Textile artist celebrates “little churches of Chichester”

Barnham-based textile artist Polly Meynell is celebrating the “little churches of Chichester” in her latest work – a set of seven large panels for the new community centre at St Paul’s Church which is currently under construction.

Tuesday, 16th March 2021, 11:05 am
Polly Meynell and her work for St Paul's
Polly Meynell and her work for St Paul's

If the building work is finished, they will be installed around Easter, with the building being dedicated in June.

“These churches have very different functions now; two were demolished and are now a shop and a garden, a pub, art gallery, bookshop, an office and only one remains as a functioning church.

“When the building is open, I am hoping to create a trail for people to walk around the city and find them. There is so much in Chichester to see if we look up!”

Polly’s panels will honour a rich piece of Chichester history – one recently explored by city historian Alan Green in his book The Five Little Churches of Chichester.

His book covered the histories of the churches of St Olave, St Andrew Oxmarket and All Saints in the Pallant – whose buildings survive to this day as respectively the SPCK bookshop, the Oxmarket Gallery and the home of a wealth management company.

The book also tells the story of the two churches that have been lost: St Peter the Less (where Lakeland now stands) and St Martin in the Pig Market (now a memorial garden, to the east of North Street). All of them survived as churches into the 20th century; now the only place of Anglican worship within the city walls is the cathedral.

Polly’s panels now continue the churches’ commemoration, though through a different medium – designs printed on large-scale cloth: “These churches (the ones still extant) are almost hidden in plain sight in Chichester, and quite often people don’t even know they are there,” Polly said. “The idea is to draw attention to them in the community centre and also create a little trail for people to walk around Chichester to find them. Alan’s book tells the history of the churches, but he doesn’t tell it in an artistic way. It’s an historian’s account of when the church was built and what happened in its life and its demise and its current state. I have depicted parts of them artistically in isolated detail.

“The really sad thing was that this was to have been a celebration of the community coming together to create the works. We would have had everybody making them together and they would have put the people’s names who participated in the community hall. But in the end (because of the pandemic) it was just me. But the good that has come out of it is that they are there.”

Polly has also been making major lockdown contributions to both Worthing and Southlands hospitals as well. She has contributed artwork to multi-faith spaces in both – spaces which cater for everyone across the religious spectrum and also for those without a faith but who feel the need for a quiet room to collect their thoughts. She has already installed the work at Southlands Hospital and will be doing the same soon at Worthing in their new chapel space. She expects it to be in place this spring, perhaps May: “It can be so difficult to find a quiet private prayer space which is something which has been so deeply needed not only for the patients, but also for the staff, just to collect their thoughts and to be calm.”