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The Novium, Chichester

Founded: 1962        Governance: Local Authority        Scope: archaeology, local history    Visited: Winter 2017

Founded in 1962, I said, but moved to this site in 2012 - and you can't miss it. Its old incarnation, Chichester District Museum, was a far more ordinary town museum, housed in the old corn mill in Little London lane, but The Novium is a shiny white box (or rather, a series of stacked boxes) designed by Keith Williams after a competition organised by RIBA. The move was intended to house and showcase a Roman bath complex, discovered here during the building of a new Post Office, and the building does rather ennoble a decidedly uninspiring street. Chichester, of course, likes to trade on its Roman past, and the The Novium's name references that of the Roman city, Noviomagus.

And, being that increasingly rare thing, a local-authority run museum, it's free to go in! This is presumably why it was so busy on a dull and very chilly term-time Thursday afternoon in February. The new (when we went) exhibition about astronaut and local boy Tim Peake - which is very colourful and well done - is also presumably a draw at the moment. 

Once through the reception area you are first introduced to the bathhouse, highlighted in a dark amphitheatre and illustrated by unobtrusive and impressionistic film projected massively against a wall: on the mezzanine overlooking it the Roman artefacts are displayed. The other local history objects are mainly housed in a gigantic, riotous and strangely beautiful cubic display case in another gallery, although the museum's collection must be substantially bigger than this. The sense of the development of the city is rather muted, but the history of the Land Settlement Association was new to me, and there are plenty of charismatic objects to admire even within this minimal selection. Look out for the little portraits of museum staff next to the objects they've chosen for the display: I can read the signs of mild mickey-taking all too well, boys and girls. There's a small and somewhat unwonted display about an 18th-century admiral (nevertheless it excited the small boys who shared the space with us - 'A sword!!'), and a landing area, looking over the roofs to the Cathedral, which is turned into a feature in its own right to provide a chill-out zone after the visual stimulation of the Tim Peake gallery. All good stuff, and shows you yet again how proper resourcing can make a difference to a museum, and that museum make a difference to its locale.

The Novium, Chichester
The Novium, ChichesterThe Novium, Chichester
The Novium, Chichester
The Novium, ChichesterThe Novium, Chichester
The Novium, ChichesterThe Novium, Chichester
The Novium, ChichesterThe Novium, Chichester
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