The Curfew Garden is associated locally with a commercial traveller or ‘London Rider’, as they were known, who was apparently lost and who had made his way to Midhurst by following the sound of the Church Bell.
In the case of the Midhurst Curfew there is no doubt that someone did provide a piece of land adjacent to what is now home to the Midhurst Town Council. Rent from this piece of land went to pay for the ringing of a bell at 8 o’clock every night. However, it is very likely the tradition of the “Curfew Bell” began many years earlier from the time of William the Conqueror.
In 1924 there was a move to sell the garden which was described as, “A piece of garden ground known as the Curfew Garden, situate off Knockhundred Row, in the Parish of Midhurst, in the county of Sussex, containing on the North 35ft 8ins or thereabouts, on the South 44ft 10ins or thereabouts, on the East 117ft 7ins or thereabouts and on the West 111ft 5ins or thereabouts”. This contains about a quarter of an acre.
There are no deeds or papers relating to the original gift in existence, but the Churchwardens historically permitted the Parish Clerk to occupy the land on condition of tolling the bell.
It was stated at an enquiry in 1860 that Richard Pitman, the occupier of the land at that time, had been heard to claim his right to the land as heir-in-law of his father Henry Pitman. The following details are given to prove his right dating back as far back as possible:William Vase, the Parish Clerk, who died, and according to the Parish Register was buried on 4th May 1793 during his period of office (the length of which is unknown) occupied the land and tolled the Curfew Bell.
Upon his death, the said Henry Pitman was appointed Parish Clerk, and he for a period of 51 years viz. from 1793 until 1844, held such office, occupied the land and tolled the bell.
From his death in 1844 until 1st February 1858 his son the said Richard Pitman acted as Parish Clerk and occupied the land and tolled the bell, but upon his being discharged at the latter date from the office of Parish Clerk (which the Parishioners think it unnecessary again to supply) Messers Henry Morley and John Thorpe the Church Wardens gave him permission to retain and use the land in consideration of tolling the bell.
By an instrument in writing addressed to Richard Pitman by the said Churchwardens and dated 5th April 1858, it is stated that at the annual meeting of the Parishioners assembled in Vestry that day, he was appointed to ring the Curfew Bell every evening at 8 o’clock during the ensuing year (Sundays excepted) for which purpose the said Churchwardens authorised him during his year of office to occupy the Curfew Garden (meaning the said land) for that purpose.
Richard Pitman received a similar appointment dated the 25th April 1859 for the then ensuing year 1859-60. In 1860 Richard Pitman still occupied the land and tolled the bell.
At the time, this had become under the control of the Charity Commissioners. In recent years a gift was made to the Church to ring the bell automatically. The piece of land was rented to the tenants of the Library Cottage and the money paid to the church.
In 1920 a provisional contract was entered into for the sale of the land to Allin Bros. For £75. The Charity Commissioners refused consent and in consequence the sale was not completed.
In 1924 another provisional contract was signed, this time for sale to the Revered F Tatchell for £100. The Charity Commissioners were prepared to approve this sale, but objections were received, including one from Miss Amy Brooks of Broad Oak, Chichester Road, Midhurst who offered to pay £100 towards the maintenance of the Curfew Garden, provided it was not sold.
Accordingly, Miss Brooks executed a Declaration of Trust, dated 18th February 1925 concerning an investment of’ £180 2½% Consols’ which she had purchased in the names of the Official Trustees of “The Curfew Garden Preservation Fund.” The following is a summary of the main provisions of the deed:-
‘The income from the investment is to be paid to the Vicar and Church Wardens of Midhurst, and to be expended by them in any of the following objects:
- 1. The payment of the ringer of the Curfew.
- 2. The maintenance, fencing and other expenses concerning the Curfew Garden.
- 3. The repair of the Tower and Belfrey, and of the bell ringing the Curfew.
Income not expended in any year may be retained for use in future years.
If the Curfew Garden is sold or built upon, or if the income is not used for the purpose intended, the trust fund is to go to the National Trust.’
It appears that Miss Brook would not agree to the surplus income being used for Parish work in general, or for the maintenance of the clock, or other bells. Therefore, the only way in which the surplus income could be used for the benefit of the Church would be by paying specifically from this fund for any repairs to the tower or belfry.
The Cowdray Estate should pay 1/- per annum in respect of an encroachment of flower beds on the roadway between the roadway and the Youth Centre (presumably the library building). It was recorded as paid in 1930 and must have been paid up until 1937. In 1953, an enquiry was started regarding encroachment of the flower bed between the Curfew Garden and the Youth Centre. It seems that this brought attention to the fact that the flower bed belonged to the Cowdray Estate, which was encroaching onto the Curfew and/or highway and a rental payment was overdue by 16 years. Most of the information is contained in a memorandum which it is believed was written by Jim Rose who served as Clerk to the Magistrates for many years.
10th April 1953. Memorandum re. Curfew Garden. ‘From papers held by Messrs. Johnson & Clarence, it appears that the Trustees of the Curfew Garden were the Church Wardens. The freehold was vested in the Official Trustees of Charity Lands.
The Charity Commissioners record this as a ‘Charity of Unknown Origin’ and as such was removed from the register of Charity’s on 17th May 1993.
The funds of the Curfew Garden dwindled and remained the responsibility of the Church who let the land to local residents. In July 2007 the Church approached the Town Trust to suggest the merging of the two Trusts which was approved by the Charity Commissioners.