Programme of Talks for 2024

We have an excellent programme of talks and events lined up for 2024. Most of our meetings are held at the South Downs Memorial Hall, North Street GU29 9DH, usually on the third Thursday of the month (excluding January and August), and start at 7.30pm. Entry is free for members. Entry for visitors to most talks is £5, except for special events.

  • 15 February - Local historian Bill Gage will talk about the Railway lines from Midhurst
  • 21 March - Nina Williams, head of Forestry at the Cowdray Estate, will talk about 'Balancing Timber production with Conservation 
  • 18 April - Hugh Bonneville in conversation with Stewart Collins. Tickets will be required for this event, even for members, and entry for visitors will         be £10.
  • 16 May - AGM (postponed from April), and a talk by our member John Backshall about the Pest Houses in Midhurst
  • 20 June - Dr Dawn Cansfield, herself a mortuary archaelogist, will talk about the life and times of Victorian archaelogist Mrs Barlow who was from Midhurst.
  • 18 July - Stuart Edwards, head at Midhurst Rother College, will tell us about the school. This talk will take place in the School GU29 9DT.
  • 19 September - Paul Ullson, the History Man, returns to tell us about the Iron Age and the period of the Romans in Britain.
  • 17 October - Rev Canon Derek Welsman, vicar of the Priory Churches (Easebourne, Lodsworth and Selham), will talk on the subject 'Re-imagining Sacred Spaces.
  • 21 November - Dr Peter Cooper-Davis, oceanographer who is a member of the British Antarctic Survey, will talk on the subject of 'Ice, Ice Shelves, and  Sea-level Rise'. 
  • 19 December - Christmas Party and entertainer Bertie Pearce returns to talk about 'A Dickens of a Christmas'. (Guests £10 for this event.)

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15 February 2024 - Bill Gage about the train lines to Midhurst

'Rails to Midhurst' is an illustrated presentation which uses social history as a platform to illustrate the development of the railway network to Midhurst and beyond.

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21 March 2024 - Nina Williams, Head Forester at the Cowdray Estate

An introduction to the sustainable woodland management across Cowdray Estate, examining how this historic landscape is managed to balance a range of objectives including commercial timber production, conservation and wildlife, preservation of historic features and maintaining public and recreational access.

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18 April - Hugh Bonneville in conversation with Stewart Collins

The Midhurst Society is delighted to welcome nearby resident Hugh Bonneville to our April meeting. He is of course known to many for his roles on television, film, and stage. On the small screen he was cast as the Earl of Grantham in Downton Abbey and more recently in The Gold about the Brinks Mat heist. His films include the three Paddington movies, Notting Hill, Iris, and The Monuments Men. Hugh’s stage career includes seasons with the National Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company. He has made several appearances at Chichester Festival Theatre. Hugh is a patron of the National Youth Theatre of Great Britain, The National Youth Arts Trust, Scene & Heard, The Primary Shakespeare Company and the South Downs National Park Trust.
His memoir, Playing Under the Piano, published by Abacus in 2023, will be available to purchase on the evening.

Hugh will be in conversation with Stewart Collins, the artistic director of the Petworth Festival and the Petworth Literary Festival. In his long career Stewart has interviewed many influential people including Vladimir Ashkenazy, Vikram Seth, AA Gill, Bryn Terfel, Michael Parkinson, and Nigel Kennedy. He has worked as compère with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, The BBC Concert Orchestra, The London Philharmonic Orchestra, and with other musical events.

Members must apply for their free place by 21 March. After that date guests will be invited to apply for a limited number of tickets on a first come - first served basis.

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20 June 2024 - Dr Dawn Cansfield - In Search of Elizabeth Barlow

Elizabeth Barlow (1758-1852) is a name occasionally mentioned in connection with local historical and archaeological investigations in 18th/19th century Sussex and Hampshire.  Dawn decided to find out more about her life and discovered a woman who was ahead of her time with a reputation for considerable knowledge and understanding of the history of this part of the world, particularly her home town of Midhurst.  She directed archaeological excavations and was responsible for the discovery of the Woolmer Urn, a Bronze Age cremation vessel found in Woolmer Forest in the early 19th century.  

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18 July 2024 - Stuart Edwards, Head Teacher at Midhurst Rother College

Mr Edwards has invited us to meet at the School for this special meeting. He will tell us a bit about the history of secondary education in Midhurst. He will talk about local businessman and philanthropist Gilbert Hannam who founded a school in 1672 for '12 poor Protestant boys'. In 1880, boarding and day boys were taught in Capron House (now the home of South Downs National Park Authority). The school became known as Midhurst Grammar School and was exclusively for boys who had passed the equivalent of the Eleven Plus exam. Girls were not admitted to MGS until 1956. 

