Mayors of Chichester: Controversy and continuity over centuries

Today, the mayor of Chichester is an important but largely symbolic role, representing the local community and serving as a figurehead for the citizens of Chichester.

But mayor was not always the ceremonial role we know today. The first mayor of Chichester whose name we know was one Emery de Rouen, who held the office in 1239. The mists of time have obscured any biographical details but as an important figure in Norman England, he would have wielded an immense amount of personal authority.

This ability to make decisions continued in Tudor times – mayors had the power to conscript local men into the army and even regulate the size of a loaf of bread!

Sign up to our daily SussexWorld Today newsletter

Yet the most famous mayors of Chichester came in the 19th century. George Murray, mayor of Chichester in 1815, served as Vice-Admiral under Nelson. He was made Captain of the Fleet in 1804 but returned from the sea only a year later, when he was made executor of his father-in-law’s will.

Mayor Archibald Garland, centre, following Chichester’s Victory March to celebrate the end of the First World War. Picture: The Novium Museum

Read More

Read More
The man who saved thousands of lives - Festival of Chichester

Nelson declared that no other man was suitable for the role Murray had filled and refused to appoint a new captain of the fleet. Despite the promise of continuing his glittering career in the navy, Murray chose to retire to Chichester in 1808. He was 49 and had been in the Navy since he was 11. A statue of Murray was unveiled on North Street in 2021. On the pedestal, Nelson’s words were engraved, 'Murray or none'.

Mayor Alice Eastland passing Chichester Cross in procession, 1953-54. Picture: The Novium Museum

Ebenezer Prior was elected to the City Council in 1889 and became mayor in 1895. By this time, the industrial revolution was in full swing and poverty in Chichester had become a serious issue.

The streets were poorly lit and the sewage system was non-existent. Water had to be drawn from pumps and collected in buckets. In 1888, the Chichester Observer described the water from these pumps as 'coffee-coloured'. Apparently, the smell of it left something to be desired, too.

Sewage was simply dumped in the River Lavant. As a councillor, Prior pushed for the construction of a hygienic sewage system but was defeated by the so-called Cesspool Party, a coalition mainly made up of ratepayers from the wealthier districts who were unwilling to pay for changes that would not benefit their area.

Many medical men were also against the changes. Illness, it seems, was a racket with some doctors making money from the preventable diseases that came from the unhygienic conditions. Defeat must have been a blow but Prior did not give up.

Life size sculpture of Admiral Lord Nelson and Sir George Murray in North Street, Chichester. Picture: The Novium Museum

He became mayor in 1895 and eventually his hygiene reforms came to pass. By this time, leading medical journals of the day had taken notice of events in Chichester and news of the decision was spreading all over England. For the first time but not the last, Prior had made Chichester the centre of a national controversy.

The material conditions of the working-class was an evil that Prior fought against. Their moral condition was another. At this time, there were more than 100 pubs operating in Chichester. Prior saw alcohol as a major source of crime and immorality and began to publicly speak against it and curtail its consumption. These campaigns were generally unsuccessful and made him some bitter enemies, especially among local innkeepers and traders of alcohol. Legend has it that he would tour the pubs of Chichester warning people against the evils of alcohol. While this may be an apocryphal tale, it shows the reputation that he was gaining.

Sharp Archibald Garland took office in 1898, just a few years after Prior. He returned to the position in 1912 and subsequently led Chichester through the First World War. He was something of a galvanising presence promoting local recruitment and the various wartime aid funds. In January 1918, Garland was knighted for his service to the country.

The office of mayor has continued to modernise and in 1953, Chichester had its first female mayor, with the election of Alice Eastland who had been made a councillor in 1928, the year that women were granted full suffrage. Eastland had the honour of being Chichester’s coronation mayor and was one of the mayors invited to attend the coronation service in Westminster Abbey.

Though not an exhaustive list, other subsequent female mayors have included Eva French in 1999-2000 and Jean E. Le Bourlier-Woods in 2003-04. Anne Scicluna, who followed in her father John Gilbert’s footsteps, was mayor on three separate occasions, including 1983-84, 1993-94 and again most recently in 2012-2013.

The personal authority of the mayor declined but their ceremonial and cultural importance grew. It was Mayor Francis Wilton who twinned us with the Italian city Ravenna in 1996, the city having previously been twinned with the French city of Chartres in 1959.

Despite the changes there is still a remarkable continuity between the past and present when it comes to mayors of Chichester. In 1563 a former mayor, Thomas Jarman, left a ring in his will. He declared that it should be passed down from mayor to mayor so that he would never be forgotten. This tradition is a key part of the mayor making ceremony, where the new mayor is sworn in, and a replica of Jarman’s ring is still worn by the mayor of Chichester to this day.

Today’s mayor is Chichester-born Julian Joy. His role is to chair City Council meetings and represent Chichester at civic events and functions throughout the year.