Of interest in the town is the William Potter Museum of Curiosity. William Potter was an eccentric Victorian taxidermist who specialized in arranging stuffed animals in tableaux of nursery rhymes.
The four and a half acre site of Bignor Roman Villa was first excavated in 1811, after a section of floor depicting a dancing girl was discovered during farm work contains some of the finest mosaics in the country. The buildings, set round a large courtyard, seem to have been the home of a rich man, and they were probably occupied from the 2nd to 4th centuries AD. Theresults of various digs are shown in the site museum.
A Roman fort existed here before Chichester became a capital of the South Saxons, given by their King Aella to his son Cissa, whence Cissa’s Ceaster, the origin of the name. It has always been a peaceful place, the city centre still more or less confined within the lines of the Roman walls, parts of which have been incorporated into the gardens of the Bishop’s Palace.
Four main roads, North, South, East and West Streets divide the centre into tidy quadrants, and meet at the market cross, which is Chichester’s most prominent landmark, built by Bishop Story in 1501; the octagonal cross has a central tower supported on open arcades; the carvings are superb.
The south-east quadrant is also divided into four segments, by charming streets known as the Pallants -again called north, south, east and west which form a complete Georgian townscape in miniature. Pallant House, at the crossroads, is an elegant Queen Anne Mansion which has now been restored and opened as an art gallery.
Although many of Chichester’ s finest buildings are 18th century, the period when the city prospered from shipping and the corn trade, some more ancient houses survive around the cathedral, and near St Martin’s Square, a unique almshouse, founded in the 13th century as a hospital. It is England’s only example of such a building still in use. Originally, hospital and chapel, divided by a beautiful carved screen, were housed in the same building, so that the sick could benefit from religious services. The infirmary has now been converted to flats for eight old ladies, but the character of the building is unchanged.
Chichester Cathedral, founded in the 11th century, was largely rebuilt after a fire at the end of the 12th century, and its spire collapsed in 1861 in a violent storm, but was rebuilt by Sir Gilbert Scott. Inside, treasures range from 12th century stone carvings to John Piper’s vividly coloured altar tapestry and windows by Marc Chagall.
The Festival Theatre, one of the most prestigious provincial theatres in the country, opened in 1962 under the direction of Sir Laurence (now Lord) Olivier.
An Iron Age fort, on the downs just to the north of Worthing, Cissbury was occupied from the 5th century BC until the middle of the 1st century AD. It is an enormous fortress, and it has been estimated that 60,000 tons of chalk were needed to construct the ramparts.
The old market centre of the town, which received its charter in 1221, still contains Tudor buildings. Sackville College, an early Jacobean almshouse founded by the 2nd Earl of Dorset in 1609, is still in use, retaining much of its original character. The Queen Victoria Hospital here treated more American airmen than any other British hospital during World War II. Many Canadian servicemen were also treated. The hospital was particularly noted for plastic surgery. A section of the hospital, opened by the Queen, was paid for by donations from ‘grateful friends in America’. President Kennedy visited the town, attending Mass in the Roman Catholic church.
Fishbourne’s Roman Palace was a splendid and skilful example of Roman architecture and, extending over six acres, the biggest site discovered in Britain. Just west of the important settlement at Chichester, it was inhabited during the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD, the height of Roman occupation. Archaeologists did not discover the Palace until 1960 although in medieval times a ploughman is known to have cut a furrow across one of its mosaic pavements. For these pavements Fishbourne is famous, especially the centre-piece of the boy on the dolphin. The museum gives a good idea of life in the Palace, and a formal garden has been recreated along Roman lines in the courtyard l formed by the four wings.
Formerly part of the Goodwood estate, the racecourse here is famous for the ‘Glorious Goodwood’ meeting in July. Goodwood House built by James Wyatt, is a treasure house of fine pictures, furniture, tapestries and Sévres porcelain. It was the home of the 4th Duke of Richmond and Lennox, appointed Governo rGeneral of Canada in 1818. He died of rabies the following year, having been bitten by a fox.
Midhurst has associations with H G Wells, who worked in a Chemist’s shop and studied and, later, taught at the grammar school. The 17th-century house Cowdray Park, now in ruins, was originally the home of Sir Anthony Browne, Master of Horse to Henry VIII. Early in the 20th century, it was bought by Viscount Cowdray of Midhurst who restored it. Within the park, there is a famous polo ground; matches are played at weekends during the season, which lasts from April to August. The Angel Hotel was named by a group of Pilgrim Fathers travelling to the port of Southampton – other Angel Inns were often named in a similar way. Midhurst’s Curfew Gardens were given by a grateful traveller who found his way by following the sound of Midhurst’s church bells. At 8pm each evening the curfew is still rung.
Petworth House stands in a park designed by Capability Brown in 1752. Turner painted it, an artist much admired by the then owner, the 3rd Earl of Egremont, a descendant of the Duke of Somerset. A number of Turner’s paintings are among the masterpieces of European art that hang in Petworth’s richly decorated and furnished rooms. The magnificence of the stately house should not cause the visitor to overlook the delights of the small town of Petworth with its old, narrow streets and timbered houses. The Angel Inn, like many others in Hampshire, was named by passing Pilgrims.
Three miles south is Parham House, an Elizabethan mansion begun by Sir Thomas Palmer who sailed with Drake to Cadiz; the house is set in beautiful gardens.
Linch Down rises 818ft to the north west of this lovely Sussex village and offers splendid views. It is the perfect setting for the Weald and Downland .Open Air Museum, an outstanding collection of historic buildings from all over the south country which have been re-erected on the slopes of the Downs. From time to time there are demonstrations of rural crafts.
High on the South Downs, near the Village of South Harting, stands Uppark, a late 17th century mansion, much improved in the 18th century by the fabulously wealthy Sir Matthew Fetherston-haugh, whose collections of paintings, porcelain and furniture can still be admired. Nearby is the Vandaha Memorial Tower, commemorating a syndicate formed to establish a colony in America -the scheme foundered at the outbreak of war in 1776.
The Weald and Downland Museum, England’s first organiszed open air crafts display which will eventually include some 40 re-erected old buildings, is sited at Singleton, near West Dean. West Dean itself is a charming downland village of flint and half-timbered houses standing in the valley of the River Lavant. At West Dean Gardens old tools and implements -including antique lawnmowers – are on show in the Museum of the Garden, and the Wild garden is of ecological interest.
Worthing, the largest town in West Sussex, was a small Eshing village until Princess Amelia, the youngest daughter of George III, holidayed there in 1798. When society followed her lead the resort expanded to accommodate the influx, and it has continued to grow as the extensive pebble-and-sand beach and attractive ‘ South Downs scenery have proved popular with successive generations. In addition to safe bathing, a pier and 4 miles of promenades, the town today offers concert halls and two good theatres. Unusual travelling stocks can be seen in the town museum, and at West Tarring, to the north west, the Museum of Sussex Folklore is housed in three 15th-century cottages belonging to the Sussex Archaeological Trust. Cissbury Ring marks the site of an Iron Age camp dating from about 800 BC.