NOSTALGIA: Traffic teemed in the streets before pedestrians ruled

Some years ago I wrote a Down Memory Lane article about Chichester garages in which I stated that ‘Before pedestrianisation took place in the 1970s, Chichester’s main streets teemed with traffic’.

Although many of us remember this I was very pleased to see a new collection of 1970s colour photographs of Chichester that confirms this was so.

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The Record Office was recently presented with the photographs, which were all taken by Edward Beaumont between 1972 and 1978.

They not only show the traffic in the four main streets but also local people going about their daily business.

I looked through them all to see if I could recognise anybody, or their cars, but was disappointed until I came across a wonderful photograph of local artist, the late Peter Iden.

He appears to be sitting on the pavement outside Russell and Bromley and was most likely sketching the Cross (look out for more information coming soon regarding an exhibition of Peter’s work to be held at the Oxmarket, Chichester, later this month!).

One of Mr Beaumont’s photographs that I found particularly interesting showed two ladies in summer dresses, laden with bags from a shopping expedition.

They are shown engrossed in conversation, apparently oblivious to the Henry Moore sculpture on display in the Paradise area of the Cathedral precincts.

When traffic still flowed through the centre of Chichester there was a necessity for garages to be sited in the main streets to cater for the needs of the motorist.

One which still survived in 1978 is Mason’s in South Street shown on the following pages.

Two other shops shown are Geerings, before closure in1976 and Chapman’s dry cleaners, after the fire in February 1978.

Three of the photographs taken in July 1975 show the traffic in the main streets.

Two show East Street and North Street and the other shows the queues of traffic in East and North Streets attempting to get in to the flow of traffic to enable them to negotiate their way around the Cross!

One thing that I had forgotten from 40 years ago was the furore that was attached to the plans for pedestrianisation and the inner ring road system, which needed to be in place before the scheme could go ahead.

The campaign raged on for much of the seventies with arguments and suggestions for alternatives going backwards and forwards between all the parties involved.

In the archives we have some papers that had belonged to one of the campaigners against the plans for the ring road and pedestrianisation.

These papers reveal the strength of feeling of some members of the local community at that time.

Letters were written to the Observer, the county planning officer, the town clerk, and the city engineer on various aspects of the plan and even the Bishop received a letter ‘regarding a faculty to permit the new link road being constructed in St Paul’s churchyard’.

However, the faculty was eventually approved, as the leaflet from the ‘Save our City’ campaign was able to report in March 1974 that there are now ‘motor cars racing down the strip of tarmac which was once the peaceful churchyard of St Paul’s’.

In the previous year concern was shown over elm trees that had already been knocked down at Northgate and there was a call to save Jubilee Park, as well as cottages in Orchard Street, where it was believed a dual carriageway was planned.

However, in July 1973 the County Surveyor stated in the press that it is by ‘no means certain that New Park Road will ever be made a dual carriageway as part of the city’s ring road’.

The same sentiment was to apply to Orchard Street as this never happened either.

In March 1972 the writer of a letter to the Chichester Observer suggested that all heavy traffic should be excluded ‘from the little residential streets’ and there should be established ‘a depot outside the city walls from which trades can draw goods in small vehicles as required’.

By October 1973 the news of the situation had even reached the national press as the Guardian reported ‘No Ceasefire in Chichester Planning Fight’.

In March 1974 the Chichester Society organised a ‘sit-in’ at Eastgate Square and a meeting to discuss the ‘shabby story of the St Pancras demolition’.

At this time other areas of concern included The Hornet, Basin Road and Crane Street.

In 1976 an experimental scheme had been approved and in September of that year a public inquiry was held to look into a proposal for ‘the permanent closure of certain streets in the city of Chichester’.

The Deputy Divisional Commander of the West Sussex Division of Sussex Police was called upon to speak and he reported that the volume of traffic in the four main streets in a 12-hour period was as follows: East Street; 8,700 vehicles; West Street, 7,700; North Street, 5,700; South Street, 4,000.

A count of pedestrians at peak periods showed that in excess of 8,000 per hour used East Street and over 5,500 per hour used North Street.

In principle the police report supported the scheme and suggested that the ‘segregation of vehicular and pedestrian traffic removes one of the prime causes of road traffic accidents’.

The inquiry inspector concluded with a recommendation that the plan went ahead but with five modifications relating to delivery hours and traffic flow for goods vehicles and disabled access and parking.

The report went to the Department of Environment and on 3 February 1977 the Secretary of State endorsed the Inspector’s conclusions and recommendation and pedestrianisation went ahead!

:: West Sussex Record Office has two illustrated talks this Autumn: The Royal Sussex Regiment in World War One (28 October at 7pm) and Christmas in the Archives (25 November at 7pm). Call 01243 753602 to book (tickets £7.50, refreshments included) or visit www.westsussex.gov.uk/ro for further details.