Chichester, known in Latin as Noviomagus Reginorum, was originally a Roman fort constructed by the Second Augustan Legion (Legio II Augusta) as it 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. However, the local tribal leader, Cogidnubus, actively supported the Romans and accordingly the military soon moved on abandoning the fort. Instead the Romans converted the site into a new tribal capital for Cogidnubus.
Initially no defences were constructed for the new town as it was standard practice for Roman settlements to rely on protection from the large mobile Legionary forces. However, a ditch and earth rampart were added late in the second century AD in order to mark the boundary of the town. This had benefits for controlling taxation and managing various other administrative functions (burials for example were prohibited within the town boundary). This earthwork endured for almost a century but in AD 280 the local authority sought the permission of the emperor to fortify the town. As with the earlier boundary, this was not a defensive measure but instead an act intended to enhance the status of the town. Permission was duly granted and an earth backed stone wall was constructed to replace the earlier rampart. The new wall was built using flint held together with lime mortar and would have been whitewashed to maximise its visual impact.
By the mid fourth-century AD a series of internal power struggles had weakened the Roman empire which reduced its ability to protect its vast frontiers. In Britannia the south and east coasts increasingly came under pressure from raiders crossing the sea 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 wealthy town that was likely be a target of any aggression, Chichester augmented its own defences. Sixty semi-circular bastion towers were added to the town wall each standing two storeys higher than the existing parapet. They were equipped with ballistae - a powerful projectile weapon capable of firing a bolt that could punch through several attackers. These modifications were completed by AD 350 but it is unclear if they were used in anger.
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, it had a vastly decreased population. By the end of the fifth century the size of the town was increasing again swelled by Saxon immigrants. It was at this time the town acquired its modern name when the Saxon word for a group of buildings - ceaster - 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. By AD 890 it was regarded as a substantial settlement and Alfred the Great refurbished the Roman defences to convert Chichester into a burh - a fortified town designed to thwart the regular assaults by the Norsemen. 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 five 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. Chichester formed part of the western segment - known as the Rape of Arundel - which was granted to Roger de Montgomery, Earl of Arundel. He built his main castle at Arundel but, within a few months of the invasion, he had also constructed a fortification at Chichester in order to control the important Saxon settlement and its port. The new castle was a simple earth and timber motte-and-bailey fortification. Records dated 1142 mention a castle chapel but it is likely one formed part of the facility from the start. Likewise a dedicated prison, built in 1198, was probably a replacement for a predecessor. Chichester prospered under the Normans and in the twelfth century the Rape of Arundel was divided into two with the Rape of Chichester becoming a standalone entity.
Aside from castles, the Normans relied on the church to cement their control of England and in 1075 the former Saxon diocese was relocated within the perimeter of the Roman Walls. The south west quadrant of the town was cleared to support the associated buildings including a new Cathedral. Work started on the latter in 1076 and continued for 32 years. In 1187 Seffrid, Bishop of Chichester built a new Bishop's Palace, consisting of a hall and chapel, to the south of the Cathedral.
Later Medieval Period
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, when John died in October 1216 Baronial resistance declined with few willing to oppose his young son, Henry III. The Regent of the new King - William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke - recaptured Chichester Castle and went on to defeat Prince Louis at the Battle of Lincoln (1217) ultimately bringing the war to an end. Chichester Castle was demolished soon after with the site having been vacated by 1222. The grounds were illegally taken over by the Dean of Chichester Cathedral but in 1269 the site was formally handed over to the Greyfriars who established a friary there. It 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 flourishing port and, by the fourteenth century, had become rich from the wool trade despite ongoing hostilities with the French during the Hundred Years War. However, as the fortunes of that conflict turned against the English, the south coast of England became vulnerable to attack. Rye and Folkestone were attacked in 1377 and this is perhaps what prompted major repairs to the Town Walls the following year. Chichester escaped being attacked during the wars.
During the Civil War, Chichester was initially held for the King despite the protests of its mercantile community who had strongly opposed Charles I's 'personal rule' and its draconian Ship Tax. A military garrison was installed but, within months of the war starting, the Parliamentarians dispatched a force to evict them. They stormed the suburbs prompting the Royalists to surrender and thereafter Chichester remained in Parliamentary hands for the rest of the war.
In 1773 three of the four gates through the town walls were demolished to ease traffic access. The final gate (East gate) was demolished in 1783. The last military addition to the 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 were converted into a promenade. Regrettably the old Roman amphitheatre, originally capable of holding up to 800 spectators, was destroyed in May 1944 when a B-17 crashed there after being heavily damaged during a raid on France. The town walls were repaired between 1984 to 1994 which, coupled with funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund, helped stabilise the remains.
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Only the motte of Chichester Castle survives and that is about one-quarter of its original size and deformed from landscaping. The remains are found in Priory Park. Significant sections of the Roman Walls, albeit extensively 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.
Chichester Castle and Roman Walls Layout. The town walls were not added until the third century by which time Chichester was a flourishing settlement. Accordingly the walls wrapped around the existing town hence the irregular polygonal layout. The Normans built Chichester Castle in the north-east corner whilst the south-west quadrant was cleared for the Cathedral.
Chichester Castle. The only part of Chichester Castle that survives is the motte and even this bears little resemblance to its originally configuration.
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 just a fraction of its original size.
Division of Sussex. Sussex was critical to the Normans as it secured access to the continent and accordingly was divided into five administrative areas known as rapes (derived from the Saxon term rap which implied demarcation). Each was granted to a Norman Lord who established a castle to serve as the administrative centre. At the time of the Domesday Book (1086) these were Arundel (Roger de Montgomery), Bramber (William de Braose), Lewes (William de Warenne), Pevensey (Robert, Count of Mortain) and Hastings (Robert, Count of Eu). Chichester was originally part of Arundel but in the twelfth century was separated and became a sixth rape.
Chichester Cathedral. The cathedral was started in 1075 and took 32 years to complete.
Chichester Roman Walls. The first Roman rampart around the town was built in the late second century AD. This consisted of a simple earthwork rampart and ditch predominantly to mark the boundary of the town. In AD 280 the local authority applied to rebuild the wall in stone to mark their status. However, by the AD 350s the south coast of England was coming under attack from sea borne raiders from the east and this prompted the walls to be augmented with defensive bastions.
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.
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.
Bishop's Palace. A lightly fortified Bishop's Palace was built in 1187 by Seffrid, Bishop of Chichester. An elaborate gatehouse was added in the fourteenth century and the walls were rebuilt in brick between 1725 and 1727.
and the ROMAN TOWN WALLS
Chichester was founded by the Romans and in third century AD they built the town walls. These were later augmented with sixty towers which were still standing in the ninth century AD when Alfred the Great converted the town into a fortified burh. Following the Norman Conquest, Chichester Castle was constructed to ensure control of this key town and port.
Chichester Castle is located within Priory Park which is found to the north-east of the Cathedral. There is no dedicated car park but numerous options are available in and around Chichester with one option shown below.
Car Parking Option
New Park Road, PO19 7SB
Priory Park, PO19 1NS
Tower Street, PO19 1QH
Bishop's Palace Garden
51 Ave De Chartres, PO19 1QS