- Midhurst & Petworth Excursion/Walk 18 December 2021
- Walk Leader: Gordon Churchill
- Distance: Approx 5 Miles
- Start: Petersfield Railway Station for 10:12 bus departure to Midhurst
- Details: 1 mile walk via the pond (coffee stop) the Wharf, and Cowdray House. Board bus No 1 at 11:30 to Petworth. Visit Petworth House to see Christmas decorations, stroll around Petworth Park (picnic lunch) before boarding return bus to Midhurst at 14:12. Short walk through Cowdray park and depart by No 92 bus at 15:00. Arrive Petersfield 15:25.
A walk with a Christmas theme. Yes, this was a somewhat different walk than usual as we made use of the local bus service to reach Midhurst, and Petworth. Our ride from Petersfield took us through Stedham which has a 2,000 year old yew tree in the Churchyard. On reaching Midhurst we alighted from the bus and made our way to South Pond, originally constructed to provide a supply of fresh fish to the 12th Century fortified manor house that once stood on nearby St Ann’s Hill.
Fast forward to the 19th Century, and not far from the pond, in the area stretching from the Bepton Road to the Chichester Road, now with modern day houses and an industrial site, were three railway termini. Few UK cities can boast of having this number, let alone a small country town. The line from Petersfield opened in 1864, from Pulborough in 1866, and from Chichester in 1881. However, the Chichester line closed in 1951, to Petersfield in 1955, and to Pulborough in 1964.
Our short walking tour of Midhurst continued via The Wharf. Now a mix of houses and small industrial units, but in 1794 a canal was opened – the new motorway of the day! This linked Midhurst via the River Rother to the Arun Navigation. As we now know the coming of the railway network sounded the death knoll to the canal network. We posed for a group photo on the bridge over the old canal then turned left to walk between the Rother and St Ann’s Hill.
On reaching a bend in the river the ruins of Cowdray House came into view. This magnificent Tudor house, visited by both Henry VIII and by Elizabeth 1st was destroyed by fire in 1793. With the ruins behind us, we walked into the town and boarded the bus for Petworth, passing Benbow Pond, a regular spot to park our cars and enjoy a circular walk.
Since 1189 Petworth has held a street fair annually at the end of November and the town is a mix of narrow streets with attractive old shops and houses. The town’s claim to fame however is Petworth House, the ancestral seat of just one family for over 900 years, but the present building dates from the 17th Century. Now in the care of The National Trust, the house contains an outstanding collection of statues and paintings. Before entering the house we enjoyed listening to The Petworth Singers in the Courtyard as they sang Christmas songs and carols.
Once inside the house we gazed in awe at the many major works by artists such as Turner, Van Dyke, Reynolds, and Gainsborough. This year’s Christmas theme was “Festive traditions through time” and as we entered the Somerset and Square dining room we stepped into the Georgian period to celebrate Christmas with mannequins crafted by hand with garden greenery. On to the Marble Hall where Christmas trees in the Victorian period became popular. In the Little Dining Room we saw how families celebrated a 1940’s/50’s Christmas. As we came to the end of our house tour we saw how families may gather to celebrate the festival in future years.
After our break for lunch we walked into the Park. Designed by Lancelot “Capability” Brown in the latter half of the 18th Century the 700 acre park contains lakes and a herd of Fallow deer. Following a brisk walk around the park we had time to look at the fire station. In times gone by there was of course no public Fire Service, so grand houses such as Petworth House had their own on site. We left the house and made our way along a narrow cobbled street to the Square where we boarded the bus back towards Midhurst, passing fields of grape vines near Tillington. We alighted at Easebourne, with its many cottages painted in the distinctive bright yellow paint of the Cowdray Estate. Passing the Cowdray Farm Shop and cafe we strode through the park with the Polo ground on our left, and trees festooned with Mistletoe on our right. On reaching the bus stand in Midhurst we all agreed it was different from our usual type of walk, but made interesting by the historical input, and of course the Christmas carols and decorations in Petworth House.
Author: Gordon Churchill, Club Deputy Chairman
Photography: Mark & Sandy