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Local history and heritage

Heritage is an integral part of the historic environment but it can be hard to define as it is never one element, but a meshing together of several. Character, identity and cultural variety are built up in layers of detail over time and it is the mixture of these layers that helps to make up the heritage of an area. As a guide we have classified heritage into four types and given examples of assets in each category.

Records and archives

West Sussex Record Office collects and preserves the documentary and recorded heritage of the county of West Sussex. The collections include records of local government from the sixteenth century, the Diocese of Chichester and its parishes and those of businesses, families, estates, societies and schools. It also holds records of West Sussex hospitals, the West Sussex Constabulary and The Royal Sussex Regiment.

Please see the West Sussex County Council - Record Office (opens new window) web page for more information.

Archaeological heritage

Locally important visible features, such as hill forts, burial mounds, moats, field systems, ridge and furrow, and ancient village sites.

Built heritage

Locally distinctive built heritage elements and small features, such as field barns, pumps, wells, gates and walls, bridges, railings, milestones, architectural details, cobbles, memorials, village greens or traditional signs.

Customs and traditions

Historic and cultural associations with the land and activities of local people.  Heritage features relating to how people lived, worked and played, such as place names, field names, parish boundaries, open spaces, viewpoints, rights of way of significant heritage value, including country lanes and drove roads.

Industrial heritage

Physical features related to locally important industries, such as chimneys, lime kilns, packhorse trails, wagonways, canals, quarries, mineral pits, spoil heaps, mills, mines, smithies and coopers.

Chichester canal

The idea of linking the centre of Chichester to the sea using a canal was first suggested in 1585 but the scheme was not carried out. When the canal was built it was a much bigger affair, not only linking Chichester with the sea, but with London and Portsmouth.

In September 1816 the main section of the planned canal was opened. This was the Wey and Arun canal, linking the river Wey, which flowed through Surrey with the Arun which ran north-south through West Sussex, meeting the sea near Arundel. In 1817 and 1818 the Acts of Parliament to link the Wey and Arun with a new Arundel to Portsmouth canal were passed. This included the Chichester canal section, which was designed by John Rennie. The Chichester canal would be able to cope with vessels weighing 100 tons, was 2.5 metres deep and 17 metres wide.

By the end of 1821 construction was nearly complete and the canal basin south of Chichester was filled. The canal was dogged with problems from the start. The opening procession in 1822 ran aground! The full route of the canal was opened in May 1823 and was expected to carry 55,000 tons each year. Trade was regular on the London to Portsmouth route, but poor for the return trip to London. The canal's best year was 1824, but only 3,654 tons were carried. Traffic to Portsmouth ended in 1838 and by 1850, with competition from the railway, the canal became less commercially viable. The Ford-Hunston section dried up, and the City Corporation took over the Chichester section of the canal in 1892.

City walls

Chichester's City Walls are around 1800 years old. They were constructed by the Romans to define the City and provided an impressive defensive shield. The Walls have experienced mixed fortunes over the centuries - from the heyday of Roman rule to abandonment, dereliction and revival. Despite a turbulent past the Walls survive today as one of the most intact City defences in the south of England.

Thanks to the work of the City Walls Partnership, a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund and funding from the District Council it is now possible to bring the story of the Walls to life. Today they are the most intact circuit of Roman town defences in Southern England. More than 80% of the original structure has withstood the test of time and virtually the whole of the circuit is publicly accessible.

Why is heritage important?

There are many reasons why Heritage it is important to you and your community. Heritage gives a 'cultural' value to an area that helps to define a sense of place and provides a context for everyday life. The appreciation and conservation of this fosters distinctiveness at local level. It has an educational and academic value providing a major source of information about our ancestors, and the evolution of our society. It provides a means for new generations to understand the past and their own culture.

Heritage can make a significant contribution to economic development by encouraging tourism, but more generally it supports viable communities by creating pleasant environments where people prefer to live and work. Heritage plays an important role in providing for people's recreation and enjoyment.

What is the heritage of the Chichester District?

The Chichester District covers some 300 sq miles of West Sussex, from the coastal plain to the South Downs and Weald. The district has a very rich heritage of landscapes, buildings, archaeological sites, museums, villages and towns. It includes one of the greatest numbers of listed buildings for a rural shire district and a number of major heritage sites for which it is well known.

There is also a rich heritage of tradition in people's lives; the special annual events such as Sloe Fair or Ebernoe Horn Fair, customs and folklore. There are also places that have special meanings to a community - meeting your friends at the City Cross in Chichester, for instance. This rich heritage is clearly evident in the wide range of communities, local activities and personal attitudes that shape our way of life and all have a part to play in the future development of the places where we live and work.


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