As Chichester celebrates 100 years of Priory Park, Alan Green celebrates Priory Park in 100 objects. His new book comes as part of the city’s Priory Park 100 commemoration, a volume which tells the story of the park, and its site, from Roman times to the present day.
In September 1918, the then Duke of Richmond gave Priory Park to the citizens of Chichester as a memorial to those who gave their lives in the Great War and as a place of public recreation.
“I am a member of the Friends of Priory Park,” Alan said, “and it was felt that there ought to be something as a souvenir of the centenary. I was asked to do the book. I had about ten months to do it, and I was asked to do in 100 objects.”
Alan admits he wasn’t keen at first on the concept, but in fact he ended up with 108 objects… objects in a rather loose sense of the word, Alan confesses.
“If we had done a straight history of the park, it would have interested only people who are interested in history books, and it was thought that doing it in 100 objects would reach a wider audience.”
First, Alan had to stretch the notion of objects. Objects in his loose interpretation does indeed include objects, but also events and people.
“I knew the basic history already, and I had written about the park before, largely concentrating on specific elements, the Norman Castle and the Friary, for instance. It really ought to be Friary Park rather than Priory Park, and it was… but in about 1850, it suddenly changed to Priory Park..
“This book concentrates on its history as a park rather than its early history. After the dissolution of the monasteries, Henry VIII gave the Friary to the city. The Guildhall became an annexe to the town hall and the grounds were then leased out. The last tenant was the Duke of Richmond, and in 1850 he leased the grounds to the newly-formed Priory Park Society who set it out as a recreational park for their members. People could join and then play tennis or cricket or bowls. It didn’t become public until 1918.”
Curiously, the war was still going (in September 1918) when the Duke handed the park over to the city: “But his youngest son had been killed at Ypres and he wanted a memorial. It was given to the people of the city of Chichester, but looked after by the mayor and corporation. I call it the city village green. I have known it all my life. I almost grew up in the park! I used to go through there on my way to school. It has always been an important part of my life.”
Alan was delighted when mayor-making returned there this year for the first time since the first half of the 19th century. As part of Priory Park 100, Sussex cricket also returned to the park – for the first time since 1950.
Alan’s book also recalls Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee, celebrations of the coronations of King Edward VII and King George V, entertainment for wounded soldiers, tennis tournaments, Empire Day celebrations and all the fun of Gala Day. Floral displays, open-air cinema, parkrun, the hospital closure protest rally, the Queen’s diamond jubilee and the Real Ale and Jazz Festival are also considered, with a closing section on Priory Park 100 bringing the book up to date.
The book includes images by Benjamin Graham, Landscape Photographer of the Year 2017. Copies are available from Kim’s bookshop, the record office in Chichester and from the Novium. It has been published by Phillimore.