Tuesday Talk Taster: Elizabethan Chichester

By Dr Caroline Adams

  • Tickets for our ‘Elizabethan Chichester’ Tuesday Talk on 29th October at 7pm, can be purchased by ringing reception on 01243 753602

In August 1591 Queen Elizabeth I came to Chichester on her summer progress.  This talk (on Tuesday 29th October) will look at the Chichester she would have seen: a walled city, prosperous but of uncertain temperament. 

Large black and white map of West Sussex zoomed in on Chichester.
Chichester as it appears on John Norden’s map of West Sussex, 1595.
A facsimile is available to view in the searchroom.

The town walls enclosed a city whose plan we would instantly recognise, although there were still fields in the north-west quadrant, partly because of the fulling industry there.  Outside on the west, south and north perimeters were small developments of housing and industry.  Like today the main shopping streets were North and West Streets, and again some of the buildings we see today would have also been seen by the Queen.  In the middle was the Cross, eighty years old when the Queen looked on it, and it had already been refurbished!

Living in the city, however, would have been very different from our experience.  At night the gates were closed and guarded.  The area of the Pallants was not under the rule of the Mayor and Aldermen, but under the jurisdiction of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and tension and friction were in the air.  The city was shabby and dirty, and the little churches run down and poor.

However, Chichester attracted wealthy men.  Merchants such as John and William Cresweller occupied large premises in North Street, and John, Lord Lumley, had his own townhouse near the Cross, where he entertained the Queen.  It is still possible to see remnants of the house that she stayed in.  Lumley was the brother-in-law of the Duke of Norfolk and owner of Stansted to the west.

The Cathedral dominated life in the City, although it was tucked behind a row of houses on the south side of West Street.  Its Close was surrounded by a wall, which had three gates, all guarded by porters.  The Bishop’s Palace was the largest residence in the City, but the Bishop in 1591 was Thomas Bickley, who was 73 at the time, and described as ‘a tired old man, slumbering away in his diocese’.  Gone were the glory days of Bishops Storey and Sherburne, but the church still regulated every person’s daily life, keeping a watchful eye on morality, acting as a referee in all kinds of disputes, and demanding attendance at a local church every week.

Black and white engraving of Bishop's Palace and Chichester Cathedral.
A later depiction of the Bishop’s Palace as seen from the gardens, with Chichester Cathedral in the background, 1821. Reference: PD 947

The people of Elizabethan Chichester enjoyed life in the inns and pubs, held fairs and still celebrated what was left of Saints’ feast days, but the city was in for some hard times in the following century.


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