The secondary modern school, on the site of the present school, was opened in 1966 as a comprehensive school open to boys and girls of all abilities. Still known as Midhurst Grammar School, the building was demolished in 2008 to make way for the building which is now the home of Midhurst Rother College. After the talk, Mr Edwards will give us a tour of the building.

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19 September 2024 - Paul Ullson, The History Man - The Romans in Sussex

Paul Ullson, aka The History Man, returns to Midhurst to tell us this time about the age of the Romans in this part of England. He will come dressed for the era in clothes that he has made himself. He will bring lots of artifacts for us to handle. 

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17 October 2024 - Canon Derek Welsman - 'Reimagining Sacred Space'

Canon Welsman has been the vicar of St Mary’s church Easebourne since 2002.  He joined the parishes of Lodsworth and Selham to Easebourne in 2008 and formed the Priory Churches in 2020.  Derek’s passion is rural ministry and rural life.  In this talk, he will explore the issues facing rural church and will try, in a limited way to offer a solution.  Can we reimagine our churches?

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21 November 2024 - Dr Peter Cooper-Davis - British Antarctic Survey

Peter Davis is a Physical Oceanographer at the British Antarctic Survey who specialises in observing the ocean hundreds of metres beneath Antarctica's floating ice shelves. He grew up in Midhurst before leaving to study for his undergraduate degree at the University of Southampton and his PhD at the University of Oxford. Peter joined the British Antarctic Survey in 2015 and has led four scientific expeditions to Antarctica to understand how the ocean is melting the floating ice around the margins of the continent and causing global sea-level to rise. In 2023 in recognition of his work tackling one of the most important environmental questions of our time, and for spearheading a major Antarctic field campaign to the Florida-sized Thwaites Glacier in West Antarctica, he was honoured by TIME Magazine as one of the world’s 100 most influential 


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19 December 2024 - Christmas Party and Bertie Pearce - 'A Dickens of a Christmas'

In his lecture Bertie Pearce reveals a Dickensian Christmas with readings, biographical details and conjuring tricks.

Charles Dickens has often been proclaimed as 'The Man Who Invented Christmas' and indeed, on hearing that Dickens had died, a Cockney barrow-girl declared: 'Dickens dead? Then will Father Christmas die too?'  Dickens revived the Christmas traditions with his warm portrayal of Christmas in the domestic setting; with plum pudding, piping hot turkey, games, dancing and family cheer by the hearth. Although he celebrated Christmas in numerous works, it is his enduring masterpiece, ‘A Christmas Carol’ published on 19th December 1843, which immortalises the spirit of Christmas Cheer. Dickens was a man of extraordinary energy and talent: literary genius, reformer, public speaker, actor and amateur magician.

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Summary of 2023 Talks

  • 16 February - Local resident  Anthony Knight asks the question 'Number Please?'  He will talk about the change from manual connection of telephones by operators to worldwide automatic telecommunications.
  • 16 March - Former head gardener of Sutton Place John Humphris VMH will tell us the colourful story of the Grade I Tudor manor house and gardens, the former home of J Paul Getty. (Postponed from 2022.)  To see this talk on YouTube paste this reference into your browser:
  • 20 April - AGM, followed by a talk by Ian Howard from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission
  • 18 May - 'History Man' Paul Ullson returns to talk about the Bronze Age and the Iron Age in Sussex
  • 15 June - Worldwide Fund for Nature. Oliver Smith from WWF will talk about their work around the world to reduce human impact on the environment
  • 20 July - The Midhurst Museum. Co-founder Peter Nightingale will talk about our tiny museum and its collection
  • 21 September - Best-selling author Tristan Gooley, known as the Natural Navigator, will talk about his latest book 'How to Read a Tree'.
  • 19 October - Saving the Blue Bell Pub in Cocking. Nico Dekker, one of the group that made it possible, will talk tell us how they did it.
  • 16 November - Geoff Allnutt from J E Allnutt in West Street will give a talk on the History of the Wrist Watch.
  • 14 December - Our Christmas Party with entertainment by the four-man folk band 'The Charcoal Burners' 



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16 February 2023 - NUMBER PLEASE!

Local resident Anthony Knight had a long career with the Post Office, including after 1980 when the telecommunications division branched off from the postal service as BT to become a totally separate publicly owned corporation. Anthony will talk about the change from manual connection of telephones by operators to worldwide automatic telecommunications. He was posted all round the United Kingdom in various roles.

