Nostalgia: A suggested plan for St Ann’s Hill in Midhurst

The entrance to St Anne's Hill, Midhurst
The entrance to St Anne's Hill, Midhurst

AFTER sharing his memories of St Ann’s Hill in Midhurst in last week’s Observer, Peter Sydenham, from Adelaide, Australia, has ideas for how to involve the younger generation in this precious part of our landscape.

He was evacuated from London in late 1940 and spent several years growing up in 
the town.

If you have memories of wartime Midhurst to share with him, you can email him at Sydenham@senet.com.au

He writes: “There is much to observe and do along the pathway sections of the Midhurst town circular walk. It has charm for both young and old, but the dominant aim should be helping the young to appreciate nature and the valuable varied country and town landscape experienced around the Midhurst Walk.

“Here are some ideas that meet this need.

“A good commencement place for the Midhurst Walk is to assemble in St Ann’s Hall, the Midhurst Resource Centre. There, a friendly tea or coffee could be shared while the importance of St Ann’s Hill, as the foundation place of Midhurst, is explained. A visit to a comfort station might be wise for some before they start the walk.

“From there walk along the short St Ann’s Hill lane and enter the common land one reaches at the top flat area. This area was the site of the first castle built around 1100AD. Presently one only sees some raised stones on the original wall site.

“There is a flat area of useful extent that sits largely under the shade of tall trees. This could be used for outdoor boutique events such as plays, music performances, exhibitions and small gatherings of many kinds. To mark the position of the walls and to give access in an eco-friendly manner, all weather paths can be made along the wall lines.

“This working space would benefit from some simple mock medieval wooden structures on the wall lines to provide shelter from the rain and to create a medieval atmosphere inspiring a wonder of its longevity.

Leading out of the northern corner of the foundations there could be an all-weather path that snakes around, and down, through the ancient woods on the hill to connect with the bottom of the main path. This path would wander through dense picturesque woods and ground cover where flora and fauna can easily be seen, where deep fallen leaves sit in autumn.

“The existing wide path down the hill along the river, needs a more suitable all-weather surface and a handrail for the physically challenged who would not tackle the walk without this help. Seats would be provided for rest and contemplation.

“Halfway down this main path there could be steps down to a section of boardwalk that follows the edge of the river surface. This can help children to inspect the living fauna from a safe vantage point.

“A seat at the end of that boardwalk would allow reflection on the wonders of the unspoilt river as it meanders past. The bottom of the path main down the hill levels out to cross the field. This can be very muddy and needs a raised path to keep it drained dry and wide enough for children’s pushers and wheelchair access. The stile, a fascinating relic of the past that still has great utility, might be great fun for the able to cross but there must also be a gate system to allow less capable users to pass; but not the cows.

“To make it interesting and accessible for young and elderly adults there would need to be plenty of seats set up to observe the pasture and Cowdray Ruins across the river.

“At appropriate places interpretive signs would be provided to introduce the history and ecology of the area and its views.

“Once the bridge is reached the walk could take in a side visit to the Visitor Centre of the Cowdray Estate if it is on a weekend.

“Over the Causeway, through the gates into North Street, leads to the start of the townscape part of the walk up the west side of the hill. Stops along the way could be first to call into the Tourist Information point, followed by a drop in for bag of sweets in the sweet shop, or a coffee in the Angel Hotel. A little further can be a visit to the Midhurst Museum in Knockhundred Row followed by a quick call in to the, about to be closed, beautiful Elizabethan library building that perhaps will become an Elizabethan Buildings interpretation centre explaining the extensive collection of heritage-listed houses of the Church Hill and Red Lion Street loop.

“To end the walk take a diversion up Sheep Lane to stand and sense the mood that took place on that disastrous day of February 1943 when German bombs fell there and three people lost their lives.

“On then again for a quiet moment inside the St Mary Magdalene and St Denys church. Finish your walk 
with refreshment at the historic Spread Eagle Hotel, or in one of the cafes around the recently-revitalised square – where the stocks used to be on open view in my childhood days: just in case they might be needed. I was quite worried then that they might put me into them.

“Such improvements to St Ann’s Hill would be costly to put in place. Most good attractions are. A good plan can be progressed over few years using community and grant support. There are few close-by dwellings that would be impacted by users. Above all, the significance of St Ann’s Hill in the history of Midhurst would be better understood and enjoyed in many ways.

“Maybe I will never see this done, but as an eminent British scientist said around 1895: “Life is about planting trees you may never sit under.” The trees, both real and metaphoric, are there already, waiting for help in being recognised.