Address: Queen Street, Arundel, West Sussex
Words: Rebecca Dowman
Images: Alex Zeman
“Hear ye, hear ye! Today is born in London town a new princess, Charlotte, a sister for George. God save the Queen!”
With her tri-cornered hat, brass-buckled shoes, calf-length velvet jacket and hand bell, the woman outside our rented semi could have stumbled off the set of Moll Flanders.
We had just arrived in Queen Street, Arundel, to try out country living after 25 years in progressive north London.
We knew that it would be more conservative here but a town crier, really?
Thankfully, we realised swiftly that there was more to Queen Street than Merry Olde England. And that, in the unlikely event of Arundel having a vice quarter, this would be it.
Admittedly, from where the road ends and the stone river bridge begins you can see Arundel Castle, the vast faux-Medieval seat of the Earl of Norfolk.
True, the street has a handful of (grade II) listed buildings; the conical roof of an oast house does peek quaintly over the shoulder of Gaskyns’ café, and from Jubilee Gardens, the tiny public space overlooking the river, you can see coloured boats moored along the bank.
But when it comes to “the essence of heritage, urban chic and country pursuits” that Arundel’s official website lays claim to, you’re better off over the other side of the bridge.
Over there you’ll find the mock-Gothic cathedral built, like the castle, 150 years ago by the 15th Duke; four fudge shops; scads of antique, gift, militaria and art emporia; 11 cafes; the bowling green, and elegant Georgian villas, towering Victorian townhouses, and bulging (fake) Tudor cottages patchworking the cobbled streets.
Juxtaposing all this chocolate box, our semi-detached house had a grittier outlook. We faced William Hill, a chip shop, the Co-op and the joyously named hairdresser, Hackers.
Conjoined with The White Hart, the murmur of drinkers seeped through our sitting room wall and from the first floor back room overlooking our yard, whose light filtered all night through grey net curtains, we heard but never saw the owner of a TB cough.
The street is no sleepy, country lane, despite the neighbouring Sussex Downs. The Coastliner double decker to Brighton wheezed up outside our front door; the slamming doors and car engines of Co-op and chippy visitors punctuated the evenings and Peter, our next-door neighbour drowned out the sound of his Alsatian barking at passing dogs with epic bellows of “Buster! Shhhutttt uppp!”
Like his wife, kids and grandchildren, Peter is a ‘Mullet’ – the term for those born and raised in Arundel. Leaning over his gate, smoking a pipe and exchanging comments with passers-by, he is a jamboree bag of local news.
In Queen Street, more than in London, older people burn brightly. Jane, from the retirement flats across the road, wears lipstick the same shade as her red setter and dramatic cashmere capes, is often abroad and has a ‘friend’ in Chichester.
Another near neighbour, Georgie, has just returned from a fjord cruise, her first holiday alone. She is immaculately made up as she walks her Dalmatian along the riverbank each morning. Following her life-long partner’s death, Dotty is Georgie’s comrade in her rage against the dying of the light. They are winning.
Alice and Dan, like us, moved down from London. They swim in the town lido on Christmas day, are ‘friends’/members of everything – from the small town museum to the wildfowl and wetland centre – and let local artists show their works in their garden and front room at festival-time. They invite us for supper soon after we arrive and show us century-old prints of their house when it was a draper’s.
These people are not marking time. They honour the past while enjoying today. And, in our two years here, I’ve learnt this is Arundel’s story too. Heritage and the town crier may call people in: but it is the present and future that holds us here.
God save Queen Street.