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West Sussex cultural attractions

West Sussex has a rich and diverse arts scene and here are some of the best venues to visit. Home to Chichester Festival Theatre (CFT), Pallant House Gallery and several arts festivals, Chichester is the centre for arts and culture in the county. When it opened in July 1962, CFT revolutionised performance; its thrust stage – in which the auditorium is arranged around the stage – was the first in Britain for over 450 years. The first season, under inaugural artistic director Sir Laurence Olivier, attracted national attention, and the Queen and Prince Philip attended a charity performance of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya that same month.

Festivals can be found across West Sussex including Petworth Festival, Arundel Festival, The Henfield Festival of Gardens & Art, Lindfield Arts Festival and Bognor Regis’ South Downs Folk Festival.

If you’re not around during the various festivals fairs and festivals, then head instead to one of the county’s many museums and galleries. Ropetackle Arts Centre is a community-run venue with a diverse calendar of music, theatre and film. Horsham Museum & Art Gallery has more than 26 exhibitions in its medieval timber-framed building. Worthing Museum and Art Gallery’s highlights include a sculpture garden, with works by John Skelton and Philip Jackson, and the third largest costume collection in the country.

West Sussex’s historic houses are also home to extensive art collections. Visitors to Arundel Castle can view paintings by Van Dyck, Gainsborough and Canaletto, while Parham House’s offering includes portraits of notable Elizabethans such as Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales, painted by Robert Peake. Petworth is said to house the finest art collection in the care of the National Trust, including major works by van Dyck and Titian, and three paintings by William Blake, however, it is best known for its association with Turner and its collection of 20 of his oil paintings – the largest collection outside of the Tate.

Our picks

Amberley Museum
Amberley Museum

New Barn Rd, Amberley, Arundel BN18 9LT

To find out more about the county’s industrial past, head to Amberley Museum, a 36-acre former chalk pit and lime works. With exhibits including a narrow gauge railway, telecommunications and electricity halls and a printing workshop, the museum celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2019. Visit website

Lancing College Chapel
Lancing College Chapel

Lancing College, Lancing BN15 0RW

The imposing sight of Lancing College Chapel, perched on a chalk escarpment overlooking the River Adur, Shoreham Airport and out to the Rampion wind farm, is a waymarker for regular travellers on the A27 and, for the visitor to Sussex, a source of curiosity. This remarkable Grade 1 Gothic Revival building is known by many but visited by so few. Take a short detour off the A27 and venture up the drive of Lancing College to discover the peace and tranquillity of this famous Sussex landmark with its hidden treasures: the largest rose window in the UK; the glorious tapestries from the William Morris loom; the Walker and Frobenius organs; and the moving story of the former pupils who fell in WWI, each remembered by a simple wooden chair with a brass plaque. Most of all, visit to experience the awe inspired by the soaring interior of the largest school chapel in the world; the clean sandstone columns rising 94 feet to support an exquisite vaulted ceiling; flecks of lint off the pupils’ gowns caught drifting in shafts of sunlight and winter days warmed by the glow from the ethereal floating chandeliers designed by Stephen Dykes Bower. Visit website

Littlehampton Museum

Manor House, Church St, Littlehampton BN17 5EW

Littlehampton Museum is a friendly, local museum packed full of exciting displays and ever-changing, colourful exhibitions for all the family depicting the history of this sunny seaside town. All displays are on the ground floor, and are fully wheelchair accessible. Visit website

Chichester Festival Theatre
Chichester Festival Theatre

Oaklands Way, Chichester PO19 6AP

Situated in the cathedral city of West Sussex between the South Downs and the sea, Chichester Festival Theatre is internationally renowned for the exceptionally high standard of its productions, as well as its work with the community and young people. Its bold thrust stage design makes it one of England’s most striking playhouses – equally suited to epic drama and musicals. Its studio theatre, the Minerva, is particularly noted for premieres of new work alongside intimate revivals.

With its light and spacious foyers and welcoming cafe, bars and restaurants, all with lovely views over Oaklands Park, Chichester is one of the country’s most loved and lively theatres. The Evening Standard call it ‘The country’s most consistently classy regional theatre’ whilst the Daily Telegraph call it ‘the jewel in the crown of regional theatres’. Pictured is Me and My Girl by Rose and Furber. Visit website

Horsham Museum & Art Gallery
Horsham Museum & Art Gallery

9 Causeway, Horsham RH12 1HE

Horsham Museum & Art Gallery has more than 26 exhibitions in its medieval timber-framed building including one dedicated to the Warnham-born poet Percy Bysshe Shelley and his novelist wife, Mary, displaying early editions of their works, and original letters and books relating to the wider Shelley circle. The art gallery opened in 2010 and features works by local artists, such as Dr Geoffrey Sparrow’s watercolours and etchings, and Raoul Millais, best known for his equestrian paintings and his Spanish artworks from his time with Ernest Hemmingway in the country. Visit website

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Image credits: ©Arkady Chubykin/; Ash Mills/Lancing College Chapel; Amberley Museum and Heritage Centre; Johan Persson/Philip Vile/Chichester Festival Theatre; Toby Phillips/Horsham Museum (HDC)

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