Chichester, West Sussex: The Novium

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“Oh boy, Roman crap!” I thought sarcastically to myself as I entered Chichester’s Novium.  But really, it turned out to be ok in the end.  I can’t pretend that it’s worth making a special trip to Chichester for any reason, but if you are stupid enough to do it, like me, you’ll probably find yourself inside the Novium at some point, since aside from the cathedral, it’s really the only tourist attraction to speak of there.  Fortunately, it is free and offers clean toilets with no daddy-long-legs in them, which is more than can be said for Chichester’s public toilets (ugh, I can still picture their horrible thin legs crawling around.  When I say daddy-long-legs, I mean it in the American sense of a spidery thing.  I think Brits call them harvestmen, but I’m not looking it up because I don’t want to have to look at pictures of the damn things).

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It is perhaps apt that the Novium offers nice bathroom facilities, since a Roman bathhouse used to stand on this very spot, and the museum has been cleverly built around the ruins so you can admire them without having to exert yourself too much.  Unless of course you want to look at them from the special viewing area on the first floor, which you will want to do because that’s where all the galleries are.  Then you have to walk up a bunch of steps (though a lift is available).

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There’s a kind of foyer area outside the first floor gallery that is currently dedicated to Sir George Murray, a Vice-Admiral in the Royal Navy from Chichester who was chummy with Nelson, and his wife, Ann, who outlived him by nearly half a century.  The main gallery features a huge glass “cube case” holding objects relating to Chichester’s past, from the Roman era through the present day.  I was partial to the former possessions of Joe “Pie Man” Faro, including his baker’s hat, gravy warmer, and a few ads for his pies.

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The second floor’s distinguishing characteristic was a huge window overlooking the cathedral (you might be “blinded by the light” shining in if it’s a sunny day), with a little map describing everything you can see from this vantage point, including some unique Chichester-made chimney pots (they have a couple examples you can touch sitting out).  The gallery up here, by far the largest in the museum, has objects currently grouped by the type of human emotion they represent: Joy, Sorrow, Bravery, and Creativity.

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I was digging it, because there was some pretty rad stuff in this gallery.  My absolute favourite thing was a sling produced by St. John’s Ambulance during the First World War, showing all the different ways it could be used to wrap various injuries (with a mustachioed man as model.  Something about the moustache really takes it up a notch.  I’ve always kind of wanted a phrenology head, and I found one the other day with an amusing moustache.  If I had 3700 euros laying around, you’d better believe that’d be the one I’d buy).  There was also a drinking mug with a fake frog moulded into the cup, to give whoever was drinking out of it a fright.  Excellent. UPDATE: My boyfriend noticed how much I liked that sling (probably because I kept talking about it) and bought me one for my birthday, so now I have my own WWI instructional sling.  Kick-ass.

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With the centenary and all, there was a fair bit of WWI stuff, including a little trench hut set up in the corner (you weren’t allowed inside though, boo) and a wounded soldier mannequin lying on a cot, but I gravitated towards the display of hats for trying on.  I think I probably look better in a standard British Army cap than a German one, though I have to say the pickelhaube really kind of suited my boyfriend (every time I see a pickelhaube, I just think of that 3 Stooges short where they’re doughboys who accidentally set off a canister of laughing gas, and get captured and taken to the German headquarters where they all laugh their asses off when one of the Germans falls on his spiky helmet.  Classic).

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They also had a mobile stocks cart (built in the 1820s, yikes! That’s more recent than I would have thought) for wheeling offenders around the town so they could be pelted with rotting vegetables, or worse, if they were really unpopular.  And a small display of skulls explaining what each one could tell us about the person it came from (the one with a hole in it from a person with a persistent ear infection made me cringe a little.  I only had a couple ear infections when I was a kid, but I still remember how agonising they were, and I can only imagine letting it progress to the point where the pus punched a hole in your head.  Jeez).

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I should also mention that there is a small temporary exhibit on the ground floor about the history of collecting, which has as its prize object an old Japanese Shogi game on loan from the Horniman in London, as well as some information about explorers and their collections, including Cook and Livingstone.  Although I read a couple negative reviews of the Novium on Trip Advisor before going, I frankly don’t see what their problem was.  It was a free museum, and I was actually pretty impressed with many of the objects on display, as well as the labelling, which, despite a few spelling and grammatical errors, tended to be comprehensive, educational, and often amusing.  It has clearly been renovated in recent years, as all the facilities seemed pretty up-to-date, but hadn’t lost the old-fashioned charm of a local museum.  3.5/5.

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Oh, and because the cathedral was also free, we popped in there too, so I’ll just show you a few highlights.

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The 3-dimensional man on the wall is to commemorate a local man, John Cawley, who was one of the MPs who signed the death warrant of Charles I.  He managed to survive the Restoration (just) by going into hiding in Belgium, but died in the 1660s.

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They had a small treasury room containing a lot of boring silver and pewter (basically a bunch of “you have chosen…poorly” Holy Grail replicas like in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.  Damn I love that film), but also a weathercock with dents on his tail where he was clipped by bullets during the Battle of Britain, so that was pretty cool.

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And they had a bunch of large wooden paintings depicting kings of England, and I guess some popes?  Or maybe something more Anglican, like Archbishops, I dunno.

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There are also some pretty cool gargoyles on the outside of the cathedral, and apparently a pair of peregrine falcons roost in the tower, so those are things to look out for.  As I said at the start, I really don’t think Chichester’s the kind of place that merits a special trip (in retrospect; at the time, it seemed like something reasonable to do of a Saturday, at least until we got stuck in traffic for a couple hours) but if you find yourself in the area, there’s a couple of free things you can do to kill some time.  And clearly there are people out there that really like Roman stuff, as judged by the unexpected popularity of my old post on the Verulamium, so you may also enjoy the bathhouse ruins in the Novium if this is so.

 

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