Church history to help with extension

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IT SAT sadly on the cusp, too late for the classic elegance of Georgian St John’s, too early for the full-blown Victorian gothic-revival swagger of St Peter The Great.

The result was a rather dull building against which circumstances have contrived to conspire ever since.

But there is no doubting the fine spirit at the heart of St Paul’s Church in Chichester. Even now, the congregation is working hard to extend the church’s extension.

And it’s in support of the present Building On Success appeal that Chichester historian Alan Green has written St Paul’s, Chichester, The Church, Its Parish And People: A History.

All proceeds will go to the church which commissioned Alan’s researches.

Alan admits it was rather outside his usual period of history, but ultimately a fascinating work to undertake.

“It was built as what was known as a chapel of ease. At the start of the 19th century, there were eight parish churches within the city walls. Most of the parishes were quite small. The biggest parish was St Peter The Great which at the time didn’t even have its own church. They would meet in the Cathedral because the services of the Cathedral and the parish church could not take place at the same time.

“At the same time there was the Somerstown development which started in 1810. There just wasn’t enough room within St Peter’s and the Cathedral for all the people, and so they decided to build what was known as a chapel of ease, built to serve the northern part of the parish which went right up to Lavant in those days.”

St Paul’s foundation stone was laid in March 1835 and the building was consecrated in October 1836. The architect was Joseph Butler, who was surveyor to the Cathedral at the time and about whom little is known today, save that he also designed Bishop Otter College.

“One has to say that his design for St Paul’s was rather uninspired. It’s just a rather dull building.”

Too late for Georgian elegance, too early for Victorian swagger, it was caught somewhere in between, says Alan who points out that he is himself rather kinder to it than Pevsner who labelled it “really nasty lancet gothic”.

Its one distinguishing feature was its tower which was demolished in 1950. The whole building had been rather poorly constructed; the tower was unstable; and eventually the decision was taken that it had to go.

The church suffered further indignity when the gyratory road to its southern side was constructed - despite fierce protests - over its churchyard.

The graves were dug up, the bodies re-intered and St Paul’s found itself sitting just off a roundabout.

But it wasn’t all bad news, as Alan says. The church has now re-emerged effectively as Chichester’s parish church.

“In the 1970s, the Bishop was looking at reducing the number of churches in Chichester, to have just one central chruch. At the time St Peter The Great (now Wests Bar, opposite the Cathedral) was thriving and St Paul’s was smaller. What the Bishop proposed was to close St Paul’s and amalgamate the two parishes.”

But in 1979 an inspection of St Peter The Great showed an awful lot of money needed to be spent on it: “The decision was made that St Peter The Great would close and the two congregations would unite at St Paul’s.

“The whole thing had come full circle. St Paul’s had started as a daughter church and then the two congregations were split and then came back together again at St Paul’s in July 1980.”

Alan’s book is available from Kim’s Bookshop, South Street, Chichester; St Olave’s Christian Bookshop, North Street; St Paul’s Parish Office, Churchside (mornings only); and West Sussex Record Office, Orchard Street, Chichester.