Chichester with Hastings Battleaxe – Women in Black

If one was into C of E dioceses and bishops and whatever, Chichester is our nearest Cathedral city. Presumably the Bishop of Chichester oversees spiritual life right across Sussex, yea, even as far as Hastings.  The ‘Women in Black’ in the post title refers to an encounter I had during our last visit to Chichester about ten days ago, when I encountered a woman keeping a solitary vigil outside the Cathedral.
    Despite the fact that is a long way from Hastings, we’ve been to Chichester several times, sometimes just for the theatre, sometimes passing through, sometimes visiting on purpose, but I’ve never written a proper piece about the place.
     It’s is only sixty miles from here, but the drive can be awful. Just a tad more grumbling about transport from Hastings – see previous post. The opening of the Hastings to Bexhill Link Road has eased the journey a bit, but then it’s a long drag along variable-quality A259/A27 with regular jams round Worthing and Arundel.
     Chichester’s quite a hard city to get to know – a maze of little streets surrounded by traffic-choked roads and a strangling by-pass, but we are beginning to get our bearings now, and to get to really like it. The centre is basically four pedestrianised shopping streets in a cross shape, with this Market Cross in the middle.

     The shopping is very good, lots of independent shops as well as all the up-market chains. They have the biggest branch of Lakeland I’ve ever seen. No department stores however. There are loads of pubs and eateries.
     The Festival Theatre is a modern building just beyond the centre, at the end of an enormous car park. We’ve only been twice, the last time in 2010, to see 42nd Street. It was excellent, but it was a long time ago. On that visit I bought a very expensive pair of walking boots for a charity trek to Tanzania, which I never went on. There’s story attached to that. Battleaxe missed death twice. I’ll include it at the end of this post if I have time.

Ship Hotel, Chichester

     Then, we stayed at the excellent Ship Hotel, which is handy for the theatre. We’ve stayed there twice, and most recently, when I was booking, I asked the woman on Reception if we could have a room with a view of the Cathedral.
      ‘We don’t have any like that’, she said.
      ‘Yes  you do,’ I said, ‘we had one before.’
      ‘You can’t have done – we don’t have any.’
      ‘Oh, never mind’, say I, ‘just give me a room at the top of the hotel on the right hand side.’ She did, and on reaching the room, we looked out the window – and there was the Cathedral. Duh?  I wanted that aspect  because it was quiet – on our first visit we had a bit of extractor fan trouble, and had to change our room. However, it’s a lovely old hotel, and the food in the restaurant is excellent.
      Hotel extractor fans are a bad business in Battleaxe-land, along with bad showers and noisy guests in the room next door. We have had so many fan-related run-ins up and down the country in hotels great and small.
      Ten days ago the Ship was full, so we went to the Premier Inn on the Chichester Gate ‘Leisure Park’. The ‘Park’ is a fairly dreadful place, a huge, bleak car-park on the outskirts of the city centre. Cineworld, Frankie and Benny’s, Nando’s, McDonald’s… Yuch, but OK I suppose if you like that sort of thing.
     Like all Premier Inns we’ve been to, the hotel was infuriatingly excellent. Cosy, cheap, incredibly helpful staff, no fans, clean, no noise, comfy bed, huge telly, good shower…. what’s not to like? It was a pouring wet night, so we ate in the Premier Inn restaurant. You wouldn’t crawl across hot coals for the food, but it was freshly cooked and perfectly OK.
      Despite my love for old, creaky, characterful hotels, I increasingly find myself drawn to Premier Inns. Half the price and no hassle.
      Back to Chichester. Our recent visit was mostly to see an art exhibition that Philosopher had picked out, at the Pallant House Gallery. Now, that’s a truly fabulous place. An old Queen Anne house with a modern extension, it has a range of gallery spaces from white-walled modern to crowded old rooms.

Pallant House Gallery

     It has an excellent restaurant with a garden sitting-out area, a coffee shop, and the best-stocked shop ever. We spend ages browsing in there, and never emerge without buying stuff. The gallery has a fantastic permanent collection of modern art. The exhibition was Evelyn Dunbar – the Lost Works. She’s little-known and sadly neglected – a WW2 war artist. Philosopher bought me the book about the exhibition for Christmas – here are a couple of pictures of women doing war work, from the book:

Evelyn Dunbar – Learning to stack stooks
Evelyn Dunbar – Hoeing Onions

  Chichester Cathedral is not one of the greatest, architecturally, but it is interesting, attractive, and has beautiful cloisters. The spire is a landmark from miles around – except, apparently, for staff at the Ship Hotel! On summer visits we have sat outside at the Cloisters cafe – see previous post. Battleaxe does seem to have an increasing penchant for ecclesiastical tearooms – what does this imply? By and large though, such places are pretty, quiet, reasonably priced and full of hearty, wholesome food.
Here are some pictures – not all from this visit.

Chichester Cathedral on a dark day….
From the cloister
Sunny afternoon in the Cloisters tearoom

   This time, I encountered a woman, standing in silence outside the Cathedral, in the drizzle, with a peace placard. I stopped for a moment to talk to her and take her photograph. She was a member of the Women In Black movement. I was ashamed to confess I hadn’t known anything about them before – they are a large world-wide women’s peace network, founded in Israel in 1988. They conduct peaceful demonstrations and vigils in trouble spots across the world.
    I didn’t think Chichester was high on the list of global war-zones, but the nearest group is just down the road in Portsmouth, hence this lady’s presence.
    Later, we had coffee in the Costa right opposite the Cathedral. It has a great view from the upstairs seating area and we could see the woman still standing there, alone. I’d like to get someone from that movement to talk to our WI, but Portsmouth is a long way from Hastings.

Women in Black standing for peace


There she still is – outside in the rain


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