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City Conservation

By Pat Saunders

Sheep grazing on Westgate Fields, 1957

By Pat Saunders, Volunteer at the Novium Museum

In 1968, Chichester was one of four towns chosen to take part of in a study on city conservation, the others being Chester, Bath and York. The decades after the Second World War, especially the 1960s, were a period of great change in the City. Some saw these changes as a time of greater liberty, whilst others viewed it as an era of destruction

This period of change started in the late 1940's. In 1948 Thomas Sharp, a town planner, wrote "Georgian City, A Plan for Chichester" after being asked for suggestions about modernising the City. Sharp's plan proposed a duel-carriage ring road close to the city walls, cutting across Westgate Fields and requiring the loss of up to 700 homes.

As vehicles became motorised, larger and heavier than the horse drawn vehicles of earlier times, traffic began to take its toll on local buildings, especially those close to the Market Cross and around Eastgate Square. Buses negotiated the Market Cross by passing on the shortest route often on the wrong side. By the 1960s the buildings here became unsafe and were propped up with 'raking shaws' (wooden built buttresses). The corner where East and North Street met was rebuilt as was the corner of West and South Streets.

In Eastgate Square parts of the façade to Sharp Garland's shop, said once to have been England's oldest grocers, started to crack and became dangerous. In 1964, it was declared unsafe and beyond repair causing Local magistrate, Stanley Roth, to sign a dangerous building order. It was compulsorily purchased to make way for a road widening scheme.

Townscapes at this time were starting to change, aided to some extent by developers convincing local councillors into backing 'slum clearances'.

In Crawley, a developer, John Poulson, created a scandal by clearing slums just to put up tower blocks. With the appearance of these, the Royal Fine Art Commission sent a warning to Chichester City Council, not to allow these high rise blocks.

In Somerstown a programme of demolition began in March 1960. To fully redevelop the area it was decided that all houses within Somerstown should be demolished regardless of their condition. However some Somerstown streets were saved thanks to a campaign by Laurence Olivier who criticised the City Council for the on-going demolitions in the City. Bill Fraser and Doris Hare were frequent performers at Chichester Festival Theatre and both bought properties on the western side of Somerstown, each for about £100, giving the area value and making the Council think again about its demolition plans.

At Westgate, fields of water meadows had, up to 1964, provided grazing for cattle on the eve of market day. Part of Thomas Sharp's ring road plan was used and a road (Avenue d'Chartres) was built connecting to a roundabout at Westgate, Orchard Street and West Street. This saw the demolition of the end of North Walls as well as many homes and businesses.

At Northgate, Metro House was built along with the Fire Station, now isolated on a roundabout. Half of Franklin Place survived as another section of the ring road was built and the field, which had housed the annual Sloe Fair since 1107, was tarmacked and turned into a car park for patrons of Chichester Festival Theatre (now Northgate).

Much of Chichester is now a conservation area with a large number of Grade II listed buildings. Since the 1974 local government re-organisation, planning is dealt with by Chichester District Council with Chichester Conservation Area Advisory Committee (CCAAC ), established in 1976 to advise the planning authority on matters affecting the conservation area, keeping a watching brief on Chichester heritage.