One interesting episode in his career was his time as Telecomms Project magager for the 1970 Commonwealth Games. When he left BT in 1985 he went to Henley Management College as Senior Lecturer in IT and Information Management. His talk will describe the development of telephone numbering schemes in the UK and will explore the history of telephone srvice from manual local control through to world-wide automation, with a few anecdotes along the way. He promises to answer the question 'Who had telephone number Midhurst 1'?

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16 March 2023 - The Colourful Story of Sutton Place

Talk by John Humphris VMH

We had hoped to hear John give this talk in March 2022, but he had to cancel at the last minute when he came down with Covid. (Dave Rudwick stepped up with lots of his photos of old Midhurst and told us anecdotes about the history of our town.) So we booked John for November 2022, but he was poorly and had to cancel. (In his place we had an excellent talk by Midhurst resident Phil Brooke about the charity he works for - Compassion in World Farming.)

So we asked John to finally give his talk on a date that will go down in history in Midhurst - 16 March 2023. The date of the Angel Inn fire. North Street was barricaded and SDNPA closed the Memorial Hall. 

We asked Anthony Knight, who gave us an interesting talk about the modernisation of telephone systems back in February 2023, if he could produce a video of John's talk. Copy and paste the link above into your browser.  It's an excellent talk about Sutton Place and is fully illustrated. It was filmed in John's study at home and we are most grateful to both John and Anthony for finally making the talk possible.


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20 April 2023 - AGM and talk by a speaker from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission

After our brief AGM, our speaker will be Ian Howard. He will talk about the many ways in which the CWGC work around the world to commemorate the dead of both world wars.

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18 May 2023 - Western Sussex during the Bronze Age and the Iron Age

Paul Ullson, aka The History Man, returns to Midhurst to tell us this time about the Bronze Age and the Iron Age, concentrating on our part of Sussex as far down as the sea. He will come dressed for the era in clothes that he has made himself. He will bring lots of artifacts for us to handle. 

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15 June 2023 - Worldwide Fund for Nature

WWF is the world’s leading independent conservation organisation. The mission of WWF is to create a world where people and wildlife can thrive together.
To achieve their mission, they are looking for ways to help transform the future for the world’s wildlife, rivers, forests and seas; pushing for a reduction in carbon emissions that will avoid catastrophic climate change; and pressing for measures to help people live sustainably, within the means of our one planet. Their new UK headquarters are based at the 'green' Living Planet Centre in Woking, affectionately known as 'Panda House'.

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20 July 2023 - The Midhurst Museum

Peter Nightingale will tell us all about what may be the world's smallest museum. Midhurst is a town full of history and heritage, with fifteenth century (and later) buildings, many of them in near-perfect condition and still in use. Peter and his wife Gill determined to establish a museum so this wonderful history could be displayed and explained to local people and visitors to the town. Following discussions with local collectors Dave and Tim Rudwick and others, The Midhurst Museum opened its doors in Knockhundred Market in December 2011 at the Christmas Street Party. At 8’ 6’’ by 8’ 6’’ it may well have been the smallest museum in the world! Space was limited so they decided to change the theme of the display in the Museum every month and this helps to keep our visitors interested in what is going on.


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21 September 2023 - Tristan Gooley - the Natural Navigator

We're very lucky to have been able to engage Tristan Gooley to speak. When he is not travelling the world and leading expeditions he is busy delivering lectures to organisations large and small. We have asked him to talk to us about his latest book 'How to Read a Tree'. 

Do two trees ever appear identical? No, but why? Every small difference is a clue.

Each tree we meet is filled with signs that reveal secrets about the life of that tree and the landscape we stand in. The clues are easy to spot when you know what to look for, but remain invisible to most people. In How to Read a Tree, you’ll discover the simple principles that explain the shapes and patterns you can see in trees and what they mean. And you’ll learn rare skills that can be applied every time you pass a tree, whether you are in a town or a wilder spot.

As the author of the international bestsellers The Walker’s Guide and How to Read Water, Tristan Gooley knows how to uncover the phenomena worth looking for. He has been instructing people in the art of reading trees for two decades and this book includes signs that will not be found in any other book in the world.

