Chichester map

Maps of Chichester

The county town and cathedral city of Chichester sits on a plain of rich farmland between creeks, islets and the glimmering salt marshes of Chichester Harbour  and the western rampart of the South Downs. The harbour is one of the largest semi-enclosed areas of tidal water in southern England.  The heavily wooded downs of West Sussex reach within a few miles of the town itself and nestled amongst this rolling countryside hide little churches (some dating back to the 12th and 13th centuries whereas other predate the Roman occupation being some 1,000 years old) and tiny villages of flint or half-timbered brickwork and thatched roofs. Many of these villages developed as part of the large estates which developed throughout the Middle Ages.  The area has a wealth of history attached to it.  Ancient tracks criss-cross the Downs, which today are used for riding or walking but in the past were droveways and tracks which connected hamlets and villages. 


The history of Chichester predates the Roman occupation  as it was already an important settlement of the Regni tribe when they arrived in AD43 and they appointed the then reigning local King Cogidubnus to be viceroy of the province. Excavations in nearby Fishbourne have uncovered what has turned out to be one of the major Roman relics in Britain and it is thought that the site is the remains of what may have been the palace of Cogidubnus.  Sections of the walls, baths and heating systems are visible as well as some of the most superb mosaic floors. In AD70 the Romans built a road leading from Chichester to London, Stane Street, which can still be clearly traced over the downs near Eartham.  There is a bridle path which follows it over National Trust Land up to Bignor Hill where a second Roman Villa has been excavated. 400 years later the Saxons, taking advantage of the power vacuum left by the retreating Romans, invaded and began to infiltrate into Sussex.  The South Saxons who first came to prominence in West Sussex were led by Aelle who was the first King of the South Saxons from 477 to around 514AD. He was recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle of the 8th century as being extremely powerful and influential having overlord status over other Anglo-Saxon kingdoms as well as the first 'bretwalda' or 'Britain-ruler'. It is thought he landed near what is now Selsey Bill, just south of Chichester. Evidence of the Saxon occupation can still be seen in the names of villages such as West Wittering, Cocking and Hartings as the suffix -ing means 'the people of'. There are traces of the conquerors in many place-names throughout the county.  Worthing - was 'Wurth's People; the ending -ton meant an enclosure which developed into a village.  Other derivations are:     -ham, a hamlet; -stead, -stock or -stoke, a place; -worth, an enclosure; -ley or -holt, a wood; -den, a valley or a clearing for grazing animals; and -burgh, a fortified place.

In the 11th century the West Sussex coast was William, Duke of Normandy's crucial stronghold in England.  He divided Sussex into five 'rapes' or districts which were all reinforced by castles.  Many of these castles now are just abandoned earthworks but some, like Arundel Castle still exist in a restored state and are a legacy of the Norman conquest. Similarly, the beautiful 11th century Norman cathedral with its graceful, tapering 277 ft spire dominates the West Sussex coastal plain as a reminder of the importance of the Norman conquest. Within the surrounding countryside of the South Downs are several stately homes with glorious parkland estates such as Goodwood, Stanstead Park, Petworth, Cowdray and Uppark.  The beautifully scenic coastline and picturesque harbour are only a short journey from Chichester itself. The village of Bosham, with its ancient church is where Canute is said to have commanded the tide to turn back.

Between the medieval town of Petworth and the old market town of Midhurst are two of the loveliest large estates in this part of England.- Petworth and Cowdray.  They are located north of Chichester and the South Downs along the winding valley of the River Rother. Petworth House and Park was built by the 6th Duke of Somerset in 1696  and are set in a beautiful 700 acre deer park which was landscaped by 'Capability' Brown, the famous English landscape architect of the 18th century.  Inside the stunning mansion there are wonderful art collections by Turner, Reynolds, Blake and Van Dyck; carvings by Grinling Gibbons and fine sculpture and furniture.  Cowdray Park is a magnificent open space of 16,500 acres with beech, oak and chestnut trees and the very imposing ruin of Cowdray House which was built in 1530 and sadly burnt down at the end of the 18th century. It is home to one of the leading polo clubs in the United Kingdom and the sport has been played there for more than 100 years.

North of the River Rother there is a maze of tiny streams which water the farmlands of the western Weald.  In this region we can, again, be reminded of the ancient Saxons who lived here.  The villages of Chiddingfold, Alfold, Ifold and Dunsfold, all carry the suffix 'fold' which means a clearing in a dense forest - bringing to mind the great Wealden forest which once covered most of this part of England. Woodland still covers Black Down which, at 919 ft above sea levels, is the highest point in Sussex.  It is now owned by the National Trust and is a plateau of around 500 acres which are covered with gorse, heather, black fir and spruce trees.  From here you can gain magnificent views across deep valleys such as the Devil's Punch Bowl which has been carved out of the hillsides by centuries of rain and wind.