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Chichester's Museum

by Amy Roberts & Portia Tremlett

Written by Amy Roberts, Collections Officer, and Portia Tremlett, Museum Assistant

Museums as we know them today often began as the private collections of wealthy individuals or families, or as institutions for learning, housing antiquities and curiosities. These collections developed over time, building in regulations and practices that form the principles and ethics of current museum manifestos.

In 1831, Sir John Forbes set up one such society in the name of the Chichester Literary and Philosophical Society, with the assistance of the 5th Duke of Richmond. A committee was formed within 6 months and the public were invited to donate objects and money.

At this stage in the museum's history, there was no official Collecting Policy (now known as a Collections Development Policy) - this is a set of parameters that dictates what the museum will accept into its collection. As a result, many museums and societies, such as this one in Chichester, ended up with a large collection of objects from around the world.

Rosa Ellen West visited the museum in December 1887 and recalls:

"The Museum is deposited on the second floor of a building in South Street used as a Mechanic's Institute. It occupies five rooms approached by a staircase the walls of which are covered with American and African native weapons of warfare."

Unfortunately, the Society struggled financially for many years and was forced to begin selling off parts of the collection to pay for bills such as rent and insurance. The first mention of the dispersal of items from the collection of the 'The Chichester Institute' (a name change which occurred in 1890) is in April 1891. It is recorded that Mr. Franks of the British Museum offered to purchase a New Zealand jade adze for £10 and a club for £1. An offer was also made for two tattooed heads from New Zealand. On this occasion however it was agreed that the items were not sold. Nonetheless, records show that by 1924 there appeared little, if anything of the collection remaining.

Shortly after, in the early 1930s it is recorded that "a good deal of material was accumulating in the hands of the City Corporation".Arrangements for the cataloguing of this material began in 1933 with a view to establishing a permanent exhibition. In 1936 an exhibition was set up in the Guildhall in Priory Park, using items which had been collected and stored in the City Library over the previous three years.

Over the next 25 years the Guildhall became a store for artefacts, and in 1961 an exhibition entitled "Changing Chichester" was mounted in the Assembly Rooms. The demand stimulated by this exhibition led local architect Stanley Roth to purchase a disused Corn Mill in Little London. He suggested the council should lease it from him to use for a museum.

The first exhibition in the museum was in 1962, with a display of paintings by local 18th Century artists. The museum was formally opened by the Duchess of Albermarle in April 1964. Since then the museum's collections have grown substantially. In 1974 it changed from being the Chichester Museum to the Chichester District Museum with a remit to provide educational and advisory services.

The museum then moved again in 2012 to where it is now situated on Tower Street opposite the library, so that it could be built over the remains of the Roman bath house that you can see on the ground floor. It was given a name change to 'The Novium Museum', an amalgamation of the Roman name for the city, Noviomagus Reginorum, and 'museum'.