Chichester’s heritage brought to life

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History was brought alive for people across the area when a number of buildings usually closed to the public opened their doors as part of this year’s national Heritage Open Days Scheme.

The University of Chichester was among those taking part, its main event being a tour of the former RAF Operations Room on the Bishop Otter Campus, Chichester.

From Monday to Friday the room is used as a teaching room for students, so this was a rare opportunity to see where some of the key developments of the second world war took place.

To create an authentic feel, staff dressed in period costume while the room was decked out with a map, plotting equipment and old-fashioned telephones.

University spokesman Richard Andrews said: “From our perspective it went very well. We had more than 100 people attending the tours we had across the three dates. We had tours in both Chichester and Bognor Regis campuses and of all the years we’ve been doing this, this was by far the best in terms of attendance.

“The most popular was the RAF operations room tour and the associated talk and on Saturday it was nice that we were able to put a recreation of the plotting room table in the actual room which was used to plan the D-Day invasion.”

Several university staff gave their time freely to the event which also included a tree tour led by a member of the gardening team, looking at a number of old trees on the campus.

Among those attending one of the RAF tours was a woman from Midhurst who was part of the air force at that time. She was actually based at Chichester university and worked in the same operations room, and it was the first time she had been inside it for many years. Some schoolchildren who were doing a school project on the second world war were also part of the same tour.

“As well as being able to see the actual operations room, they were also able to chat to a real-life WAF,” said Mr Andrews. “There is nothing like a bit of history in action and learning form the actual people involved.

“There is a plaque in the operations room and every heritage open day we take the opportunity to open up the room for members of the public to see and to learn about the role the university played during that war.

“We are very proud and of it and we want to continue reminding people about it so that the sacrifice which those people made during that time is not in vain.”

Also open to the public was the Cawley Almshouse Chapel where visitors could see inside this 17th-century chapel which is still occasionally used as a place of worship.

Other activities held as part of the three-day event included a guided walk from Fishbourne Roman Palace to the harbour and back and tours of St John’s Chapel in Chichester and the Council House in North Street as well an open day at the 13th-century St Mary’s Hospital in St Martin’s Square, which was built to serve poor people in the area.