Situated in the south west quadrant of Chichester are the beautiful and tranquil Bishop’s Palace gardens which are bounded on the west and south sides by the City Walls.
Following the Norman Conquest in 1066, it was decided that episcopal sees (the district or office of a bishop or an archbishop) should be removed to cities or larger towns. Accordingly, the see at Selsey was removed to Chichester.
After the building of the cathedral, it was decided to build a residence for the Bishop as well as accommodation for other dignitaries. An area close to the cathedral was secured for this in 1147;
Pope Eugenius III confirmed the land in the South-West quadrant of the city could be used for this purpose. Bishops Palace was built with land which was perhaps originally a farm and, over time, became a park or a formal garden.
This main approach to the Bishop’s Palace and its gardens are along Canon Lane. The other entrance to the gardens is from Avenue d’Chartres.
It is likely that during the Middle Ages the gardens were used for food production, a few apple trees from this time remain. Over time it has evolved in to a park or pleasure grounds, certainly from the 18th century onwards.
The shape and design of the garden has changed over time but the current design is largely down to the efforts of Bishop Robert Carr (1824-31). Several bishops, but particularly Richard Dunford (1870-95), were interested in gardening and planted species of tree new to England. There is an arboretum that spreads across the gardens over on the western side. It has trees such as the Handkerchief Tree, Wollemia Pine, and Indian Bean Tree.
Bishop George Bell (1929–1958), encouraged the use of the gardens, which were not at this time open to the public. During the Whitsuntide Festival in 1930, he brought singers and dancers in to the gardens as part of the celebrations, a tradition which continued throughout his time as Bishop.
When Eric Kemp was appointed Bishop in 1974 he decided to open the gardens to the public. An arrangement was made with the then newly-formed Chichester District Council for them to be responsible for maintaining the gardens. The arrangement worked well until the beginning of the 21st century by which time Bay Trees had come to dominate in places, creating a gloomy atmosphere.
In 2006, the Friends of Bishop’s Palace Gardens was formed with a view to working on a restoration scheme. Also in 2006, Chichester District Council appointed a park and green spaces officer.
This role, along with the support of the Friends and the district council, worked on a brief over the next four years.
A garden landscape designer was appointed to draw up plans for renovation work which began in September, 2009. A vista and new pergola were created and the ramparts were made more accessible.
In December, 2009, as part of the BBC’s Breathing Space – Tree O’clock a hedge of beech seedlings were planted along the path around the ramparts. A wildlife area with bog garden fills one corner, intended to encourage birds and bees as well as other insects. The piles of logs in odd corners gradually rot down to provide insect habitats.
The renovation project cost £250,000 and saw 2,000 new plants put in. The gardens were officially re-opened on June 29, 2010, with Bishop John Hind giving a blessing.
In July, 2010, and 2012 the gardens received a Green Flag award as well as winning a Chichester in Bloom award in September, 2011. The Friends continue to invest time and effort in the gardens maintaining them for visitors to enjoy.
In February, 2019, they received a City of Chichester community award.
Volunteers are always needed and shifts are available on Monday and Wednesday mornings. For more information, please contact Justin Jones on 01243 534630.
Bishops Palace Gardens are open daily throughout the year and are free to visit.
By Pat Saunders, volunteer at the Novium Museum