Chichester Society celebrates its 50th anniversary

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As the Chichester Society celebrates its 50th anniversary, it's worth reflecting just how different a place Chichester would be today if the society hadn’t been there to protect it.

And given the state of the precinct in North Street now, John Templeton, a member of the society from its very earliest days, would argue that the Chichester Society has never been needed more than it is today.

The Chichester Society was founded on 5 November 1973 and as it says on its website, it “exists to celebrate the attractions of our city and make sure they stay attractive.” When there was a very direct threat to those attractions 50 years ago, the Chichester Society was called into existence by the remarkable Chichester artist, essayist and conservationist David Goodman, as John recalls.

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“David very well known locally as an artist but he called a protest meeting in Chichester on October 1 1973. He had had enough of what was happening in Chichester. He lived in Franklin Place and he had already seen the whole area of Somerstown between Broyle Road and St Paul’s Road demolished as slum clearance, these early Georgian buildings that were an artisan suburb of the city. People were saying that it was the first thing that people saw when they came to the city to go to the Festival Theatre, just across the road, these slummy buildings and they had to get rid of them.”

Society founder David Goodman (contributed pic)Society founder David Goodman (contributed pic)
Society founder David Goodman (contributed pic)

But the point was there was huge architectural and historical interest to them and they were lost. And then David’s own home was under threat with the proposed new dual carriageway. In the event he persuaded the authorities to put it just a little bit further north and Franklin Place was saved: “But it was also proposed to demolish the whole south side of Orchard Street. David had seen the building of the controversial ringroad across the fields where the Avenue de Chartres is and there was demolition threatened for Westgate and Southgate and he decided enough was enough.

“He couldn't stand it any longer and decided at this protest meeting to see if he could set up a new body to campaign to save the character of the city. There was already the Chichester Civic Society but they were seen to be hand in glove with the council and they withered on the vine some time ago but back then there was a feeling that the Civic Society was run by retired county council staff anyway. David called the meeting and he had the most amazing response, about 200 people in the Old Courtroom. David gave a brilliant speech, a call to the citizens of Chichester and at the end of the meeting he said ‘Shall we form a new campaigning group or join the Civic Society and liven them up a bit?’ Everyone said with one accord that they would like to see a new group. Following that meeting on October 1 a second meeting was called on November 5 and the Chichester Society was born.

“If it had not been for the Society the complete ring road would have been built. The south side of Orchard Street would have been demolished as the next phase of the ring road. But there was also the north-west quadrant where a superstore and multi-story car park were planned.”

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