Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Chichester and Portsmouth - Day 1

Two weekends ago I went on a little adventure to the south part of England. I hopped on the train towards Brighton for a two-pronged trip: a visit to longtime family friends the O'Sullivans, bookended by days in Chichester for research-slash-Church of England immersion.

I've been continuing to be engrossed by my research into Benjamin Britten's Rejoice in the Lamb. You may remember that I visited the Britten-Pears Library in the summer and fall, and had a chance to look at the holograph fair copy of the score - that's the handwritten score where Britten had already finished the piece, and wrote it out in good. Digging around in the British Library a while ago, I discovered that he had made a gift of the composition score - i.e., the score that would reveal more of his thought process, with amendments and deletions and additions - to the vicar who commissioned the work, Rev. Walter Hussey. Hussey, who went on to become Dean of Chichester Cathedral (where he commissioned the Chichester Psalms from Leonard Bernstein), left a large collection of papers and correspondence which are now housed in the West Sussex County Record Office, in Chichester. Those papers include the Rejoice in the Lamb composition score, which he kept until the end of his life.

So, I packed my backpack and headed to Chichester, to have a look at the composition score. While the archive is open to the public, I discovered I would need written permission from the current Dean of Chichester, the very Rev. Nicholas Frayling, to actually view the Hussey papers. So I wrote to him, and he (or his PA) very kindly wrote back to give me permission, and to say 'if you are with us in worship on Sunday, please make yourself known.' Well alright, if you twist my arm!

Please note that this was a solo trip, that required me to do my own navigation. I had a map printed off Google, but the were no obvious roadsigns once I got off the train at Chichester Station - I guess everybody in Chichester just knows their way around. A friendly local looked at my map with me and told me where to go for the record office - and gave me directions to the Chichester Council Office. Not the same thing. But! the receptionist there gave me a good local map of Chichester and told me how to get where I was going. Chichester is built around a main cross shape, with this clock monument at the centre:

Just past this clock (and feeling a little more sure of my way), I got my first look at Chichester Cathedral. I was excited to explore the Cathedral but I knew I had to let it wait for Sunday, because I only had about half a day to be in the record archive.

A little ways further down the road (off the right "arm" of the cross) I saw a sign for the council office. I knew the council office was different than the archive, but it seemed logical that they would be all in one row of buildings, or possibly even attached by a walkway.

So I went in there, and turns out I was in the wrong place again. The receptionist directed me to a nearby roundabout, which I had to cross (taking my life into my hands) to get to the archive. It was as I was trying to navigate this crossing (nevermind trying to see if I could actually see the record office, they hide it well apparently!) that my mobile rang; it was the transatlantic shipping company calling to ask if I'd had a chance to consider the quote they sent me. OMG now is not a good time!! I have manuscripts to study!

Found it!!
I finally found the right building! The receptionist there set me up with a reader card and a locker. She reminded me no cameras, no food, no nothing with you in the archive room ("mmph," I responded, shoving a Nutrigrain in my mouth for sustenance.) When I got in to the reading room, the archivist told me everyone was about to go for lunch, so hurry and write down the items you want so you can have them before lunch starts. (This was a little flustering, but still nicer than the Britten-Pears Library where they kick you out of the building for 75 minutes over lunch. And no bench outside or anything.)

I had a wonderful and productive day studying my documents at the archive. I'd tell you more about it but maybe I should save it for the terribly clever and groundbreaking article I hope to write about the whole thing. ;) Oh who am I kidding, Skype me and I'll tell you everything.

As the Record Office closed for the day I got myself ready to hop on the 45-minute train to Portsmouth. However I was nearly thwarted by my (you will remember) sub-par wayfinding skills; I ended up wandering merrily down the wrong "arm" of the cross, and a road that should have taken me straight back to the station was in fact leading me out of town in a most useless fashion. After verifying the error of my ways with a local, I hurried back toward the centre of the cross and asked yet another bystander for directions. My train's departure time was fast approaching. He said "oh yes, just go up there and turn left, and if you keep to your right you'll go straight to the station - it will take you about 15 minutes."

I had nine.

In heels.

BUT! I made it just in time. And was very warmly greeted at Portsmouth station by Brian and Ruth, two of my hosts for the weekend - about which more in the next post!

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