The Literati Glitterati of Chichester

By David E P Dennis

Do you know which prominent supporters of the literary arts and crafts have been associated with Chichester? They may have been born in the city, lived and worked there, or died there.  In this article we look at some of the notable or notorious personalities and their lives down the ages.

If you are a Chichester writer who is not mentioned here, then please work on your notability not your notoriety and we’ll list you next time!

John Bullokar (1574-1627) – Lexicographer
John was an English physician and lexicographer. He was born in St Andrew’s parish, Chichester and was brought up to be a staunch Roman Catholic but the family suffered and were all excommunicated. His brother Thomas was hanged, drawn and quartered in 1642 for celebrating Mass. John went to France to get his medical degree and then began writing.

Wikipedia quote:
‘John Bullokar was the author of An English Expositor: Teaching the Interpretation of the Hardest Words Used in our Language (1616) and A True Description of the Passion of our Saviour Jesus Christ, a poem in six-line stanzas (1622). For his contribution to the development of the English dictionary, John Bullokar is recognised by linguists and lexicographers.’

William Cawley (1602-1677) – Signer of death warrants
William was born in Chichester and grew up to sign the death warrant for King Charles I, so he was a writer of malign signatures! He became a politician after being educated at Chichester Grammar School then Oxford University and finally Gray’s Inn.

He then became MP for Chichester and Midhurst and became a judge at the High Court of Justice and after attending all the sittings in Westminster Hall he signed King Charles I’s death warrant.

However, when King Charles II returned to the throne and Oliver Cromwell was no more, then the King refused to pardon him and he had to run away to Switzerland with other regicides and died at Vevey.

William Clowes (1779-1847) – Printer
William was born in Chichester and developed the use of steam-powered printing presses in the industry using his company – William Clowes Ltd in London. His business thrived on government printing contracts.

A steam press is a noisy beast and his factory unfortunately was right next to the palace of Britain’s wealthiest man, the Duke of Northumberland, who successfully instituted a court action for noise and pollution abatement. So William moved to Blackfriars and formed the largest printing works in the world – employing over 500 workers directly. He treated his staff very well and helped to promote information via the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge. He was made a freeman of Chichester.

Matthew Phipps Shiel (1865-1947) – Writer of fantasy novels and definer of the genre
Matthew was born in Montserrat, the illegitimate son of an Irish Customs Office and a local slave.  He went to college in Barbados then moved to England, where he began to write collections of short stories. He would hire himself out as a writer of other people’s plot ideas. He wrote many works about China and it is likely that one of his stories was the basis later for the dangerous character Dr Fu Manchu. He wrote a famous book called – The Purple Cloud – a fantasy future history.

After many more books he left the literary scene for a long while and it has only just been revealed relatively recently (2008) that back in 1914 had actually been convicted  for ‘indecently assaulting and carnally knowing’ his 12-year-old de facto stepdaughter. He may also have been sleeping with her mother’s sisters. He died in Chichester.

Ian Hannah (1874-1944) – Writer and researcher
Ian was born in Chichester and had a busy and complicated life as a writer and researcher. When he grew old enough he travelled to Canada and became president of the University of King’s College, in Windsor, Nova Scotia. He came back to England then crossed the Atlantic to work in the USA as a professor of church history and then travelled back to Scotland and settled in Edinburgh. He became an MP in the 1935 General Election. It seems from his writing that all the time his heart was in Sussex.

Wikipedia quote:
‘Hannah published several books, many with illustrations by his wife, including Sussex (1912), Berwick and the Lothians (1913), The Heart of East Anglia, and Capitals of the Northlands (1914), and The Story of Scotland in Stone (1934). He was also a member and frequent speaker at the Sussex Archaeological Society, producing articles on the Prebendal School in Chichester, the Vicars’ Close at Chichester and on the town of Crawley, and later on the houses of Chichester Close, Brambletye and West Hoathly.’

