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The Guildhall

by Portia Tremlett

by Portia Tremlett, Museum Assistant

The Guildhall sits in what is now known as Priory Park. These grounds were probably first laid out shortly after the Norman Conquest when this area of Chichester was enclosed to form the site of the motte and bailey castle. The remains of the keep mound can still be seen in the park today.

In the year 1221 William d'Albini, Earl of Sussex granted "the whole place where the Castle of Chichester formerly was" to the Cathedral at Chichester. This gift however was revoked in 1222 by King Henry III, who ordered the Dean and Chapter to surrender the site into his hands.

The site was later passed to Henry's brother Richard, Earl of Cornwall, who in turn gave the land to the Franciscan order in Chichester.

The Guildhall itself was the Chancel of the original priory which also contained a guest house, parlour, library, cloister, frater, and choir in addition to a brew house. Two doorways (now blocked off) along the northern wall would have led into the cloisters, and the rest of the complex.

In July 1538 King Henry VIII ordered it's dissolution in his campaign against the monasteries. A little later in 1541 Henry sold the Friary Church to the Mayor and city of Chichester, which was to be used from this point forward as the city Guildhall. The remaining parts of the friary were leased out and a house was built. This house was later used by William Waller, the Parliamentarian after the siege of the city during the Civil War in 1642.

On 23rd December 1824 the fifth Duke of Richmond purchased the freehold of Priory Park. He had the now dilapidated house demolished and although no formal excavation took place workmen did find pottery, cannon balls, and human remains evidencing the sites dramatic history.

The Guildhall was used as the courthouse for City Quarter sessions (the court for serious crimes, but without capital punishment). When County Quarter sessions were held in Chichester, these too were held in the Guildhall. It was at one such County Quarter Session in 1804 that William Blake's indictment for sedition took place.

It was only very occasionally the Assize courts took place in Chichester. One such exceptional occasion occurred in January 1748 when a gang of smugglers brutally murdered both Daniel Charter, potential witness of the smugglers' crimes and William Galley, a Customs Officer. Chichester was chosen as the closest sizeable town to the location of the murders, so as to act as a warning to the public and to any local smugglers. The trial lasted three days, after which all the smugglers were found guilty. Their punishment was to be hung on Broyle Heath, just outside Northgate, Chichester on 19th January. As a statement, their bodies were hung in chains throughout the country.

In 1947 the building was briefly opened for an exhibition of artefacts showcasing Chichester's history. This temporary exhibition proved popular and in 1955 the guildhall opened as a volunteer run museum exhibiting local archaeological material until in 1964 when the Chichester City museum officially opened in Little London. In 1968 the Guildhall officially became part of the museum service, which in 1974 became the district museum in line with the city council becoming a district council. The museum service moved location to Tower Street in 2012 and was re-branded The Novium Museum. Throughout this time the Guildhall has been used for school visits, exhibitions, events and most recently has been granted a licence to hold civil ceremonies.