What I love about researching a tour is coming across those ‘nuggets’ of information which capture the imagination, even if they are not instantly relevant to the tour I am preparing. Here are a few recent examples:
St Mary’s Hospital, the almshouse whose magnificent roof can be seen from the Little London car park, was, from the 1200s until the early 1500s, a resting place for the sick and homeless, and for wayfarers, travellers and pilgrims. There were rules as in any such establishment. If you misbehaved whilst there, you were obliged at mealtimes to sit at the end of the long dining table ‘without a napkin’! Or, if your misdemeanour was really serious, you were ‘removed like a diseased sheep’! Serious crimes included theft, perjury, quarrelsomeness, or sleeping outside the house.
Such travellers might have had to negotiate the unpleasant,muddy journey across the Downs, making Chichester a challenging destination. John Burton, an early travel-writer, wrote in 1751 that Sussex Oxen, swine and all other animals have extra long legs because their muscles become stretched through pulling their legs out of mud! The mud of Sussex was known as ‘loving mud’ because ‘ it do cling so’.
One (fictional) traveller who won’t have had trouble with mud, was Doctor Who! In the Doctor Who novel, The Suns of Caresh, the tardis lands in the Northgate carpark and the Doctor points out the Festival Theatre to his assistant. He comments that he wanted to attend the opening of Peter Shaffer’s Royal Hunt of the sun, but ‘I always seem to overshoot, one way or another’.
The actor Rex Harrison found the Northgate carpark spaces were not quite big enough for his large American car and was known to try and squeeze into spaces by shunting and scraping alongside the cars of unsuspecting shoppers and theatre goers. Did his celebrity save him from embarrassing complaints? That I have yet to find out!