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Three Chichester Churches

by Lorna Still

St Peter the Great,  1880 – 1900

By Lorna Still, Volunteer at The Novium Museum.

Chichester has some interesting churches that were built in the nineteenth century, either to replace older churches, or because more people came to live in certain areas. However, these did not always last very long as active churches and other uses were found for the buildings.

St Bartholomew's in Mount Lane, outside West Walls, was first consecrated in 1832. It replaced a twelfth-century church which was circular, like the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. The original church had been destroyed in 1642 during the Civil War. The architect of the new church was George Draper. An organ loft and chancel were added in 1878 and in 1929 Macdonald Gill (famous sculptor Eric Gill's brother) removed the tower and decorated the nave ceiling. The church was taken over by Chichester Theological College; however when the college closed in 1994 it became the Chaplaincy building for the nearby Chichester College.

All Saints, in Church Road, Portfield, was built because the population in the area had increased and the church was completed in 1871. It was designed by Henry Woodyer in a thirteenth-century style, with flint facing. The church contains a twenty-one foot high reredos, an ornamental screen, which depicts Christ with his disciples. It was made for the Cathedral by Slater and Carpenter in 1870, but it was not popular there, so in 1907 it was installed in St Saviour's, Brighton. That church became redundant and so the reredos returned to Chichester in 1983, the Victorian church of All Saints being considered a suitable home for it. By then All Saint's was also redundant, but was about to take on a new lease of life as the Museum of Dolls and Mechanical Music. Emsworth oyster-merchant Clive Jones had been collecting these mechanical musical instruments for over fifteen years and had them all restored to working order. They were arranged chronologically from 1830 to the 1930s and visitors taking the guided tour would hear some of them play. The collection included barrel organs, Swiss music boxes and café pianos. Jones's wife Enid, a librarian, collected Victorian dolls which were also in the museum. They wore original costumes or exact replicas made by Enid herself. A special Victorian room contained other memorabilia such as a magic lantern and stuffed animals made by Clive and Enid's son Lester, a self-taught taxidermist. The museum has now closed and this church building is unused.

The Parish Church of St Peter the Great, on the corner of West Street and Tower Street, was completed in 1852. This replaced a church which had stood on the site of the Cathedral. When the Norman Cathedral was built, the parish congregation first used the nave and later the north transept and the priest was made sub-dean. The congregation used their own entrance and the transept was partitioned off from the rest of the Cathedral. However, there were problems. The parish was only allowed one service a week and the space became too small for the growing congregation. Eventually, in the 1840s, Dean George Chandler launched an appeal and raised enough money to buy the site on the other side of the road. The architect, Richard Carpenter, designed the new church in fourteenth-century style and planned to add a tower, but, because this was too expensive, he built a porch instead. The result was 'Victorian architecture at its best', according to archaeologist Alec Down. Much of the stained glass was lost during the Second World War, but a new window depicting St Peter was installed in 1947. A dwindling congregation and the need for costly repairs led to the church's de-consecration in 1982. The congregation was first moved to St Bartholomew's and later united with St Paul's parish.

A commercial use for the building was considered the most feasible and St Peter's Market opened in 1983 with nineteen privately-owned businesses inside. By 1998, the building had been sympathetically restored by the designer Tony Castley and re-opened as a pub called 'St Peter's Slurping Toad' but many felt that the large, brightly-coloured clothed toads used as part of the décor were not suitable for a church building. Happily, this building is still in use (without the toads), until recently as 'West's', and now as 'The Duke and Rye'.