Was Chichester a city of culture in 1962? Talk to explore cultural, social and economic history in 1960s

Chichester Festival Theatre celebrates its 60th anniversary this year and, since opening in 1962, it has attracted some of our nations’ greatest actors and directors and drawn an international audience to Chichester – but did such an institution really belong in what was a small, rural market town?

In 1951, attempts to establish an Arts Centre at the Corn Exchange failed, yet little more than a decade later, the Festival Theatre would open, putting the city firmly on the cultural map.

How did Chichester switch from a cultural outpost to a cultural beacon in so short a time?

On Tuesday (May 31) at 7pm, West Sussex Record Office archivist Nichola Court will set out to answer these questions by exploring the city’s cultural, social and economic history in the years preceding the Festival Theatre’s opening.

Theatre goers at Chichester Festival Theatre’s opening night, July 6, 1962 (reference WSRO CPS 1306/1)

Find out more about life in Chichester in the 1950s and 1960s, in particular the city’s housing crisis and controversial ‘slum clearance’ programme which resulted in the wholescale demolition of east Somerstown.

Was the Festival Theatre seen as a welcome addition to the city, or was it met with opposition – or merely apathy? Was it part of a wider shift towards a greater appreciation of the arts and culture, or was it an outlier in a cultural desert? Was Chichester a ‘City of Culture’ in 1962?

A limited number of tickets are available to attend the talk in person at West Sussex Record Office.

Tickets cost £8 and include light refreshments and the opportunity to view carefully selected, relevant material from the archives.

Headline from the Chichester Observer of June 1, 1962, concerning the city council’s slum clearance programme and the demolition of houses on Basin Road

To book, visit the West Sussex Record Office in Orchard Street or call 01243 753602.

The talk will also be streamed live on Zoom – click here to book an online place

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Houses on Broyle Road scheduled for demolition as part of the city council’s slum clearance programme, 1962 (reference WSRO Chi PH B-4330-14)
A family from the Chichester district faced with eviction and appealing for a new home, February 1962 (reference WSRO CPS 1082/3)
Vacant houses on George Street, scheduled for demolition, September 1962 (reference WSRO CPS 1455/1
Vacant or soon-to-be vacant houses in Somerstown, with a near-complete Festival Theatre in the background, April 1962 (reference WSRO PH 22091)
Sculptor John Skelton with his Symbol of Discovery in 1963, commissioned to mark the opening of the new Chichester City Museum at East Row in 1962 (reference WSRO CPS 1861/14)