NOSTALGIA: Share your memories of Chichester’s Priory Park

Photograph taken by Benjamin Graham
Photograph taken by Benjamin Graham

A public history project is calling on residents of Chichester to share their experiences and memories of the city’s Priory Park.

The Friends of Priory Park and Dr Ross J Wilson, from the Department of History and Politics at the University of Chichester, have announced the launch of the Priory Park Memories Project. This aims to record and examine how residents and visitors have used the Park since it became a central part of Chichester life in 1918. The project and the findings are part of Priory Park 100, the celebrations being held in 2018 to mark the centenary of the gift of the park to the citizens of Chichester by the seventh Duke of Richmond and Gordon.

The Friends of Priory Park stated that “Priory Park is one of the most popular destinations in the city, used by every age group and within easy reach of most residents and workers, as well as attracting a share of the several million visits to the district each year.”

Dr Ross Wilson said: “Through recording public recollections of the Park, we will be able to build a lasting testimony to how it has been used in the past and the present. We will also work to develop a booklet and online resource to ensure that this history can be maintained for the future.”

Residents and visitors are invited to submit their memories and photos of Priory Park to a website created for the project: www.prioryparkmemories.com.

Dr Wilson added: “The project team will also hold interviews through the summer and those interested in attending or being notified of the dates can register on the website.”

For further information about the Memories Project contact Dr Ross Wilson on r.wilson@chi.ac.uk. For further information about the Friends of Priory Park and Priory Park 100, contact Richard Plowman on rplowman@priorypark100.com or telephone 01243 787663.

Priory Park 100 is a collaboration between the Friends of Priory Park and the Priory Park Festival to highlight the Park’s contribution to the quality of life in Chichester, to honour its history, and reaffirm its role as a memorial to the fallen in the First World War. A full programme of events will be announced later this year.

The area that is today Priory Park was formerly the bailey of Chichester Castle, built shortly after the Norman conquest in the 11th century. Some years after the castle’s destruction in 1217 (remnants of the motte survive) Henry III passed the land to his brother Earl Richard of Cornwall, who then gave it to the Greyfriars. They held it until the Friary was dissolved in 1538. Three years later the site was given to the mayor and city of Chichester, with the chancel of the Friary becoming the present-day Guildhall, in which William Blake was tried for sedition in 1804.

From the 16th to the 19th centuries various tenants leased properties on the land, until in 1824 the fifth Duke of Richmond & Gordon bought the freehold. In 1851 the newly formed Priory Park Society, wishing for ‘a place of recreation for their fellow citizens’ - or at least those citizens who could afford a subscription - was granted a lease by the Duke and laid out walks, a bowling green and also an area suitable for cricket, leading to the founding of the Chichester Priory Park Cricket Club that same year. W G Grace played against an Australian team in 1886, and to this day the square continues to attract a full programme of fixtures. As does the immaculate green of the 135 year old Chichester Bowling Club, the sport’s longest established association in Sussex.

On September 30, 1918, the seventh Duke of Richmond & Gordon presented the Park to the citizens of Chichester as a ‘perpetual memorial of the Great War and for the purposes of public recreation’. Since then it has been administered, first, by the City Corporation and, since 1974, by Chichester District Council.

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