Eric Gill (1882 – 1940) – Sculptor and typeface designer with a huge character flaw
Arthur Eric Rowton Gill was a brilliant sculptor, typeface designer, stonecutter and printmaker. He was linked to the Arts and Crafts movement. It is hard to know with Gill if his entire body of works should be torn down and banned – or if the art he produced is somehow separate from the major pervert he was. He did not seem to be aware of his perversion, was deeply religious and believed possibly that God made sex and so it was permitted to do anything in the name of God.

He made all sorts of art and some of that was erotic but that is not out of the norm. However, some of his much less desirable activities were certainly unacceptable.

What are we to make of him? Gill was named Royal Designer for Industry, the highest British award for designers, by the Royal Society of Arts. He also became a founder member of the newly established Faculty of Royal Designers for Industry.

Gill was born in 1882 in Steyning, but in 1897 the family moved to Chichester. He studied at Chichester Technical and Art School, then moved to London where his amazing output ‘took off’. He then moved to Ditchling in Sussex with his wife.  Then in 1913, Gill moved to Hopkin’s Crank at Ditchling Common, where there was a thriving arts and crafts community focused around a chapel.

Wikipedia explains:
‘So he converted to Roman Catholicism and started a lay religious order with his wife and others, called the Guild of St Joseph and St Dominic, and began wearing a girdle of chastity under a habit. His personal diaries describe his sexual activity in great detail, including extramarital affairs, incest with his two eldest teen daughters, incestuous relationships with his sisters, and sexual acts on his dog. This aspect of Gill’s life was little known until publication of the 1989 biography by Fiona MacCarthy who had read his secret diaries where he proudly detailed all his perversions.

Jennifer Lash (1938-1993) – Novelist and painter
Anne Mary Alleyne Lash was sometimes known as Jini Fiennes. She was born in Chichester and in 1961, at the age of 23, she published her first novel, The Burial. She was seen as one of the most promising young people among England’s up and coming artists at the time. She married Mark Fiennes and gave birth to the famous actors Ralph and Joseph, but also many other children of great talent – seven children in all. She wrote many books and had art exhibitions at St Ives in Cornwall. However, life dealt her a terrible blow when she was told she had breast cancer. She travelled to Lourdes hoping for a miracle cure and carried on writing, but finally lost her battle and died in Wiltshire aged 55.

Stephen Matthews (1946- ) – Australian author and publisher
Stephen was born in Chichester, completed studies at Cambridge University and went to Australia in 1979. He taught until 1987 and then set up a publishing company Ginninderra Press in Canberra. In 2007 he won the ACT Writing and Publishing Awards for best children’s book, Secrets which he edited.

Kate Mosse OBE (1961- ) Writer and broadcaster
Katharine Louise Mosse OBE is well known as Kate Mosse. She was born in Chichester and went to Chichester High School for Girls and New College, Oxford. She is best known for her 2005 novel Labyrinth, which has been translated into more than 37 languages. She worked as an editor for the Random House Group, then moved to France but came back to Chichester in 1998 to become executive director of Chichester Festival Theatre. In 2001, she began writing the first of the series, Labyrinth, which was published in 2005. Her bestselling books have sold millions of copies in more than 40 countries.


Hugh Dennis (1962- ) – Comedian, actor and writer
Peter Hugh Dennis is best known for being one half of Punt and Dennis, with comedy partner Steve Punt. Since 2005, Dennis has been a regular panellist on the BBC Two satirical comedy show Mock the Week. His brother is British Ambassador to Angola. Hugh graduated with a first in the Geography tripos at St John’s College Cambridge, where he was head-hunted by the intelligence services but declined.  He has vast talent and has contributed to a many TV and radio programmes. Hugh lives in Chichester with his family.

Isabel Ashdown (1970- ) – Writer of contemporary fiction
Isabel studied English & Creative Writing at the University of Chichester, UK, where she was awarded The Hugo Donnelly Prize for Outstanding Academic Achievement and completed her MA with distinction. She is currently Writer in Residence at the University of Brighton.

Wikipedia says:
‘An extract from her debut novel Glasshopper won The Mail on Sunday Novel Competition judged by Fay Weldon and the late Sir John Mortimer, going on to be named as one of the best books of 2009 in the Observer and London Evening Standard. Isabel is represented by The Viney Agency.’

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