diamond geezer

 Friday, July 23, 2010

Day out: Chichester
Close-ish to the English Channel, about as west as West Sussex gets, lies the cathedral city of Chichester. The Romans were first to set up camp here, the Church arrived about a millennium later, and today the place is home to a cultured outgoing crowd. Chichester Harbour is close by, thought not actually adjacent to the town, which means there are more yacht owners per square mile than most other parts of Britain. And this is where I went yesterday, for a midweek value day out, which turned out to be very pleasant. Highlights follow.

Chichester Cathedral
Chichester CathedralSome English Cathedrals are stuffy and off-putting, with a ticket barrier at the entrance and a lot of vergers scuttling around making sure visitors behave. Chichester's not like that. It's welcoming and friendly, and nobody forces you to pay anything. They even open their doors before half past seven in the morning, because their cathedral is a place of community and worship. "Here, have a free leaflet," said the nice lady by the west door, "and yes of course you can take photographs, and maybe you'd like to join that free tour over there." Cheers, don't mind if I do. The building's impressive, and unusually broad inside, although not quite as amazing as certain larger UK cathedrals. There's the usual nave, transepts and chapels, plus some rather lovely stained glass of a late 20th century vintage. As for the spire [photo], that's a Victorian replacement, because the original collapsed one Thursday lunchtime (creak, bulge, crack, tumble) while the townspeople gathered round and watched. Act of God, no doubt. On my visit there was no such peril, just the cathedral's organists practising for some imminent event. The sound of mighty pipes echoing around the medieval vaults was heart-stirring, and all the better for being a two-instrument duet. And they played "Oh I Do Like To Be Beside The Seaside" too, because they're fun like that here.

Chichester Old Town
Much of the medieval city wall survives, providing an elevated stone walkway for anyone who fancies walking round the inner edge of town. Most residents don't. The view's sometimes excellent (ooh, 13th century Guildhall in the middle of a park) and sometimes not (ah, 1970s apartments). The four main roads within the walls are named after the four compass points, and meet at the old market cross in the centre of town [photo]. Nice place for a bit of pedestrianised shopping, this, with ugly concrete malls thankfully nowhere in evidence. One retail outlet in East Street is (or ought to be) famous, because it's the place where a potted meat empire began. Charles Shippam had a butcher's shop at number 48, behind which he branched out into factory production. Fishpaste in glass jars with a special lid, it caught on big time, and WWI soldiers lived off the stuff. Expansion continued until 1995 when the business was sold off - it's now owned by Mitsubishi Industries, no less! Shippams now trade out of a giant shed on a trading estate on the edge of town, and the old butcher's shop sells shoes. At least the company's old clock survives, hanging out over the street with a trademark wishbone dangling down below. [photo]

Pallant House Gallery
Pallant House GalleryThe Pallant's not like most provincial art galleries. It's two buildings in one, the first a Queen Anne townhouse, the second a very recent extension. Its focus is modern art, of which has one of the finest collections outside London, but still with a bit of the old scattered throughout for good measure. Hence you might find an old Georgian portrait next to a Picasso, or a cabinet full of of Bow Porcelain (ooh, local) close to a framed Henry Moore. I liked the 20th century emphasis, including a long gallery of Pop Art and a special current exhibition showcasing Surrealism. Several rooms of Mexican art proved slightly less gripping, but they're temporary too, and there'll be something completely different along in September. One of the gallery volunteers engaged me in excitable conversation about the various works, both what she loved and what she hated, which was unusually refreshing and much appreciated. Admission's not cheap, but I was much taken by the buzz of imagination running through the place.

Chichester Festival Theatre: This concrete mushroom can be found to the north of the town, and hosts a famous spring/summer festival every year. Thursday lunchtimes there's not so much going on. [photo]
Chichester District Museum: Next year, this motley collection of local stuff is moving to a spanking new building on a former car park. About time too, because the old place looks like it's in desperate need of a refresh.
Chichester Ship Canal: Yes, Chichester has a Ship Canal, who knew? Its six mile length was part of an ambitious plan to link the upper Thames to Portsmouth Harbour, but proved woefully unsuccessful and hasn't seen a ship since the 1840s. The canal preservation trust run daily sightseeing trips from the city basin down as far as Chichester Harbour, although I suspect a proper harbour tour is far more interesting.

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