In 1864 Midhurst’s first railway station opened, to service the line to Petersfield. Two years later a second station was opened, to service the line to Pulborough. It took nearly 20 years for a line to open linking Midhurst to Chichester, in 1881, but work on the line first started in 1865. The Sussex Advertiser reported the “cutting of the first sod” in the 25th April 1865 edition, the great ceremonial occasion that accompanied that important event, and the hopes for a new prosperity for the town.
For the borough of Midhurst greater advantages are dawning. It is to have its railways north, south, east and west; its inhabitants will be able to visit the best markets more cheaply and more readily than at present; and as it possesses scenic and antiquarian attractions of no mean order, it is not too much to suppose that every summer many strangers will come there to spend some hours that will do good to themselves bodily and mentally, and some money that will do good to the place.
The little town is already pluming itself, and looking up pertly and brightly, like a bird on a summer morning. It anticipates a palmy day, and is jubilant at the prospect. “In future,” jocosely remarked a old Petworth gentleman the other day, “it is to be ‘Petworth near Midhurst;’ Midhurst will take the shine out of us completely.” Whether Petworth is to be cast into the shade or not by the rising star of Midhurst’s better fortunes it is pretty clear that that star is rising.
To reach the place has hitherto involved a long and round-about journey; it is now to have a short cut for passengers and to prosperity. Heretofore it has only enjoyed railway communication on the western side through a branch of the South Western Railway. Now it is have a railway to Chichester on the south; and looks forward to an extension of that line to Haslemere on the north, and to other lines that will open up the east in a direct line. The line to Chichester was actually commenced on Saturday, the 22nd inst., and it is now our duty to chronicle the proceedings on that occasion.
Midhurst was quiet enough up to mid-day on Saturday. There was no embellishment of the streets, no flaunting of flags, no garniture of flowers and evergreens, no clanging of church bells. Everybody went about his business in a staid and decorous manner and the little town seemed to sleep in the hot sunshine. But by and bye, numbers of strange gentlemen drove in, and the excellent rifle band from Petworth marched up North-street, playing a lively air, and there was the end of the quietude. Old and young smartened themselves up, and turned out of their houses. All thoughts were directed to the great event that was to take place. All persons were eager to witness it. The turning of the first sod of the new path to prosperity was not a matter to be treated coolly, and Midhurst became right joyous.
At host Parker’s, Angel Hotel, the smell of savoury things that were being prepared for a great feast was enough to make anyone’s mouth water; it spread far and wide through the atmosphere, and brought lots of loungers round the portal. There Mr. Death marshalled his clever band and after they had played a tune with such precision and taste as are not to be met with in many bands from country towns they were taken down to the delightful bowling green at the back of the hotel, and there were refreshed with an excellent and substantial dinner.
In the mean time, Lord Henry Lennox, M.P who was to perform the act of the day, and some of the directors of the new line, with a large body of friends and supports, had arrived at the hotel. As soon as the musicians had got their dinners over they were again marched into the street, and were started off at the head of an irregular procession of equipages and foot passengers, through the principal streets, and then along the road to Cocking. The halting point was a green meadow at the back of the Greyhound Inn and around it sellers of ginger beer and oranges had taken up position, while in the meadow itself were a large number of carriage folks and towards the lower side was a pathway formed of planks upon which stood a brand new yellow wheelbarrow and a glistening spade that were surrounded by a crowd of the curious.
At half-past two, Lord Henry Lennox made his appearance at the planks. The police did their best to open a convenient space within the pressing crowd; reporters took out their pencils and prepared to jot down what passed; and an artist belonging to the Illustrated London News began to sketch the scene, a task that must have been attended with no mean difficulty, on account of the continual shiftings and surgings of the people. His lordship stripped off his coat, and Mr. Pagan (of Guildford and Rochdale), one of the directors, took his hat, and then the work commenced. Tracing a little plot of ground with the spade, his lordship cut a turf neatly, and turned it into the barrow. Another turf followed, and a hearty burst of applause arose. One after another, the green sods were rapidly turned up till the barrow was full; and then his lordship dropped the spade, wheeled the barrow dawn the planks, dexterously tilted out its contents, and wheeled it back again to the starting point. The crowd applauded again and when silence was restored, the Rev. W. Hayden, incumbent of Midhurst, read a suitable prayer for the success of the undertaking, and the welfare of all concerned and of the neighbourhood at large.
The mention of an artist from the Illustrated London News is interesting. I did manage to track down the article in that publication, which appeared in the Saturday 29th April 1865 edition, but sadly it was not illustrated. I wonder what happened to the artist’s sketch.