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MARKET TOWNS OF SUSSEX (from SDUK Penny Cyclopedia)

Midhurst in 1842

Midhurst is a parliamentary borough and market-town in the rape of Chichester. It is pleasantly situated on a gentle eminence, surrounded by loftier hills overlooking the meandering course of the river Rother as it flows towards the Arun : it is 50 miles from London, and on the high-road from Winchester to Petworth, from which place it is distant 6 miles. Midhurst is supposed to be the Mida of the Romans with the Saxon termination added : at the time of the Conquest it formed part of the barony of Arundel ; but in the reign of Henry I, four and a quarter knights’ fees were erected by the king in favour of Savaric de Bohun, into the minor lordship of Midhurst, which was held for several generations by that powerful family. After the extinction of the male line of the Bohuns, the lordship was granted by Henry VIII to Sir Anthony Browne, standard-bearer to that king, whose son was created Viscount Montague. In his descendants the property remained till the death of George Samuel, the eighth Lord Montague, in 1793, when it passed to his sister Elizabeth Mary, who married William Stephen Poyntz ; and on his death in 1840, it became the estate of his two daughters, one of whom married Captain Frederick Spencer, brother of Earl Spencer, and the other the marquis of Exeter.

On a mound on the south bank of the Arun are the ruins of the castle long occupied by the Bohuns : the whole vallation, now overgrown with trees, lies within a circumference of 400 yards. Within the walls was a chapel dedicated to St. Anne.

There is a corn-market, well attended, held every Thursday, and a town-hall in which the western sessions were formerly held. Midhurst is a borough by prescription, and returned two members to parliament from 4th Edward II till 1832, when, by the act 2 William IV, c.45, the number of representatives was reduced to one ; and to make up a constituency a widely-extended agricultural district, consisting of seven entire parishes and eleven portions of parishes was added. The old right was in the holders of burgage tenements, of which there were forty-four, and the borough was memorable from the fact that the site of many tenements was marked by stones in the park wall, the buildings having been long destroyed.

In 1768 this borough gave his first seat to Charles James Fox, then only nineteen years of age. The new district only furnished 252 registered electors in 1832, and in 1839-40 there were only 261. The church, dedicated to St. Denis, is a small and plain stone edifice, in the later style of English architecture : it stands in the centre of the town. The benefice is a perpetual curacy, in the archdeaconry of Chichester, and the head of the deanery of Midhurst, endowed with £400 private benefaction, and £600 royal bounty : the average net value per annum, in 1835, was £170.

There is a free grammar school for 12 boys, founded by Gilbert Hannam in 1672, and a na’tional school, well supported. The population in 1831 was 1,478. About one quarter of a mile east of Midhurst stood the stately pile of Cowdray House, the princely seat of the Montagues, built in the reign of Henry VIII, and destroyed by fire in 1793.