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Fernleigh, 40 North Street

by Pat Saunders and Amy Roberts

Written by Pat Saunders, Volunteer and Amy Roberts, Collections Officer at The Novium Museum

The current Fernleigh or 'Fernlee' House, currently the site of Jack Wills on North Street, was not built until the early 19th century.

In the 17th century the building located on the same site belonged to William Cawley, MP for Chichester in 1628.

In 1731 inn holder Rowland Burrow sold the property to John Dearling, a merchant who resided in Cathedral Close. He retained ownership until 1758 when he sold it to John Ridge, who was also a merchant of Chichester. The building at this time was known as The Banqueting House. The property consisted of not only the house, but also a Malthouse that was later converted to a Brewhouse, a storehouse, stables, outhouses and a garden.

In 1804 William Ridge sold the property to William and Edward Humphry. William and Edward were brewers, brothers and co-partners. At the same time, William Ridge sold them the "Swan" in East Street (currently Natwest bank).

Two years later in 1806 William and Edward Humphrey sold the property to Charles Cooper, a Chichester coal merchant. By then the Humphrey brothers had moved their brewing activities to Westgate, although they retained the "Swan".

Cooper pulled down the buildings and built the current Fernleigh or 'Fernlee' House in 1807. The house was built mainly of flint with yellow brick dressing and a Tuscan Doric porch. Flint had become a popular building material at this time as a result of a tax imposed on bricks, as well as the local abundance of flint, which occurs naturally in chalk of the South Downs. In 1807 Cooper sold the property to Richard Murray, who was elected Mayor of Chichester on two occasions.  

Fernleigh House was kept by Richard Murray until his death in January 1825. In his will he appointed his nephew William Charles Newland along with his partner, Charles Ridge, in Chichester Old Bank, as executors. Charles Newland was bequeathed the bulk of the estate. The house stayed in his possession until his death in 1853. The property then passed to one of his sons William Newland who lived at Bramley, Surrey and his son-in-law, banker John Geedes Cockburn. William died in 1870.

In 1874 Mr Cockburn purchased the freehold of an adjoining piece of land. The site then had a frontage of 83 feet wide onto North Street and 181 feet width on to Chapel street (now occupied by the retirement apartments, St Cyracs), and being some 1 ΒΌ acres in size. In August 1874 the property was conveyed by John Geddes Cockburn to Benness Adams a gentleman of Chichester. Adams died in December of the same year. He'd appointed his wife Caroline, friend Joseph Proctor Benwell and his son James Adams as executors of the estate. When Caroline Adams died in October 1889, the property was conveyed to Charles Townsend Halsted, a banker and one of the Halsted ironmonger family members. After Charles Halsted's death in 1891, his widow Maria retained the house until her death when it was passed onto her sons Ernest Frederick and William Wilfrid and son-in-law George Charles Webster Woodbridge. They later sold the estate to the West Sussex County Council.

Since this time the facility has been used by various organisations including the County Council's Youth Service which utilised the property as offices and as a Youth Club, Chichester Dolls House Club which used the building for its monthly meetings as well as over 60 other groups and organisations. In November 2009 Youth Services vacated the majority of the premises and by 2010 West Sussex County Council had vacated the property and the building was put up for sale.

The building is now home to Jack Wills retail outlet.