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Edes House

by Pat Saunders

By Pat Saunders, Volunteer The Novium Museum

Photo courtesy of Edes House.

Edes House was constructed in 1696 for John and Hannah Edes. John was the nephew of Henry Edes, Canon Residentiary of Chichester. John may have been a maltster who moved to Chidham shortly before 1688 and married Hannah Ayling, daughter of Thomas Ayling of Chichester in 1693. A maltster produced malt ready for the brewing process by beginning to germinate predominantly barley grains and then stopping this process with heat when certain changes have taken place inside the grain.

Unfortunately John died before the building could be completed and his widow Hannah took over the supervision of the completion of the construction. From about 1911 to 1967 the building was erroneously referred to as Wren or Wren's House, as it was suggested that Christopher Wren may have been the building's architect as he had previously given building advice to the Cathedral. However in 1695 and 1696 Sir Christopher Wren was otherwise engaged in London with the re-building of St Paul's Cathedral. There is some speculation that there are similarities in the designs of both Edes House and Stockbridge House in Stockbridge Road, both having been built at a similar time, the latter by John Lilliott a carpenter.

The property had coach houses, stables and outhouses plus three acres of meadow land situated behind the house. The only feature to survive from the garden is a sundial, minus its gnomon (the part of the sundial that creates a shadow), which is now situated in the midst of the circular rose bed in front of County Hall.

Edes House was nameless until 1841 when it was referred to as Westgate House in the will of Elizabeth Penfold. It continued to be known as Westgate House until 1905 when it acquired the name West Street House. After 1967, through the efforts of the County Archivist at the time, Francis William Steer, the name Edes House was adopted.

Prior to the property being acquired by the West Sussex County Council in 1916 for £5,500 from Walter Ernest Tower, the ownership of the property after John and Hannah Edes is somewhat complicated. John and Jane Williams were the first to occupy the building after the Edes and it subsequently passed through successive generations of the Williams family. Dr Joseph McCarogher later inherited it in 1848.

From 1916 the County Council used the house as offices until County Hall was built in the grounds behind the house in 1936. Between 1938 and 1967 the County Library occupied the house as its headquarters until a purpose built library was erected and opened in nearby Tower Street. In 1967 the house underwent an extensive renovation enabling it to be suitable to house county and diocesan archives. By the late 1980s however, the building's fabric was feeling the strain. The house closed in 1989 in order for the records to be moved to the purpose-built Records Office in Orchard Street. Following the closure further restoration began on the house resulting in the offices being returned to more domestic settings now perfectly utilised for functions such as weddings and corporate events as well as historical tours and afternoon tea.