The Eve of St Agnes – an evening of Poetry, Music and Song

Keats-imageCelebrating 200 years of Keats Poetry

At 6pm on Saturday 20th January, 2018.
Venue: Eastgate Square and St Pancras Church Chichester

This is a FREE event.

Special guest the Reverend Peter Owen-Jones

You can find more information on John Keats’ association with Chichester on the Chichester Heritage Trails website.

Readers and performers:

  • Peter Owen-Jones – Author and Presenter
  • Stephanie Norgate – Writer
  • Naomi Foyle – Writer
  • Chloe Salaman – Actress
  • Barry Smith – Poet
  • Noah Peirson – Pianist
  • Peter Rice – Tenor

PLEASE NOTE: This event is not being organised by Chichester Heritage Trails.
For more information on this event please call: mobile 07773 581 806

The 6th Chichester Heritage Trail launched – Chichester During the Civil War 1642-1646

Trail6-CoverMany wealthy royalists lived in Chichester, or at least had homes in the city, including Sir John Morley, Sir Thomas Boyer and Christopher Lewknor. Opposing them were Henry Chitty, the captain of the local militia, known as the trained band, and the MP for Midhurst, William Cawley. In June 1642, the mayor, Robert Exon, read out the king’s proclamation calling on all loyal men to take up arms for the king. On 19th August, George Goring, the governor of Portsmouth, declared for the king. This was a massive blow to the parliamentary cause and a great boost to the morale of the Chichester royalists. However, Goring proved to be a fair-weather ally to the king and quickly surrendered when subject to a naval blockade by forces loyal to parliament. With Portsmouth back in parliamentary hands, Chitty and Cawley successfully requested cannon and gunpowder be sent from there to Chichester for the further defence of the city.

In an attempt to win around opinion in Sussex to his cause, the king issued a further proclamation on 7th November granting full pardon to any inhabitant of Sussex who had rebelled against the Crown. However, the pardon specifically exempted Henry Chitty and Herbert Morley (no relation to Sir John Morley) who was Colonel of the trained bands of Lewes and de facto head of military operations in eastern Sussex.

Below is a a flow chart of the main events in the form of a timeline, published by The Chichester Society. The Society has published Heritage Trail No.6 Chichester during the English Civil War available for download by clicking on the image above or by visiting the project’s website It describes the beginnings of the Civil War and in particular the impact it had on Chichester and the roles played by these individuals. Four of the main buildings and locations involved in this event are cited and form a trail that can be followed from the North to the East and finally to the South finishing at the Cathedral.


The Shoe-maker poet

A humble Chichester shoe-maker, who left school at 11, went on to become a poet of some renown, as well as becoming sexton and verger of Chichester Cathedral. Charles Crocker was born in Chichester in 1797 of poor parents. At the age of seven he was fortunate enough to win a place at the city’s Grey Coat Charity School (not to be confused with the more famous Blue Coat school). Here he learned “those religious principles which have rendered my condition more than commonly blest”. At the age of eleven, Crocker was apprenticed to a Chichester shoemaker and remained in that employment until he was 47, latterly at a premises in Little London.

John Thelwall

John Thelwall

During these years, Crocker began to write poetry. He wrote of the landscape about him, including the trees and beauty spots he came to know and love so well. His two best received poems were ‘The British Oak’ and ‘Kingley Vale’. He found his inspiration in the poetry of Oliver Goldsmith, William Cowper, and the Chichester poet, William Collins. Crocker was hugely influenced by a lecture given in Chichester by the polymath and political reformer, John Thelwall, on the life and work of John Milton. This one lecture, Crocker later claimed, inspired him to write verse more than any book he ever read.

A Chichester doctor, John Forbes, befriended Crocker, and encouraged him to publish some of his poems. Crocker’s collection, ‘Kingley Vale and other Poems’, appeared in 1830, to much acclaim. In one poem, ‘Labour and the Muse’, Crocker described how verse came to his mind as he worked –

How sweetly pass the solitary hours,
When prison’d here with toil I sit and muse
My fancy roving ‘mong poetic flowers,
Delighted with their beauteous forms and hues.

