Arts editor Phil Hewitt, who works for our sister paper the Chichester Observer, takes a fresh look at the city in his latest book.
A Chichester Miscellany tells the story of the city through the key moments in its history and through the key people who have shaped it.
“Chichester is a fabulous patchwork of different eras,” says Phil, “and I have tried to look at the way it has developed down the centuries.”
Home to a magnificent Norman Cathedral, Chichester was created by the Romans and developed as a thriving market town in the Middle Ages.
The Georgians added an array of splendid buildings which still enhance the city today, and during recent decades Chichester has emerged as a major centre for the arts, with an enviable reputation countrywide.
“The book is largely chronological, but the main idea was to bring together the fascinating facts and quirky true tales which have made Chichester the city we know and love today.”
One of Phil’s starting points was a delightful quotation he came across in the Chichester City Guide, 1953 – ‘Few towns in England have so much to offer of the real values which make life worth living.’
“Sixty years later, that statement is still beautifully true – maybe even more so. Chichester has retained a great sense of its own worth and identity and has generally found a way to move with the times which hasn’t compromised either.
“In the book, I look at Chichester Times, Chichester Places, Chichester Culture and Chichester People in alternating chapters which I hope together give the reader a real sense of what it is that makes Chichester Chichester. But the book is absolutely not a bulky, weighty, po-faced history. The idea is a fun book that people will enjoy dipping into. The response I am hoping for is ‘Oh! I didn’t’ know that!’
“The book looks at the important moments in the city’s history: the creation of the Cathedral, for instance, also the desecration of the Cathedral during the Civil War. Also included are the Market Cross and the wealth of fine buildings the city gained in the 18th century.
“I have also included the key figures who in their differing ways have influenced the city’s history from St Richard, our very own saint, through to the 20th century visionaries such Bishop Bell, so courageous and so controversial during the Second World War, and Leslie Evershed-Martin, the man who gave us Chichester Festival Theatre.
“I have also looked at Chichester’s great traditions such as the gala, the Sloe Fair, the Wheelbarrow Club and the City of Chichester International March. Rather closer to home is a chapter on Chichester ghosts, including the one who spooked me when she spoke to me in the Observer offices last year. And I don’t even believe in ghosts!”
Other chapters look at the writers associated with the city, the painters, the musicians and the actors. Another chapter looks at some of the sticky ends to which Cicestrians have fallen victim, not least the former Chichester MP who was killed by a train, so becoming the country’s first casualty of the railway age.
Phil will be signing copies of his book in Waterstones in Chichester from 1pm on Saturday, April 20, following the city centre launch of the new Festival of Chichester.
“We will be out and about near the Cross and the Council House in North Street on Saturday from 10am telling people about the new festival and then I will nip into Waterstones for a well-earned sit-down!”
A Chichester Miscellany, with forewords by Kate Mosse and the Duke of Richmond and Gordon, is published by Summersdale of Chichester: ISBN: 978 1 84953 379 9; hardback; 190 pages; £9.99.