HORSHAM PAST - A brief history of the town
by Dr Annabelle Hughes, President of the Horsham Society
Horsham is a rare case where the name of the place has not altered since it was first written down in a Saxon charter of 947, meaning the place where horses were bred and/or pastured. We don’t know anything more about the early ‘locals’, but both Roffey and Chesworth are place-names derived from Anglo-Saxon. The first described a hunting area, the second a homestead belonging to a farmer called Ceoldred.
When the survey of 1086 was taken (Domesday) Horsham was ‘hidden’ within the entry for Washington, but we do know that there were nine households with a small herd of pigs, working the land west of Horsham, lying between Marlpost and North Heath. They were tenants of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the street still known as the Bishopric fell within his ownership.
We can deduce that Horsham people were resourceful, for the tower and part of the west wall of a stone church of the early 1100s survive, and represent considerable investment. Clearly the ‘horse dealers’ had exploited Horsham’s position on a route between London and the coast. By the turn of the 1200s the settlement was given royal licence to hold a weekly market, and as it is likely this licence was just official recognition of an existing but informal state of affairs, we can claim that the town’s success has depended on trading for close on a thousand years.
The shape of the town reflects this long-standing activity, as the Carfax was originally a large uncluttered triangular open space, where (eventually) twice-weekly markets were held. To the east lay St Leonard’s Forest, west was Guildford, tracks pushed north in two directions across common land to London, and to the south a path or ‘causeway’ led to the parish church - for centuries the largest public building. From 1066 the principal land-owning family were the de Braoses, among the Norman followers of William the Conqueror, who became lords of Bramber Rape, based at Bramber castle. At various times they entertained kings, at Knepp for the hunting and at Chesworth, which in effect became the ‘manor’ house of Horsham.
King John conducted a personal vendetta against the de Braose family in the early 1200s, but after his death in 1216, Horsham was on the ‘up’. The town was able to develop its new status as an incorporated borough (with 52 original burgage plots) by virtually re-building the parish church, obtaining a royal charter for an annual July fair, and at the end of the century sending the first two local representatives to the king’s Parliament. The county assizes were first held in the town in 1306 and the first privately-funded chantry built by the north door of the church, providing regular prayers for the after-life of its founder. Sixty years later Horsham is named on what was probably the first national ‘recommended routes’ map.
The direct line of the de Braose family did not survive beyond 1399 - the last lies buried in the parish church, with his infant children, in the tomb beneath his effigy. Their Horsham interests descended through a female line to the eventual successors - the Dukes of Norfolk.
Meanwhile the town was continuing to flourish: in the 1400s two more private chantries were founded as well as a mutual ‘brotherhood’ for the less well-off, and the Archbishop was able to ‘cash’ in on this success by getting permission for a market and fair on his land just outside the borough boundary at the end of West Street. The Green Dragon aka The Olive Branch was probably built to manage these.
The highest concentration of buildings dating from the 1400s onwards can be found in the Causeway, once South Street, but there are others; around the Carfax, in East and West Streets, and towards the station, although not all are immediately obvious. There are at least 23 buildings around the town with date stones from before 1900, although the earlier the more likely to be suspect!
Chesworth was rebuilt in the early part of the 1500s by the second Howard Duke of Norfolk, and more local and national documentation begins to survive. Horsham tax-payers are listed by name in 1524, under North, East, South and West Streets, and The Skarfolkes (Carfax) and parish registers are pretty continuous from 1541, containing a number of references to aristocratic visitors to Chesworth.
At about this time Horsham was touched by national events of some moment; Henry VIII’s fifth wife, Catherine, had spent some formative time at her step-grandmother’s house at Chesworth, where she had behaved no worse than many of her contemporaries with a music master and other young ‘bloods’. Unfortunately this rebounded when it came to light after she became queen, and resulted in her execution.
Apart from Chesworth, Horsham could boast of several large houses that reflected the changing fortunes of local families: Denne, Hills Place, Manor House, Park House, Springfield Park and Tanbridge. Denne is on an ancient site and best remembered for the Eversfields, who built much of the present house on the proceeds of ironworking. Hills was a fine Jacobean house, sadly demolished in the early 1800s, that once boasted landscaping by ‘Capability’ Brown, and was home to the lngram Lords lrwin. Two redoubtable lngram widows fought over control of the borough with the Dukes of Norfolk. The Manor House was built by Nathaniel Tredcroft about 1704 on land that was owned by the manor of the rectory, known as ‘Hewells’, and remained with the family for over 150 years. Park House was built on burgage land from 1689 onwards and Springfield about 1758, initially on the profits of brewing. They are known for their connections with the Lintotts, Wickers and Hursts, Blunts, Gales and Lyttons. Finally Tanbridge is an echo of ‘modernity’, built on an old site in 1887 by a wealthy railway contractor, and being one of the first houses with electric lighting. These are all covered in more detail elsewhere.
Horsham’s historic links with City trading were underlined when a wealthy London mercer made his will in 1533 leaving funds to build a school-house for ‘sixty scolers of poore mens children’. Although this was not implemented until 1541, Collyer’s was the oldest surviving Sussex grammar school until it became a sixth form college in 1976. Its twenty-second headmaster still drives his donkey cart (in effigy) in Pirie’s Place.
More can be gleaned about the ordinary residents of Horsham from the archive collections in the Horsham Museum, from material like the churchwardens’ accounts (in a sequence almost unbroken since 1610) and increasingly from wills and property deeds, all held in the County Records Office at Chichester.
The fact that Horsham was a Parliamentary borough, sending two representatives from 1295, shaped the town’s history, particularly in the 1700s. At first the two MPs were genuinely local although elected from (and by) the ‘movers and shakers’ - the burgage owners - but without universal suffrage, these seats were increasingly acquired by those with no local interests who merely wanted access to the national power-base. In the 1700s this polarised into contests between the Dukes of Norfolk and the lngrams of Hills Place, as to which of them could procure the winning number of votes. These unedifying proceedings are thoroughly covered in William Albery’s Parliamentary History, and did not begin to be outlawed until the Reform Act of 1832.
William Albery himself was a notable local resident in the twentieth century, for his three published works on aspects of Horsham, though exasperating to the modern historian for his lack of references, form the bedrock for much that has followed since. Both his document collection and saddlery became the basis of the town’s Museum.
The town’s more recent history has been competently covered in the relevant volumes of the Victoria County History which should be the first port of call for any newcomer; they are held in the reference library, along with volumes produced by the Sussex Archaeological Society and Record Society.
Horsham owes its origins to its pivotal situation as a ‘trading hub’, linking London and the coast. That topography still exerts the commercial and demographic pressures that shape the way in which the town develops, falters or prospers, and today there is the added ingredient of being part of the ‘desirable’ South-East, whether we like it or not.
Victoria County History (vol 6 Pt 2)
Sussex Archaeological Collections (vols 1-149)
Sussex Record Society (vols 1-93)
Reminiscences of Horsham (1911) Wm Albery
A Parliamentary History of Horsham (1927) Wm Albery
A Millennium of Facts: Horsham & Sussex (1947) Wm Albery
A History of Collyer‘s School (1965) A N Willson
Horsham Houses (1986) A F Hughes
Chesworth, Horsham (1998) A F Hughes
Hills: Horsham’s lost stately home & garden (1999) A F Hughes & J Knight
Seven Horsham Houses (2003) A F Hughes1611 plan taken from A Millennium of Facts: Horsham & Sussex (1947) Wm Albery