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19 October 2023 - Saving the Blue Bell at Cocking

The Blue Bell pub in Cocking closed in 2017 and the owner applied for change of use to create two dwellings. Many in the village were alarmed at the prospect of losing this important village asset, so a dedicated team of villagers set up a not-for-profit Community Benefit Society. They sought grants, soft loans, sponsorship and donations, and set up a Community Share Offer. They managed an outstanding turnaround in under a year. Sufficient funds were raised to purchase the premises. The same team then organised various fund-raising events to support the final stages of its refurbishment and redecoration to turn the Blue Bell into a Cocking Village Hub. Hub president, the sculptor Philip Jackson said at the time: “We realised we could become just a collection of houses which is not what we want; it would have lost its community feel.” Villagers were determined not to lose the heart of their village. 

The Blue Bell is now not only a pub, but a community hub where locals can meet. It is a cafe, an information centre for the South Downs National Park and a bed-and-breakfast. The restaurant serves good quality pub grub.

Come to the talk on 19 October to find out how they did it.

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2022: Summary of Talks

  • 17 February 2022 - Midhurst resident Neil Hart DL told us about his year as  High Sheriff of Sussex. He was dressed in full court dress.
  • 17 March 2022 - Bygone collector Dave Rudwick will give us a photographic tour of Midhurst to see how it has changed over the years.
  • 21 April 2022 - Andrew Gibson came to tell us about the Chichester Canal. A look at the history of the canal in its 200th anniversary year. Then Dave Rudwick told us about navigation in the Rother at Midhurst that terminated at The Wharf.
  • 19 May 2022 - Dr Dawn Cansfield—The Ancient Dead of Sussex (and Beyond). She told us what prehistoric burial practices can tell us about life and death in the past.
  • 16 June 2022 - Our AGM followed by a talk by Dr Ian Goodall—The Discovery of Insulin.   How Frederick Banting battled against the odds to discover a life-saving drug which saved the lives of millions.
  • 21 July 2022 - Canine Partners—A speaker from the charity came with one of their specially trained dogs and her handler to demonstrate how they help people with physical disabilities.
  • 15 September 2022 - Paul Ullson 'The History Man' came dressed in the attire of a Stone Age Hunter Gatherer. He brought lots of artifacts that we could handle and told us about that prehistoric era in this part of Sussex.
  • 20 October 2022 - Professor of Art History Dr Dawn Adès gave us an illustrated lecture about local artist Adrian Hill and his theory of Art Therapy which he developed whilst a patient at KEVII hospital.
  • 17 November 2022 - Midhurst resident Phil Brookes works for the charity Compassion in World Farming. He told us how the charity works to reduce battery farming.
  • 15 December 2022 - CHRISTMAS PARTY! We enjoyed a selection from 400 Years of Christmas Music sung by the sixteen voices of The Siena Singers led by Giles White. Followed by wine and festive nibbles.

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17 February 2022 - High Sheriff of West Sussex

17 February

Retired local solicitor Neil Hart DL told us about his year as High Sheriff of West Sussex. He came in full court dress.

The oldest office under the crown, the High Sheriff remained first in precedence in the counties until the reign of  Edward VII when an Order in Council in 1908 gave the Lord-Lieutenant the prime office under the Crown as the Sovereign's personal representative. The High Sheriff remains the Sovereign's representative in the County for all matters relating to the Judiciary and the maintenance of law and order.  The first record of a High Sheriff in Sussex dates back to 1086.


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17 March 2022 - The Changing face of Midhurst

17 March

Bygone collector Dave Rudwick gave us a photographic tour of Midhurst to see how it has changed over the years.

The Rudwick family has lived in Midhurst for at least five generations. Dave’s grandfather Harold and Harold’s brother Percy ran the Rudwick Garage business in Knockhundred Row until the 1940’s. That property is now the home of the Midhurst Museum which Dave helped to set up with his brother Tim and Peter Nightingale.

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21 April 2022 - A look at The Chichester Canal

21 April

The Annual General Meeting for 2022 was postponed to 16 June, owing to the illness of our acting chairman, Harvey Tordoff.
The presentation for the evening by Andrew Gibson was about The Chichester Canal. A look at the history of the canal in this its 200th anniversary year. Following Andrew's talk, our member Dave Rudwick stepped up at the last minute to talk about the canal system in Midhurst which terminated in The Wharf.

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19 May 2022 - The Ancient Dead of Sussex (and Beyond)

19 May

Dr Dawn Cansfield—The Ancient Dead of Sussex (and Beyond). What prehistoric burial practices can tell us about life and death in the past.

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16 June 2022 - AGM, and talk by Dr Ian Goodall on 'The Discovery of Insulin'

16 June

Our postponed Annual General Meeting for 2022 was held at the South Downs Memorial Hall, North Street, on Thursday 16 June at 7.30 pm. 

