In tribute to "Chichester’s Forgotten Poet"

Charles Crocker
Charles Crocker

A New Chichester Paper will try to rescue from the mists of time Charles Crocker, Chichester’s Forgotten Poet.

The title comes from Alan Green, Richard Williamson and Andrew Berriman.

Alan admits his initial impressions of Crocker were rather unfavourable, but he has since been happy to change his mind after acquiring a signed copy of Crocker’s work.

Crocker was born in Chichester in 1797 of poor parents and died in 1861.

“Other Chichester poets William Collins and William Hayley are both quite well known, but Crocker has been forgotten. He left school at a very early age and was apprenticed to a shoemaker and then to a printer, but he had always had a love of verse. He had his first poem published by the Brighton Gazette in 1820-ish, and he was praised by Robert Southey, the Poet Laureate.

“Crocker then went on to publish a slim volume of poetry which ran to four editions, each of them getting longer and longer.

“He then joined the cathedral staff and became sexton and Dean’s verger.”

He died shortly after the collapse of the cathedral spire, and it is entirely possible the two events were connected.

“He absolutely loved the cathedral and had been showing visitors around it.

“His final address was in South Street in what is now Kim’s bookshop.

“From his bedroom he would have been able to see the cathedral.

“Crocker had a tragic life. He lost his first wife and he lost two of his sons.

“He married again and had some more children. When he died, there was a subscription concert held in the Assembly Room to raise money for his widow. The funeral was attended by the cathedral staff.”

His grave is at the back of St Paul’s in Chichester.

“In his lifetime, he was well regarded… and then was forgotten. My first association with him came from a book on the River Lavant by Ken Newbury which included Crocker’s poem on the River Lavant… and when I read it, I thought it really wasn’t very good.

“But I made a mental note to try to look out for his collection of verse, and one day I came across it at Lewes Book Fair.”

It was a copy Crocker had dedicated to his wife on her birthday. It also contained a letter he had written.

“Crocker wrote a lot of sonnets, but I suppose the initial thing you would say about his poetry is that a lot of it is about local subjects… and he also wrote from the heart. He had no formal education, but he had this great love of people and great love of the English language and a great love of the cathedral. He saw beauty everywhere.

“In the cathedral library there is a painting of him. He had blue eyes and sandy-coloured hair and he looks like everybody’s favourite uncle.

“The impression that you get of him is that he was a thoroughly good bloke.”

And through the volume he acquired, Alan is happy to say that he revised his initially unfavourable view of Crocker’s poetry.

“I read the verses and some of them are really quite good.”

A plaque was unveiled at Kim’s Bookshop (Crocker’s last dwelling place) a few years ago – and appropriately the volume Charles Crocker, Chichester’s Forgotten Poet is available from Kim’s.

The book is also from the West Sussex County Record Office.

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