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.