsey; the seat of the bishopric was moved to Chichester in 1075.

Chichester was one of the burhs (fortified towns) established by Alfred the Great, probably in 878-9, making use of the remaining Roman walls. According to the Burghal Hidage, a list written in the early 10th century, it was one of the biggest of Alfred’s burhs, supported by 1500 hides, units of land required to supply one soldier each for the garrison in time of emergency. The system was supported by a communication network based on hilltop beacons to provide early warning. It has been suggested that one such link ran from Chichester to London.

When the Domesday Book was compiled, Chichester consisted of 300 dwellings which held a population of 1,500 people. There was also a mill named Kings Mill that would have been rented to local slaves and villeins. After the Battle of Hastings the township of Chichester was handed to Roger de Mongomerie, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury, for courageous efforts in the battle, but it was forfeited in 1104 by the 3rd Earl. Shortly after 1066 Chichester Castle was built by Roger de Mongomerie to consolidate Norman power. In around 1143 the title Earl of Arundel (also known as the Earl of Sussex until that title fell out of use) was created and became the dominant local landowner. Between 1250 and 1262, the Rape of Chichester was created from the western half of Arundel rape, with the castle as its administrative centre.

Chichester, although in terms of local government in England is a civil parish, has the status of a city, and is one of six so designated, the others being Ely, Hereford, Ripon, Truro and Wells. The City Council consists of twenty elected members serving four wards of the city – North, South, East, and West.

In addition to its own council offices, those of the Chichester District and the West Sussex County Council are also located here. The current MP for the Chichester Constituency is Andrew Tyrie.

Chichester has an unusual franchise in its history. Chichester’s residents had enjoyed political enfranchisement for 300 years before the 19th century Reform Bills expanded the right to vote for members of Parliament to include most ordinary citizens. However, when the mayor restricted the vote to only Freemen in the election of 1660 for the Convention Parliament that organised the restoration of the monarchy, the House of Commons noted that “for One-and-twenty Parliaments, the Commonalty, as well as the Citizens, had had Voice in the electing of Members to serve in Parliament; and that thereupon the Committee were of Opinion, that the Commonalty of the said Borough, together with the free Citizens, have Right of Election” and overturned the election, seating instead the candidate elected by the more-inclusive Commonality of Chichester, and jailing the mayor for two weeks for contempt because of his wilful denial of the ancient rights.

The City of Chichester is located on the River Lavant south of its gap through the South Downs. This winterbourne often dries up during the summer months, and for part of its course runs through the city in underground culverts. The City’s site made it an ideal place for settlement, with many ancient routeways converging here. The oldest section lies within the Medieval walls of the city, which are built on Roman foundations.

The Chichester Conservation Area, designated for its architectural and historic interest, encompasses the whole of the Roman town, and includes many Grade I and II listed buildings. Further to the north lies the separate conservation area around Graylingwell Hospital, and to the south, the Chichester Conservation Area has been extended recently to include the newly restored canal basin and part of the canal itself. The Conservation Area has been split into eight ‘character’ areas, based on historic development, building type, uses and activities.

The city today has made use of its past and has built a large tourist industry. Several marinas are situated in the area together with related industries. The Northshore shipyard is located in Chichester. This shipyard is known for building the Southerly and Fisher (motor) sailing yachts. Bagged salad and prepared fruit producers, is also a major employer in the area, with over 400 employees. The company was granted planning permission in January 2011 to build a new pack house in Runcton, approximately 1.9 miles (3.1 km) south west of Chichester, which is estimated to create 380 new jobs.

Chichester Cathedral, founded in the 11th century, is dedicated to the Holy Trinity, and contains a shrine to Saint Richard of Chichester. Its spire, built of the weak local stone, collapsed suddenly and was rebuilt during the 19th century. In the south aisle of the cathedral a window in the floor affords a view of the remains of a Roman mosaic pavement. The cathedral is unusual in Britain in having a separate bell tower a few metres away from the main building, rather than integrated into it. Within the cathedral there is a medieval tomb of a knight and his wife, the inspiration of the poem “An Arundel Tomb”, by Philip Larkin. A fine memorial statue also exists of William Huskisson, once member of parliament for the city, but best remembered as the first man to be run over by a railway engine. Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms were commissioned for the cathedral.

In addition to the cathedral there are five Church of England churches, St Richard’s Roman Catholic church and nine religious buildings of other denominations. Redundant churches include the Grade I-listed St John the Evangelist’s Church, an octagonal white-brick proprietary chapel with an impressive three-decker pulpit.

The site of the Roman amphitheatre is in a park south of The Hornet. The precise location can be discerned by a gentle bank roughly oval in shape and a notice board in the park gives more information.

The Butter Market in North Street was designed by John Nash, and was opened in 1808 as a food and produce market. In 1900, a second storey was added to the building, originally housing an arts institute. The building has recently been renovated.

The Corn Exchange in East Street was built in 1833, one of the first in the country. It is an imposing building, designed to show off its importance to trade. In 1883 it was also used for drama and entertainment. From then it became a cinema (1923–1984), a restaurant, and then a McDonalds fast food restaurant. It is currently occupied by Next clothing retailers.