Following his illness, Harvey Tordoff resigned from the committee. Harvey has been instrumental in so much of the work of the Society over the last few years. This meeting was an opportunity to meet other members of the Society and those who were standing for election/re-election to the Executive Committee.

After the AGM, Dr Ian Goodall gave a fascinating talk on the Discovery of Insulin - how Frederick Banting battled against the odds to discover a life-saving drug which saved the lives of millions.



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21 July 2022 - Canine Partners

21 July

Canine Partners is a charity based at Heyshott which trains dogs to help people with physical handicaps. Their dogs undertake a specialist two-year training programme, which begins from selection at seven to eight weeks old. They spend 12 to 14 months in puppy training with a volunteer, followed by four months’ advanced training at one of our centres. At all stages training is fun and reward-based.

After training, the dogs are carefully matched to the applicants’ needs and lifestyle, no matter how challenging. They are trained to help with everyday tasks such as opening and closing doors, unloading the washing machine, picking up dropped items, pressing buttons and switches and fetching help in an emergency. They can even help people to get undressed and remove a card from an ATM!

Our speaker and one of their specially trained dogs came with a her handler to demonstrate how they help disabled people.



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15 September 2022 - The Stone Age in Sussex

15 September

For his talk to the Midhurst Society Paul Ulson came dressed as a prehistoric hunter-gatherer and brought with him lots of artefacts, real and replicated, that we were able to see and handle.

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20 October 2022 - The Artist Adrian Hill

20 October

Professor of Art History Dr Dawn Adès talked about artist Adrian Hill, his time at KEVII Sanitorium, and his theory of Art Therapy.

Adrian Hill served during World War I and was the first artist commissioned by the Imperial War Museum to record the conflict on the Western Front. In 1938, while convalescing from tuberculosis at the King Edward VII Sanatorium in Midhurst, he found that drawing aided his own recovery. Hill was invited to teach drawing and painting to other patients. Hill found that the practice of Art seemed to help to divert the patients and to relieve their mental distress. It was at KEVII that he developed his theory of art therapy, the subject of Prof Adès’s talk.

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17 November 2022 - Compassion in World Farming

17 Nov

Midhurst resident Phil Brookes works for the charity 'Compassion in World Farming'. The charity campaigns to get hens, pigs and rabbits out of cages and is against factory farming in general. Phil's talk concentrated on more humane and sustainable food systems - how we can feed the world without cruelty to animals and damage to the planet.


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15 December 2022 - Midhurst Society Christmas Party and entertainment by The Siena Singers

15 December

The sixteen voices of the Siena Singers, with musical director Giles White, sang a selection from 400 years of Christmas Music - everything from Renaissance, Baroque and traditional carols to contemporary close-harmony numbers.. The Siena Singers are based in Cocking at the parish church of St Catherine of Siena, hence the name.

The programme was followed by excellent Christmas nibbles and wine. About £300 in donations were collected for the Chichester homeless charity Stonepillow.


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2021: Summary of Talks

2021 was severely affected by Covid restrictions.  Some talks were cancelled; some were rearranged; some took place by Zoom; and, a couple were held at The Grange Centre. Finally, we were able to return to the Memorial Hall for the last talk of the year.

The highlight was a garden party generously hosted by Philip and Jean Jackson.


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2020: Summary of Talks

We held the first two talks, in line with the programme, but then Cocid-19 intervened.  Lockdowns, interspersed with restrictions on public gatherings, meant that we were unable to hold any further talks.

We were also unable to mark our 60th Anniversary with the planned summer garden party.  We continued to produce our magazines, and in Spring we brought out a special issue of 60 pages -the closest we could get to a celebration with our members.  We also updated and extended our web site, adding new pages, and we continued to post to Facebook.  In fact, our following on Facebook grew considerably as we provided news items, puzzles and entertainments - often with several posts a day.

Our AGM was delayed in the hope that restrictions would be eased, but eventually we had to arrange a Zoom session on 29 |October.

In November, Rev. Derek Welsman kindly gave a talk for us on the meaning of community, which he uploaded to YouTube.  This is still available to watch at your leisure


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2019: Summary of Talks

2019 was a busy year; with some interesting and engaging talks with good attendances.  Can we maintain the standard for 2020?  We believe we have a very good programme and would love to see more Members and visitors joining us...

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2018: summary of talks

2018 was a good year, some excellent talks with good attendances.  Can we maintain the standard for 2019?  We think we have a very good programme! 

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