Chichester cathedral: The canon gate and bell tower

Pages 158-160

A History of the County of Sussex: Volume 3. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1935.

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The CANON GATE, or gatehouse to Canon Lane, on the west side of South Street, adjoining the Vicars' Close, is built of flints with stone dressings and is of two stories. Walcott gives the date of its erection as temp. Richard III, but as it bears the arms of Archdeacon Edward More it is probable that it is not earlier than the 16th century. It was used later for the Pye Poudre Court in connection with the Sloe Fair. (fn. 1) It afterwards fell into disrepair and for a time the space between the smaller arches was used as a stable. In 1894 it was restored by Mr. Ewan Christian and the upper story reconstructed. (fn. 2)

The gateway has large archways in the east and west elevations, with chamfered jambs and threecentred arches, the eastern rebated for gates. The western archway has its inner order carried on corbels in the reveals, which are carved as demi-angels holding shields of arms that are much weather-worn. The northern shield is charged with a fesse dancetty between three molets (?) (More), and the southern with the arms of William of Wykeham or Winchester College. Both arches have moulded labels with defaced head-stops. South of them are the narrower arches for the footway, both entirely modern.

The upper story has in each face a niche between two windows. The windows are modern and have trefoiled heads and square labels, but the niches are ancient, and more or less weather-worn. Both have brackets carved as demi-angels holding shields, apparently bearing the sacred monogram I H S. The east niche is empty, but the west niche is filled by a rectangular tablet and shield of arms of William of Wykeham. The niches have ribbed soffits under ogee canopy-heads which are flanked by pinnacles. The parapets project on hollow-chamfered stringcourses and have been restored except for two decayed gargoyles on each face. The ceiling of the gateway has modern wood beams and the roof is flat.


The detached BELL TOWER, north of the west end of the nave, was built late in the 14th or early in the 15th century. (fn. 3) The walls are of large courses of sandstone ashlar and are divided by string-courses into three stages. The tower has a moulded plinth and an embattled parapet, the string of which is enriched with paterae. In the lowest stage are many putlog holes. At the angles are square buttresses of four stages reaching nearly to the parapet. Their two stop stages coincide with those of the main walls. In the south-west angle is a stair-turret lighted by loops.

In the west face, cutting through the plinth, is a moulded pointed doorway with a hood-mould, all rather weather-worn; above it is a relieving arch. It leads to a basement story, but its head rises above the level of the ground floor. On either side in the plinth is a trefoiled square-headed window to light the basement, and in the south wall are two similar windows each of two lights.

The ground floor is approximately level with the top of the plinth, and it is entered by a doorway in the south wall, with steps leading up to it. The doorway has moulded jambs and two-centred arch in a square head with a label; on the spandrels are perished shields. The internal splays have a projecting edge-mould which is continued in the four-centred rear-arch.

Above the doorway is a window of two cinquefoiled lights and a sub-cusped quatrefoil in a twocentred head with a hood-mould. There is a similar window in the west wall. The rear arches are chamfered. Both windows have been partly restored, but the old stonework is rather weather-worn.

The second story has no piercings. Inside, the lowest story is open right up to the third stage. The stair-vice in the south-west angle is entered by a doorway with a straight-sided four-centred head, and there is a blocked doorway to the former first floor.

The third stage—the ringing chamber—is lighted in each wall by a window of two cinquefoiled lights and vertical tracery in a two-centred head with a hoodmould. The ceiling has two heavy oak beams running north and south which are supported on wall posts and curved braces, carried on plain corbels. The door from the stair-turret has hollow-chamfered jambs and a three-centred arch.

Above the tower is an octagonal lantern carried inside the tower on arched squinches of three chamfered orders.

In each side is a window of two trefoiled lights under a four-centred head; the parapet has a moulded string-course carved with paterae, and is embattled; the merlons are pierced by the trefoiled arches.

From the four corners of the tower are octagonal pinnacles from which are carried short flying buttresses to support the lantern, two from each pinnacle.

Inside the tower is a board recording that the tower was restored in 1902–8 at a cost of £2,300, when the stone facing was chemically treated, and the two west pinnacles were wholly rebuilt and the two eastern partly. The stone used for the purpose came from Philpots Quarry, near East Grinstead.

The Pulpitum or Screen constructed by John Arundel (bishop, 1459–1478) stands in the bell tower, where it was placed by Dean Hannah in 1905 for preservation. It stands against the north wall with its former west front facing south. It is of three bays, the middle one, which was the passage way, being narrower than the other two, which formed the chantry chapels of the Holy Cross and St. Augustine (north side) and St. Mary (south side).

The front has an arcade with moulded responds and piers and two-centred arches under a moulded cornice which is carved with various designs, including beast-heads, lions' masks, human heads, flowers, etc. The spandrels are traceried. Above is a gallery-front with a range of twenty-two niches; these are semi-octagonal in plan with panelled sides and ribbed canopies under cinquefoiled ogee heads and labels with crockets and finials. The spandrels between the finials have also deep trefoiled panels. Each niche has a moulded bracket for an image.

The three bays of the soffit of the screen are liernevaulted, the moulded ribs being carried on engaged shafts with moulded capitals and bases, and moulded capitals on the back wall. All the intersections of the ribs have carved bosses, mostly of foliage, but one has a man's cowled head, another a human head spouting leaves from its mouth, and another a lion's mask. There is a curious deflection in the main diagonal ribs of the east bay (formerly the south bay) as though there had been an error by the original masons in the setting-out and the rib had to be bent (so to speak) to reach the capitals.

There are many other carved and moulded stones lying loose in the tower.

In tee ringing-chamber is a faceless clock given in memory of Dean Hook (1859–1875); it uses the Cambridge chimes at the quarters and hours.

There are eight bells in the lantern which include two by R. Phelps (treble and second) of 1729, the third is of 1583 by I. W. (probably John Wallis of Salisbury), the fourth 1674 by William Eldridge, the fifth is dated 1665, the sixth, also 1665, by W. P. (probably William Purdue), the seventh 1587, by I. W., and the tenor of 1706, by Richard Phelps of London. (fn. 4)


  • 1. Arch. xlv, 234.
  • 2. S.A.C. lvi, 97.
  • 3. In 1375 Sir William Tauk left money to 'the work of the belfry' (Archep. Reg. Sudbury, fol. 85). In 1436 Peter Shelton, treasurer, left 20 marks to 'the fabric of the new belfry' (P.C.C. 124 Luffenam).
  • 4. Amherst Tyssen, The Ch. Bells of Suss. According to Brown Willis, four bells were moved from the central tower to the bell tower in 1664 (T. G. Willis, Rec. of Chich. 168).