Five mysteries that still hang over Chichester today

From a puzzling painting to an ancient abbey lost to the sands of time — here are five mysteries from around Chichester.

Thursday, 4th November 2021, 1:58 pm

Secret Tunnels

For decades stories of secret tunnels running under the city have persisted, with business owners, pub landlords, and amateur historians all telling tales of ancient passageways leading to and from buildings in the city.

Maureen Williams, 82, of Westgate, recalled a school trip into the rumoured tunnels under Chichester when she was at Chichester High School for Girls.

South Street Chichester

Owner of Hansford's Menswear Matthew Hansford described a blocked-off passage in cellar of the shop, which he believes may have led to the cathedral.

While many Cicestrians will have heard their own versions of the story, a group dedicated to finding out more about the tunnels was set up and continues to search for answers.

Despite what many people say, archaeology officer at Chichester District Council, James Kenny, said in all his years of digging in the city, he's sure he would have come across evidence.

Selsey Abbey

More than 1,000 years ago a Christian abbey was built on the Manhood Peninsula marking the bishopric of Sussex — almost four centuries later and the site was moved to what is now Chichester Cathedral.

But what happened to the original abbey? Like the mythic Atlantis, some local legends suggest the ancient structure was lost to the tides of time, quite literally, but that the toll of the temple's bells can still be heard in stormy seas.

It is more likely that the abbey was really at the site of what is now St Wilfrid's Church in Church Norton, which is widely believed to be have been the seat of St Wilfrid — the man credited with bringing Christianity to Sussex — but opinion remains divided.

Mystery Warrior

In 2007, while excavating a housing development site in North Bersted, archaeologists happened upon an extraordinary grave dating back as far as 2,000 years.

The mysterious warrior, who may have fought alongside King Commius during Julius Caesar's wars with the Gauls, is the most elaborately equipped warrior grave ever found in England.

Inside this burial site, historians found the body of an ancient warrior, kitted out with an ornate helmet, shield, sword, spear and a number of clay pots, to go with the man to the afterlife.

Archaeologists believe the warrior held 'one of the most prestigious roles in the country' and it has been described one of the most exceptional finds in this particular archaeological period.

The Novium Museum has an free exhibition on the warrior, which ends on November 13. Find out more here.

Roaming Centurion

Those familiar with Chichester's rich history will know that more than 900 years ago, a Roman centurion might have been a common sight in the area but in the year 2021 a very different type of Roman is rumoured to exist.

The ghost of a Roman centurion is said to haunt the Chichester Inn as it continues to patrol the city call for the simple reason that it was 'never told to stop'.

The pub has been approached on numerous occasions by paranormal investigators who have endeavored to prove the apparition's existence but the closest they have got is reportedly hearing a bar stool rattle in the early hours of the morning.

While landlord Nick Webb says he has not witnessed anything himself, he keeps an open mind.

Curious Painting

The University of Chichester is seeking answers about a painting in its collection as it works to find the mystery donor.

The artwork, thought to have been painted more than 50 years ago, was generously donated anonymously in January this year.

Since the summer university staff have been hoping to contact the owner or family member.

The University is keeping details of the painting minimal for now to ensure staff can identify the correct owner.

A spokesman was able to confirm it was donated by an older gentleman, and is of a countryside scene.

More details are expected in the coming months but anyone with further knowledge should contact university librarian Karen Lloyd at [email protected] or 01243 816000.