Chichester’s Market Cross is rightly judged one of the most impressive in England (it’s rivals at Salisbury or Wyndmondham cannot really compete, as the first is clearly smaller and the second is of timber, not stone). It was commissioned and paid for in 1501 by Bishop Edward Storey, whose incumbency spanned the last years of the medieval and the first years of the Tudor periods. Perhaps there is symbolism to be found here? For not many years after Storey’s death in 1503, Thomas Cromwell’s agents, acting under the orders of Cromwell and Henry VIII, tore down the shrine of St. Richard in the cathedral and transported it away in several carts for their own enrichment. Times had changed dramatically in thirty years, and many people may have yearned for the ‘good old days’ of the medieval past (not, of course that they would have conceived it in those terms!)
Bishop Storey wished there to be a sheltered place in Chichester where honest tradesmen could be protected from the elements and so carry out their transactions without being drenched in rain or frozen by snow . The Cross was the focus on all such exchanges until the opening of the ‘Butter Market’ in North Street in 1807. But the opening of the new and more spacious building did not cause the old cross to become wholly redundant: it remained a focal point for informal business transactions and the focus for the social life of the city. Indeed rivalry and revelry could manifest itself around the cross. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, brawling and disputations were not uncommon, including those connected with the Whig/ Tory rivalry in the town. The following report from the West Sussex Gazette describes a rather less violent if discordant rivalry at the cross on New Year’s Eve in 1871:-
Our citizens have usually a demonstration round the ancient Cross on New Year’s Eve, and on Saturday last the muster numbered upwards of 400 men, women, and children, all chatting and laughing, and anxiously looking at the lighted face of the clock, as the minute hand gradually drew near its fellow, resting on the XII. The Christmas Band – a body of musicians partly recruited from the ranks of the Rifle Band, with several amateurs – had been engaged for the past week in playing at various houses in the City and neighbourhood, and on Saturday evening they perambulated the principal streets, playing merry tunes and followed by a great crowd. Having done the accustomed tour, they drew near the Cross, waiting for the hour to strike………But on Saturday night there were two [bands] in the field, for the Theatre Band has also hastened to the meeting place, and Mr Cooke’s musicians were determined to show their loyalty to the Queen and hearty greeting to the New Year. So when the hour began to strike the two bands struck up, the people shouted aloud, and cornet, double bass, and drum went heartily to work. Greatly in favour of noise, but wonderfully antagonistic to harmony, the two bands played different airs – one blew out with might and main the National Anthem, whilst the other as persistently struck up the much-loved hymn to friendship [Auld Lang Syne]. The din did not last long, however, and at the close, and when the hour was fairly rung out, and the year of grace 1871 ushered in, the mass of people, with one common impulse, began to move round the Cross, singing in unison “Should auld acquaintance be forgot,” and having completed circling the old edifice the third time, a hearty cheer arose, and then all rushed off to bed.”
While writing out this quotation, Thomas Hardy’s ‘Under the Greenwood Tree’ came to my mind and the Mellstock Village Band that toured the village during the festive season, to a mixed reception. Interestingly Hardy’s novel was published in 1872, the year after the musical cacophony described at Chichester – I wonder if a copy of the West Sussex Gazette could have passed across Hardy’s desk that year?