NOSTALGIA: Memory Lane in the heart of Midhurst

The lane up to the castle ruins ''Picture by Louise Adams C130684-3 Mid St Anne's Hill
The lane up to the castle ruins ''Picture by Louise Adams C130684-3 Mid St Anne's Hill

FORMER Midhurst resident Peter Sydenham, who now lives in Adelaide, Australia, writes to share his memories – and suggestions – for the town...

The Midhurst and Petworth Observer published a news item on January 10 that spoke about prospective public interest in the creation of a walk from the Cowdray Ruins to St Ann’s Hill and Market Square. The ‘future role’ group, led by Colin Hughes, Midhurst Town Council chairman from 1995-2009, has put to the Midhurst Town Council the results of their deliberations exploring what townscape and landscape improvements might be made to Midhurst.

The site of the Norman castle at St Anne's Hill''Picture by Louise Adams C130684-1 Mid St Anne's Hill

The site of the Norman castle at St Anne's Hill''Picture by Louise Adams C130684-1 Mid St Anne's Hill

Surprisingly to me it lacks the special status it is due in the long history of Midhurst.

There should be no argument about upgrading the status of the St Ann’s Hill walking circuit. Did you know it has been recognised as a wonderful leisure walk since at least 1898, that is, for the last 115 years? It seems to be hardly changed over all that time. It has certainly remained the same since the 1940s when I spent many days of young play in its woods and alongside its river. We owe it to the residents and visitors in general to make more of it!

You might be thinking on what basis has a person who lives overseas in Australia the right and ability to express a sound opinion? Simply, in my mind, the path has been ‘mine’ since my first years of life playing there some 70 years ago. Its impact on my whole life at its formative time has been proven to be significant. The wonders of the St Ann’s Hill can also be yours for the children now and into the future.

When the article mentioned above was published, I immediately picked up on the situation for I had recently written a draft chapter on just that path for childhood memoirs of my time as a Blitz kid evacuated to Midhurst from London in late 1940.

I have since lived most of my life in Australia, but every time I have made a visit to the ‘Old Dart’, as we Aussies affectionately call the ‘old country’, I make my 30-minute pilgrimage around the Midhurst Walk, over the field below and up St Ann’s Hill. I walk around with the friendly ghosts of things and events of my childhood rushing back into my thinking.

Part of the Midhurst Walk, lying to the east of North Street, is a long causeway that connects it to the one-time original entrance to Cowdray Park. In past times all manner of horse-drawn vehicles would have entered the causeway through a magnificent 17th-century, wrought-iron, double gate to rattle along the rock and gravel roads to reach the estate by the ruins. By my time in the 40s, the road was rarely used for wheeled traffic for there were wider, safer and much smoother bituminised roads into the Cowdray Estate.

Cows would graze on the lush grass. Often they would wander over and along the causeway. Worse still, some would just stand in the way looking down at me as if to say ‘I dare you to go past’. I never attempted to move them. The one good thing they did was to make cow-pat droppings all over the grass. In one end, out the other! They held many nutrients that made the grass grow much higher and greener around the pat. My interest was the home they provided for dung beetles.

In the earlier St Ann’s Hill home days my billet host soon learned, to her own advantage that I reliably came back from my little explorations. I rarely got into trouble. I was, twice on the same day, however, marched home, ear being held by a village bobby. I had been very naughty! Daily I went out unless the weather was absolutely dreadful.

Mum occasionally visited me and took me out for a walk. For most of the time the little local area of St Ann’s Hill was mine alone as few others visited the hill then.

During my second period in Midhurst, I would wander along the river from the South Pond to the North Mill. At the St Ann’s Hill end it was flowing widely toward the Wharf area. The gently moving river, coupled with the St Ann’s Hill wood and its river path, was always a good spot for this boy to explore.