Finding stories in property deeds: A history of The Midhurst Club

By Georgia, Record Office Volunteer

Spanning the years 1771 to 2003, the collection of deeds relating to The Midhurst Club tell the history of a long-standing property on Midhurst’s North Street. Although the collection is titled ‘Deeds relating to The Midhurst Club, Midhurst’, there is almost two hundred years of deed history before the Club comes to be mentioned!

A deed collection is, unsurprisingly, largely comprised of deeds – legal transactions of property, in one form or another. However, there are often other items to be found in deed collections that are not deeds, but are associated with the property/properties. These could be anything – from correspondence and invoices to wills or auction leaflets.

In the case of The Midhurst Club, I’d like to talk about three groups of items that caught my attention. Although I don’t have access to the deeds right now, owing to the current pandemic, I hope that my memory serves well enough to provide an insight into the interesting and extensive collection relating to The Midhurst Club.

October 1837 – Wills and burial certificates

Extracts or copies of wills, burial certificates and other proofs of death often appear alongside deeds. They are usually required to prove a person’s claim on a property and to support the legality of a transaction.

In this instance, a group of wills and burial certificates were required to prove that the inheritors of the property that is now home to The Midhurst Club (but was then a domestic property known as ‘Langford House’) had died, unmarried and without children, leaving the remaining heir to manage the property.

Dated October 1837, it is clear that these items were procured to support a transaction taking place in the following month: the Lease and Release (a common form of conveying property before 1841) of Langford House to a person outside of the family who had owned the premises since 1804. The surviving heir emerged as the only person with a stake in the property and was free to do with it as she wished; in this case, leasing and releasing it from her ownership.

June 1962 – The Midhurst Club Rulebook

Perhaps my favourite item in the collection: the 1962 edition of the rules of The Midhurst Club. It is not directly related to any of the deeds, but has a clear connection to the property, and is a charming addition to the collection.

The item itself is a small pamphlet in remarkably good condition (perhaps a copy kept by the Club for posterity, or one that was never issued). Bound in a green cover and typewritten, it explains the rules to be followed by members of and guests to the Midhurst Club, as well as the obligations of the committee, the membership fee and the Club’s alcohol license.

If I had access to the rulebook, I would certainly pull up some quotes, as some of the stipulations made are especially amusing from a 21st Century perspective (my vague memory suggests some cautions surrounding ‘carousing’ amongst other disorderly behaviour). I’m sure anyone associated with the Club then or now would find it nostalgic to look at.

October 1986 – Minutes from a special meeting of The Midhurst Club

The final item of interest is a photocopy of minutes taken from a special meeting of the committee of The Midhurst Club. The meeting addressed the issue of trade with one of the Club’s suppliers, the Phoenix Brewery.

The minutes themselves are brief, not offering more information than that a meeting took place and a decision was reached. What is most interesting about them is how they illuminate the activity of the Club itself at the time and provide a context for otherwise isolated deeds: a few short months after the Special Meeting in question, in February 1987, a Legal Charge and Trading Agreement were signed by The Midhurst Club and Phoenix Brewery.

Although we can assume that meetings/discussions were had before deeds were signed and charges laid out in most cases, it is helpful to have a record that sheds some insight into the considerations, deliberations and debates that occurred behind closed doors.

Deeds can often seem depersonalised, legal, and therefore dry – but a deed collection can offer up interesting items, connections and stories to be told. Hopefully, researchers will be able to view this interesting collection for themselves sometime soon when the Record Office reopens.

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