History of Chichester

From its Roman roots to the present day.


When William Camden described the City of Chichester in his pioneer history of Britain in the 16th century he wrote: ‘The city hath four gates, opening to the four quarters of the world’! Although the old gates have now gone, much of the Roman wall remains.

In 44AD the Romans built a fort where Chichester sits today, which they called Noviomagus Reginorum (the New Market of the Regni)! A visit to The Novium Museum is well worth a look, and amongst many treasures, there you will see the remains of a Roman bath house, around which the museum has been purpose-built.

Although a small city in scale, Chichester radiates great stature. Dr Thomas Sharp has commented: ‘...outside the special places like Oxford, Cambridge and Bath (which in any case are much bigger), the city has few rivals, and certainly none among the smaller towns’.

The four main streets stretch out like a compass following the Roman and medieval plan, and although the old city has packed itself between the walls, there are unusually fine areas of park and gardens. Chichester is not a place that gives up its secrets easily, but a day spent walking the city will be a rewarding experience, and it’s behind the main streets you become aware of the antiquity that modern facades have in many cases disguised.

It may be obvious to many that Chichester is a Georgian city, but to find it’s medieval aspect, it may be necessary to search a little deeper. On a fine day, you will discover the colour of Tudor and Georgian brickwork, mellow tiling and grey flints.

A major quality in the character of Chichester is the juxtaposition of various building periods and styles which, because of their essentially domestic scale, create an unusually satisfying harmony. Examples of this can be found in such lanes and thoroughfares as Lion Street, St Martin's Square, The Pallants and The Close. The street elevations are complemented by the subsequent roofscapes of churches, shops and dwellings standing shoulder to shoulder in the natural development of a real community.

Chichester's Market Cross, given to the city in 1501 by Bishop Story to provide shelter for those selling produce, is the finest in Britain. The medieval St Mary's Hospital and the 13th-century choir building of the Grey Friars in Priory Park are well worth a look. The finest early dwelling houses are John Edes House, West Street, built 1696, and Pallant House, 1712. Interesting literary associations with the city include William Collins, John Keats, William Blake and HG Wells!