CHICHESTER CASTLE, PO19 7XH
Postcode: PO19 7XH
Lat/Long: 50.839779N 0.775736W
Notes: Priory Park is located to the north east of the Cathedral. No dedicated car park but ample option in and around Chichester town centre.
NO OFFICIAL SITE
Chichester Castle Motte. Chichester Castle was a motte-and-bailey castle abandoned in the early thirteenth century. The site was thereafter given to the Greyfriars and all traces of the bailey have been obliterated. The motte stills survives albeit a fraction of its original size.
WHAT IS THERE TO SEE?
The remains of the castle’s motte (about one-quarter of its original size and deformed from landscaping) are found in Priory Park. Significant sections of the Roman Walls, as modified over the centuries, still exist as do a number of the fourth century bastions (although not to the original height). None of the town gates have survived.
Greyfriars Friary. The friary was suppressed in 1538 by Henry VIII. Only one building survives - the church which was later re-used as a courthouse.
Rounded Bastions. The Romans added sixty rounded bastions to the Town Wall circa-AD 350 as the south coast of Britannia came under increasingly regular attacks from sea borne raiders.
1. Chichester derives from the Saxon word for a group of buildings - ceaster. This was fused with a Saxon name - Cissa - who was presumably an individual of some note. This led to Saxons calling the town 'Cissa's Ceaster' which eventually became corrupted into Chichester.
2. Following the Norman invasion, Sussex was divided into six rapes and granted as follows:
- Chichester: Roger de Montgomery
- Arundel: Roger de Montgomery
- Bramber: William de Braose
- Lewes: William de Warenne
- Pevensey: Robert, Count of Mortain
- Hastings: Robert, Count of Eu
3. Roman Chichester had an amphitheatre capable of holding upto 800 spectators but the ruins were destroyed when a B-17 crashed there after being heavily damaged during a raid on France in May 1944.
Chichester was founded by the Romans who built the town walls in the late third century and later upgraded them with sixty towers. Converted into a fortified burh during the reign of Alfred the Great, it developed into a thriving port. Following the Norman Conquest, Chichester Castle was constructed to ensure control of this key settlement.
HISTORY OF CHICHESTER CASTLE AND TOWN WALLS
Chichester, known in Latin as Noviomagus Reginorum, was originally a Roman fort constructed as the Second Augustan Legion (Legio II Augusta) swept westwards in its conquest of southern England during AD 43/44. Located on the River Lavant, the location was ideal for re-supplying the army by sea but it had a short life; resistance in the area was limited as the local tribal leader, Cogidnubus, supporting the Romans. Accordingly the military quickly moved on but, in support of their client King, converted the site into the new tribal capital.
No defences were constructed for the new town - it was standard practice for Roman settlements to rely on protection from the large mobile Legionary forces - although a ditch and earth rampart were added late in the second century AD in order to mark the boundary. However in AD 280 the local authority sought the permission of the emperor to fortify the town; an act that was regarded as bringing civic status rather than for any defensive need. The Roman Walls were constructed from flint and lime mortar then would have then been whitewashed to maximise their visual impact.
Seventy years later a series of internal power struggles had weakened the Roman empire which reduced its ability to protects its vast frontiers. In Britannia the south and east coasts increasingly came under pressure from sea borne raiders hailing from Germany, Denmark and Scandinavia. The military responded by creating a chain of forts under a unified Command - the Count of the Saxon Shore in Britain (comes litoris Saxonici per Britanniam) - but as a significant town, Chichester augmented its own defences. 60 semi-circular bastions were added to the Town Wall each towering two storeys above the existing parapet. They were equipped with ballistae; powerful projectile weapons capable of firing a bolt that could punch through several attackers. These modifications were completed by AD 350.
The Romans withdrew the last of the military forces from Britannia in the early fifth century AD and what happened to Chichester at this time is unknown. It is possible the site continued to be inhabited but, if so, with a vastly decreased population. By the end of the fifth century the size of the town was increasing again swelled by Saxon immigrants. In AD 890 it was regarded as a substantial settlement and Alfred the Great rebuilt the Roman defences to convert Chichester into a burh; a fortified town designed to thwart the regular assaults by the Danes. The plan was successful with Chichester successfully repelling an attack in AD 894. The town continued to flourish throughout the tenth and early eleventh centuries hosting a weekly market and a Royal Mint.
Following the Norman invasion, Sussex was divided into six rapes. Effective and undisputed control of this coastal region was essential for the Normans to maintain their links with the continent and William I granted them to his key magnates. The two western segments - Chichester and Arundel - were granted to Roger de Montgomery, Earl of Arundel and it was he who built the first castle. A simple earth and timber motte-and-bailey fortification it was constructed within months of the invasion to secure this sizeable settlement and important port for the new overlords. Likewise the church also had a crucial role to play in establishing Norman control of the country; in 1075, the former Saxon diocese was relocated within the parameter of the Roman Walls. The south west quadrant was cleared to support the associated buildings whilst a new Cathedral built near the centre of the town. Work started in 1076 and continued for 32 years.
Chichester Castle was occupied by the forces of Prince Louis during the First Barons War. The French Prince had been invited to take the English Crown by those magnates who opposed the violent rule of King John. However that King’s death in March 1216, followed by Prince Louis' defeat at the Battle of Lincoln (1217), ended the war and Louis returned home. Chichester Castle was demolished at this time and by 1269 the site had been given over to Greyfriars who established a friary there. The site remained occupied by them until the dissolution in 1538 and today only the church, which was re-used as a court building, survives.
Whilst the castle had been demolished, the Town Walls remained relevant. Chichester was still a vibrant port and by the fourteenth century was rich from the wool trade. However, in the latter years of Edward III's reign, the Hundred Years War had started to turn against the English. With the death of that King and the young Richard II unable to lead an army, the south coast of England became vulnerable to attack. This prompted major repairs to the Town Walls in 1378.
During the Civil War, Chichester was initially held for the King despite the protests of its mercantile community (who had opposed Charles I's Ship Tax). A military garrison was installed but in 1642 the Parliamentarians sent a force to evict them. Having captured the suburbs the Royalists surrendered and Chichester remained in Parliamentary hands thereafter.
In 1773 the three of the four gates through the Town Walls were demolished to ease traffic access. The final gate (east gate) followed in 1783. Nevertheless the town would see a small military garrison return during the Napoleonic Wars.
The last military addition to the Town Walls occurred in 1838 when a Gunpowder store was built into the thickness of the rampart. After this the former defences came to be regarded in a different light; in 1850 Priory Park was created with extensive landscaping of the former motte and the Walls being converted into a promenade. Repairs between 1984 to 1994, coupled with funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund, helped stabilise the remains.