What it's like to live in Midhurst
PUBLISHED: 11:59 21 May 2018 | UPDATED: 11:59 21 May 2018
Despite its rural location, the South Downs market town of Midhurst is alive with community spirit
Situated on the River Rother, Midhurst lies at the very heart of the South Downs National Park, halfway between Guildford and the stunning south coast. It is easily accessible via the A272 and its nearest busy railway station, Haslemere, is just a short drive away, getting you into London Waterloo in just over an hour. A regular bus service connects the town to Petersfield and Chichester.
Midhurst’s oldest surviving building is its parish church, built in Norman times in dedication to St Mary Magdalene. It originally stood within the walls of St Ann’s Castle, but between 1284 and 1311 this was largely dismantled. After the priory in neighbouring Easebourne was suppressed, the church achieved official parish church status. The additional dedication to St Denis came much later, first recorded in 1764.
Just north, across the River Rother, lies Cowdray Heritage. It was initially built as a manor house and was extensively developed during the 15th century. As a town, Midhurst developed with it and a number of houses and shops were built to satisfy demand and extended towards the river. The house itself is known to have been visited by both Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, serving as an iconic example of a traditional manor house. But in 1605 its owner – the 2nd Viscount Montagu – was briefly imprisoned for his supposed involvement in the Gunpowder Plot. Guy Fawkes had been a former employee and on 5 November, the Viscount had stayed away from Parliament on the advice of Robert Catesby, the leader of the plot. He spent a year imprisoned in the Tower of London. Following his death in 1629, he was laid to rest at Midhurst church.
A fire took hold in 1783, devastating most of the property. It wasn’t until the early 20th century, and under the direction of the 1st Viscount Cowdray, that the site was revisited for a restoration project. Extensive repairs followed much later and the site re-opened to the public in 2007, managed by the Cowdray Heritage Trust.
The town’s former grammar school was once situated on North Street, where HG Wells taught for a period in 1843. This building is still used today, forming the headquarters of the South Downs National Park Authority.
Annual festivals and events
Each August the MADhurst Festival brings together musicians, artists and craftspeople for a celebration of creativity, culminating in a lively carnival procession through the town’s busy high street. Green-fingered residents are also invited to enter their gardens into Midhurst in Bloom, a community competition which takes place annually. Festivities continue throughout the year and in December, the town gets together for a Christmas street party. The highlight of the social calendar is polo at Cowdray Park, culminating in the Gold Cup in July which attracts world-class players and spectating celebrities.
Midhurst boasts everything you would expect to see from a small market town, including an array of small businesses, shops, cafés, restaurants and pubs. The leisure centre on Bepton Road offers activities and facilities to help people stay fit and active, and is also home to a function room, café and the town’s library. There are also lots of ways to get involved with the local community, from sports clubs and charities to arts, crafts and theatre groups. The town has a community hospital, medical centre and a number of registered dental surgeries.
Midhurst is also the perfect starting point to explore the South Downs National Park which covers 1,672 square kilometres, provides habitats for all kinds of wildlife and offers plenty of routes to walk and cycle.
Midhurst has its own town council and is represented by both Chichester District Council and West Sussex County Council. It forms an electoral ward within Chichester’s parliamentary constituency and is represented in the House of Commons by Gillian Keegan.
Meet the neighbours
Like much of Sussex, Midhurst boasts a number of literary connections. HG Wells made it his home in 1883 as a scholar at Midhurst Grammar. Writers Anya Seton and Ruth Rendell are also said to have been inspired by the area, featuring it in their popular work.
“It’s a beautiful part of the world,” says Samantha Collins, lettings manager at Cowdray Estate. After commuting to the area for several years, she decided to live the country life with her husband and two young boys. “Wrapped around the town centre is an abundance of countryside dotted with agriculture. Farming families and country pursuits are thriving in the area, and with the South Downs National Park headquarters, it’s certainly a place to enjoy the outdoors.”
But even in its rural location, the town bustles with character. “It has a good variety of shops and cafés and with quirky historic buildings as their stage, businesses can be truly unique.” A volunteer-led tourism group boosts visitors and sees more than 21,000 users a year, and an annual arts festival celebrates the town’s many musicians, artists and craftspeople. With lots of social clubs and activity groups on offer, Samantha is also a proud member of the community choir, fond of its “patience, good humour and great community spirit.”
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