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Situated at a crossroads, at the very heart of what remains of St. Leonards Forest, the land opens to the south and then the woodlands close round again, creating a somewhat claustrophobic atmosphere. There are, however, footpaths and one can cross the forest through to Mannings Heath in the south. The village inn is called the Dragon, a reference to the legend that St. Leonard (not St. George) slew the dragon which once terrorised the forest. There is a dispirited 19th-century church, St. Saviour, with no indication whatsoever of its affiliations or dedication - a curious omission since Colgate itself has a good sense of identity.

In 1965 Nairn and Pevsner, in their magisterial survey of Sussex's buildings, rounded on Horsham, describing it as 'an exasperating, traffic-laden, half-realised town. Traffic winds through it and parked cars flood over pretty streets too small in scale to take them. Removal of the through traffic would make it a very different place'. It has taken over a quarter of a century for the planning authorities to take this sensible advice. In 1992 the town centre was substantially redesigned, resulting in the elimination of all but essential local traffic, and thus restoring the town to its citizens.

Horsham has had what amounts to a new town grafted on to its northern region so that the historic town centre appears almost as an appendage to the usual anonymous suburbs. But that centre is a place well worth exploring, for while Horsham is not the country town of West Sussex, it has nevertheless always been the metropolis of its little world, and is correspondingly sophisticated and has some excellent architecture. It is the headquarters of the Sun Alliance Insurance Company which, in 1992, completed an immense new headquarters building which has profoundly influenced the town both architecturally and socially.

Derived from the same term as Oxford's more famous Carfax, and also meaning crossroad, this has always been the heart of the town. The 1992 development has turned it into a genuine town square, even moving the little Victorian bandstand a few yards to make it more central. The King's Head is the doyen of the town's inns, basically 15th-century; a well preserved and friendly house which provides all that one could hope for in an English inn. On the opposite side of Carfax is the new Swan Walk, a good example of the ubiquitous shopping mall.

An accident of history has made this an oasis of calm and an almost textbook example of architectural styles. Its far end is blocked by the 12th-century parish church and its churchyard, and the town end is blocked by the early 19th-century town hall. This began life in the early 16th-century as a covered market hall (hence the name of the tiny Market Square which faces it), but it was rebuilt as the town hall by the Duke of Norfolk, whose seat is at Arundel, in 1812. In 1830 the Assizes, which had met on this site for some 500 years, was moved to Lewes. Until the reorganisation of local government the town hall was the seat of the district council; the Local Government Act of 1972 therefore broke an historic continuity going back at least six centuries.

Beyond the town hall, The Causeway consists of a tree-lined street bordered by houses and cottages ranging from 16th- to 18th-century and having the appearance of a rectangular town square. Among the most interesting buildings are the Manor House, on the site of a 12th-century manor, and Causeway House, now the museum. On the left the alleyway called Morth Gardens leads into a delightful early 19th-century group of cottages which could be a model for today's residential development.

The Museum should not be missed under any circumstances - for the artefacts, for the house in which they are displayed, and, above all, for the remarkable 'historic' garden at the rear. As with most of our town museums, this was founded as a private venture. In 1893 members of the Horsham Free Christian Church formed the Horsham Museum Society to display items, on an ad-hoc basis, collected by its members. In 1941 the Society moved into its present home, Causeway House, and in 1966 the then Horsham Urban District Council took over the house and appointed full-time professional curators.

A building has stood on this site at least since the 13th century, but the oldest part of the present house dates to around 1450, added to in the 17th-century and again in the 18th-century. The great attraction of the building is that it was a private house until 1929 and is still essentially a town house with a multiplicity of rooms of various sizes and shapes. The artefacts are professionally displayed and maintained but the whole has the attraction of a town museum, faithfully reflecting the past way of life of the region. A Shelley Room, commemorating the poet who was born at Field Place, is one of the features.

The garden, once a derelict open space, is largely the work of an archaeologist, Sylvia Standing. It is laid out as an 18th-century herb and rose garden, and each of the plants has an historic significance, from those which would have been found in a Roman villa to those of medieval England. There is a sculpture, Black Grouse, by J.G. Millais, son of the famous artist. Beyond the garden is a display of historic transport in a custom-built building, while facing it is an 18th-century Sussex barn which has been brought to the museum for use as another display unit.

Attractive in its own right, St Mary's also performs a vital function in the urban fabric, for it not only prevents modern 'development' at the end of The Causeway but also, with its churchyard, acts as a kind of town gate. Walks through the churchyard, over the little bridge of the Remembrance Gardens, over another bridge across the River Arun itself - and you are immediately in open country. Altogether an all too rare example of what should be the relationship between town and country instead of the usually dispirited trickling out of the suburbia.

A devoted band of church helpers, who discreetly monitor visitors and so prevent would-be vandals, allows St. Mary's to open every weekday between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Founded in the 12th-century, the church was substantially rebuilt in the 13th-century, and though there were later additions and adaptations, in particular a major restoration in 1865, this is essentially a medieval church. The Norman door, after being closed for many years, was re-opened as recently as 1990. On each side of the altar is the tomb of a knight in armour; on the north that of Thomas Lord Hoo - a 15th-century ancestor of Anne Boleyn - and on the south the 14th-century tomb of one of the great landowners of Sussex whose family name comes up again and again, Sir Thomas de Braose.

Horsham Park is a pleasant open space which acts as a buffer between the old town and the expanding residential development to the north. The house, built in 1720, is now the headquarters of Horsham District Council.

Beyond the park, on the road to Warnham is Horsham Town Mill, fed by water from the Mill Pond. derelict for some years, the mill has recently been restored and is now an integral part of Warnham Nature Reserve. The reserve, an area of 150 acres purchased by the District Council in 1986, has at its centre the mill-pond, created in the 16th-century, and is not only an important wildlife reserve but acts as another vital green belt to the town.


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This page first produced 3 May 1997

This page last updated 21 February 2020