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Changing Times | The history of Chichester’s famous architects

Building in some form or other has been continuous in Chichester since Roman times. However, the names of many of the architects have been lost to history. Craftsmen like masons and carpenters created houses and other buildings, such as temples and churches, which were used by the public.


It was towards the end of the 17th century that the role of architect as a profession became recognised and in 1834 the Royal Institute of British Architects was founded. It was later incorporated in 1837. It remains England’s chief architectural body which holds examinations and confers diplomas of Associate (ARIBA) and Fellow (FRIBA).


James Elmes (1782–1862) was born in London but due to the extensive work he did in the Chichester area, he acquired a house in Oving and was based there by 1811. In 1812, St John the Evangelist’s Church was founded and the trustees commissioned Elmes to design it. Between the years of 1812–1817 he worked on the restoration of Chichester Cathedral and built several large houses in the area. Elmes also wrote extensively about architecture throughout his career.


In local trade directories, the earliest mentioned Chichester architect was George Draper (1796–1874). Draper was born in Essex but had moved to Chichester by 1821. In the 1826/7 directories, he was listed as being based in South Street. Draper designed many buildings throughout West Sussex and Hampshire, including St Bartholomew’s Church in Westgate, the Chichester Infirmary in Broyle Road and Goodwood’s original grandstand. One of his most famous designs is Chichester’s Corn Exchange, with its extensive warehouses and stores attached to the rear of the impressive façade.


Joseph Butler (1804–1884) was born at Parndon, Essex, but by 1833 was working as an architect, surveyor and builder in The Cloisters, Chichester. He worked widely in West Sussex and designed or restored many local churches including St Paul’s and St Peter the Great in Chichester. In 1849 he designed Bishop Otter College, which was originally built as a Church of England training college for male teachers. His best known achievement was as a surveyor of Chichester Cathedral. In 1846, he supervised the restoration of the cathedral and completed a detailed survey of the building. His drawings from this time proved invaluable years later after the spire collapse of 1861 as Butler’s drawings were used to accurately recreate the original spire.


John Elliot (1811–1891) was born in Lewes, and by 1839 was in business as an architect and builder in North Pallant, Chichester where he remained until he moved to Southampton in 1851. In 1838, Elliot worked on the east wing and ballroom of Goodwood House for the 5th Duke of Richmond and also produced plans for the rebuilding of St Peter the Less Church in Chichester, although these were rejected and never implemented. Throughout his time in Chichester, he was active in local life and held roles such as curator of Chichester Mechanics’ Institution and secretary of Chichester Philosophical and Literary Society.


George Charles Vernon-Inkpen (1857-1926) was born at Bethnal Green but by 1882 had established a practice close to the Market Cross in Chichester and was living in Oving. Vernon-Inkpen worked with several partners throughout his career and had business addresses, either on his own or with his partner, throughout Hampshire and West Sussex. In 1894, Vernon-Inkpen and his then partner were asked to restore and remodel the east end of St Bartholomew’s Church (originally designed by George Draper) as the original design was now out of style.


The number of architects listed in the first half of the 20th century increased, although evidence of their work is scarce, and was likely mostly to do with church repairs and restoration schemes.


In the 1920s, Eric Brian Tyler was listed as an architect in Chichester. He initially had his own practice but later joined forces with another architect to form the Tyler-Dixon partnership, which was based at Westgate.


In 1958, Tyler was architect for the Chichester Baptist Church, Sherbourne Road. He also drew up plans for the Congregational Union Church at North Bersted and in 1959 he wrote an architectural report on St Mary’s Church, East Lavant. In the early 1960s, new plans were drawn up by Tyler-Dixon for the site at 25 and 26 North Street. The new building was to be named Sussex


House and was designed to be smaller to allow for the widening of Crane Street.


By Pat Saunders, volunteer and Amanda Rogan, learning officer at the Novium Museum.

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