Monday, 29 December 2014

St Peter the Great, West Street, Chichester

For nearly 900 years the parish church of St Peter the Great, Chichester, was inside the cathedral. This odd arrangement started in 1075 when the Council of London decreed that cathedrals should be in towns rather than villages.
Stigand, Bishop of Selsey, decided to move to Chichester and took over the old parish church as a temporary measure. The priest was made subdean and the parishioners used the nave, which became known as the subdeanery church.
In the 15th century the subdeanery church moved to the north transept, which was partitioned off and fitted with galleries, but the arrangement was never satisfactory with endless disputes over access and noise.
However, it was not until the Victorian age that something was finally done. In 1841 the dean, George Chandler (who was also, controversially, rector of All Souls, Langham Place in London) decided the subdeanery church had to go. An appeal raised enough to buy a site on the other side of West Street and employ the noted Victorian architect R.C. Carpenter to design a structure. Work started in 1848.
Carpenter produced a simple and elegant aisled church in an authentic Curvilinear style - look at the lovely flowing tracery in the windows and you will see exactly why it is called Curvilinear. The church is faced entirely in Caen stone and is covered in lovely carved heads, all different.
At the west end, Carpenter planned a tower but the money ran out and a porch was built instead.
Most of the glass was blown out by a wartime bomb, so the fine figure of a young, shaven St Peter stepping out of his fishing boat dates from 1947.
Dwindling population within the walls and competition from the cathedral made the church redundant and it closed in 1979. The parish was combined with St Paul's and the church itself became first an antiques market and then a bar.
Happily, the Grade I listing has protected it and you can still appreciate Carpenter's design over a drink.