The Chichester Cross, which is a type of Buttercross familiar to old market towns, was built in 1501 as a covered market-place, stands at the intersection of the four main roads in the centre of the city.

Chichester is home to the South Downs Planetarium & Science Centre, which opened in 2001 and features a program of public star shows in its 100 seat theatre.

Chichester is the hub of several main roads. The most important of these is the A27 coastal trunk road connecting Eastbourne with Southampton. The A27 also connects Chichester to the M27. The secondary coastal road, the A259, which began its journey at Folkestone in Kent, joins with a junction with the A27 here and ends in Havant to the west. Both those roads make east-west connections. Three roads give Chichester access to the north: the A29 from London, which has also joined the A27 to the east of the city; and the A285, which gives access to Petworth and another cross-country road (the A272); and finally the A286, heading towards Guildford.

Stagecoach South bus company has its headquarters here.

Chichester railway station, on the West Coastway Line, has regular services to Brighton, London Victoria via Gatwick Airport, Portsmouth and Southampton. In the past there was a branch line to Midhurst in the north; and a light railway built by Colonel HF Stephens known as the West Sussex Railway which ran south to Selsey, and which closed in 1935.

Chichester Airport is located north of the city.

There are several long distance routes for walkers, cyclists and riders in the area, some of which, like the Centurion Way to West Dean start here. Centurion Way was opened in the Mid 1990s and runs along the former railway line. The name was chosen by Ben Adams, a local schoolboy who won a competition to the name the path.

The University of Chichester was granted degree-awarding body status by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority in 2005. Whereas Chichester College has always been focused towards vocational qualifications, the University of Chichester has a more academic focus (mainly in the arts).

The city holds an annual three-week arts and music festival (“Chichester Festivities“) held in July.

Its most prestigious cultural location is the Chichester Festival Theatre, one of the United Kingdom’s flagship theatres, whose annual summer season attracts actors, writers and directors from the West End theatre.

Pallant House Gallery, winner of the 2007 gallery of the year Gulbenkian Prize has a major collection of chiefly modern British art and in 2006 opened its new extension that houses the collection of Professor Sir Colin St John Wilson. It also has a changing programme of exhibitions.

Since 2007, the week long annual I AM JOY Arts and Music Festival in August has exhibited artworks, showcased bands, contemporary dance, theatre and run workshops across different venues in the city. The festival has since 2008, grown into a high street gallery, magazine, monthly comedy night, film nights and live music nights; from Cabaret to Post-Rock.

Chichester Cinema at New Park is the city’s first and only arthouse cinema. It shows a selection of mainstream, small-budget and older films, with showings 7 days a week. Vice presidents are Dame Maggie Smith and Kenneth Branagh. There is also a larger, multiplex cinema located at Chichester Gate.

The Chichester Open Mic has supported regular programmes of readings by contemporary poets in the city since 2010. It also hosts a high profile annual event under the banner Poetry and All That Jazz which included performances by Don Paterson in 2010, Sam Willetts in 2011 and David Harsent in 2012.

In the 1990s Chichester started to develop an alternative subculture. There is still a shop in Crane Street which retails clothing aimed at the alternative music culture.

Chichester is mentioned in a 1992 episode of A Bit of Fry and Laurie, the 2005 film Stoned (film) about Brian Jones from the Rolling Stones, and also in the 2009 film Sherlock Holmes.

Founded in 1881, the Chichester Symphony Orchestra plays an important part in maintaining the classical music tradition of the area. A friendly group, the orchestra consists of both amateur and professional players who rehearse on a weekly basis, first and foremost, for the enjoyment of playing together. Three concerts are given each year with the summer concert being part of the Chichester Festivities while the autumn concert is included in the Chichester Cathedral Lunchtime Series.

A cornerstone of the Chichester music scene is Chichester RAJF (From “Real Ale and Jazz Festival”), a four day festival of music and real ale held each July in tents beside the 13th century Guildhall in Priory Park. Founded in 1980 by members of Chichester Hockey Club as a fund-raising event, the festival has grown in size and ambition. In the early years the focus was on traditional jazz and featured performers such as Kenny Ball, Humphrey Lyttelton and Kenny Baker. In the 1990s blues and R&B were introduced and more recently the festival has increased its capacity to 2500 persons and has offered a wide range of popular music including James Brown, Status Quo, Blondie, Boney M, Robert Cray, Hot Chocolate, Howard Jones, Go West, The Pretenders, The Drifters and Simple Minds. In 2009, the RAJF changed from 4 consecutive nights to 2 consecutive weekends. 2010 was the RAJF’s 30th Birthday and a special celebrations were held.

Blues on the Farm is a festival held every June at Pump Bottom Farm two miles (3.2 km) south of the city. Founded in 1991, it has become the UK’s biggest outdoor blues festival hosting many of the top national and international names in a picturesque and friendly environment. Roots Around the World is another such festival, bringing what is described as the best in global music to the city and surrounding village halls.

The city also offers a well equipped leisure centre with swimming pool, flume, sports hall and fitness room; it also plays host to Chichester Cormorants swimming club.

Chichester Cathedral and the surrounding area was the set location for “In a Monastery Garden,” an episode of the U.K. murder mystery TV series Rosemary & Thyme.

The City of Chichester is twinned with Chartres, France and Ravenna, Italy.

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