Horsham is a town with an exciting past, and its present is also lively and stimulating. It started off as a small Saxon settlement close to the once navigable River Arun, and the key to its origins is contained in its very name. Horsham is a Saxon word, like so many place names in Sussex, and it means 'a place of horses' or 'a horse settlement', and it was named by its founders – probably no more than a handful of people - around the sixth or early seventh centuries, to describe the purpose it then served.
William de Braose, a leading supporter of William the Conqueror, spearheaded the Norman occupation in this part of West Sussex, and became lord of the manor. It is the de Braose family that we must thank for the town's oldest building, the splendid church of St Mary at the bottom of the Causeway. The Causeway is a beautiful and calm tree-lined street of medieval houses, the jewel in Horsham's crown. It has been much photographed, and is famous throughout the county. It links St Mary's with the Carfax, which is at the very heart of the town – once a village green but now a meeting place and social centre, largely paved over and the place for open air cafes, bandstand music and street markets. The name is unique in Sussex, but there is another in Oxford, and it may be derived from the French for 'the meeting of four ways'. Horsham's most famous son is the Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, who was born in the nearby village of Warnham, and whose family had long been connected with the area. There are Shelley memorials in the parish chuch, and his grandfather lived close by in Denne Road.
Over the centuries Horsham has grown considerably. It is now a prosperous urban centre which always rates highly on economic indicators, and is home to large companies and small businesses alike. It is about an hour by train from London, and a popular location for those seeking a pleasant environment in which to live, away from the bustle of big city life. The wooded stretches of the Weald and bracing walks along the South Downs are all within easy reach. Gatwick airport is also conveniently close by (but there is minimal disturbance from aircraft) and is a place of employment for many Horsham residents.
The town has a flourishing social scene, and there are many societies to join, catering for a wide range of interests. The choice is headed by the Horsham Society, which enjoys a flourishing and expanding membership, but there are many others, including two drama groups and a range of sports clubs. Excellent facilities are provided by both our swimming pool and arts centre, and Horsham is also the administrative centre of the District, where Horsham District Council is based.
But, as in much of the south-east, there is constant pressure to build and swallow up whatever green space is left, for the sake of more and more homes. The Horsham story has, in recent years, been one of continual expansion, and while this has brought many benefits, we need to be on our guard. The challenge for the future is to find some form of balance between the competing demands of developers and those who wish to maintain the character of the place they know and love. The Horsham Society was founded in 1955 to watch over the interests of the town, and this is a responsibility that it continues to take very seriously today. Its role is as important now as it ever has been.