John Forbes

John Forbes

Forbes went on to become Physician to the Queen’s Household and was knighted by Queen Victoria. It was perhaps through Forbes’ London connections that Crocker was introduced to Robert Southey, who declared that Crocker’s ‘The British Oak’, was “the finest, if not the finest [poem], in the English language”. Crocker was now earning a good living as a poet and in 1844 he finally gave up shoe-making.

Crocker did not leave his beloved Chichester for the bright lights of London, but actually rooted himself more deeply in the city and its history. He became both sexton and verger of Chichester Cathedral. In 1848 he published ‘Visit to Chichester Cathedral’, the first ever guide book to the cathedral. As he grew older, Crocker delighted in taking visitors around the cathedral and telling them of its history and showing them the shrines and ornaments of that ancient place of worship.

Collapsed_spireOn 21st February 1861, during restoration works, the spire of Chichester Cathedral collapsed – crashing into the nave. The scene of destruction made a deep impression on Crocker, who believed the spire to be the crowing glory of ‘his’ cathedral – superior even to Salisbury’s. The Sussex antiquarian, Mark Anthony Lower, who visited Crocker shortly afterwards, found his friend distraught by the calamity that had overtaken his beloved cathedral. He did not recover from the shock and died six months later on 6th October. Crocker’s funeral was an impressive sight. The great and the good of the city followed the cortege in silent tribute. One friend noted, “the fall of Chichester spire killed but one man and that man was Charles Crocker”.

In March 2014, a blue plaque to Charles Crocker was placed on Kim’s Bookshop in South Street, Chichester, where the poet died in 1861.

When the Civil War came to Chichester

Exterior view of Cawley Almshouse

It is said there is no war worse than a civil war, with communities and even families being divided against each other.

In December 1642, civil war came to Chichester. As King Charles I sought to wrest control of his kingdom from a rebellious parliament, armed conflict broke out across the country.

Chichester was a city divided, with prominent citizens taking up the cause of king and parliament respectively. One of the city’s MPs, William Cawley, well known in Chichester for establishing almshouses for the poor, was a stern critic of the king. Henry Chitty was another parliament man and Captain of the Trained Band of Chichester – a seventeenth century version of the Home Guard. Ranged against them were Sir William Morley, who lived in the Cathedral Close, and Sir Edward Ford, the High Sheriff of Sussex, who had only recently being elevated to his position by King Charles.

An uneasy truce between the two factions broke out into armed conflict and lead to the city being besieged and under bombardment for several weeks. Sir Edward Ford, who lived at Uppark, raised the county militia, in an effort to dislodge the parliamentary forces in Chichester. Although he was initially successful, his victory was short lived, as a superior force under General William Waller laid siege to the city.

The story of those frantic days in December 1642 will form the basis of our next Chichester Heritage Trail. Volunteer researchers have revealed information from the archives that sheds new light on those turbulent days and shows how the scars of conflict took many decades to heal.

We hope to publish the Civil War Trail – the sixth in the Chichester Heritage Trail series – in the autumn.

Chris Hare, Chichester Heritage Trails Project Manager.

Somerstown map of 1896


Somerstown was transformed beyond recognition in the 1960s, with a new estate replacing the old houses and cottages. A newspaper report in 1962 explained that a total of 160 old properties were due for demolition. It was also reported that the leading lights of stage and screen had lent their support to the campaign led by the Chichester Civic Society to retain and preserve the old Somerstown.

Those speaking out included Sir Laurence Olivier, Sir Michael Redgrave, and Dame Sybil Thorndike. However, the council, persisted and insisted that the old properties were too dilapidated to be saved. They commended the scheme of their architect, Stanley Roth, to build a new suburb of houses, flats and open spaces, that would create “a sense of charm and interest.”