Horsham - big gaol and very good water

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THE COUNTY gaol was ‘a commodious structure, built partly with stone from the neighbourhood’: the town returned two Members of Parliament; and the quality of the water was generally ‘very good’.

The town was Horsham as viewed through the eyes of Thomas Walker Horsfield’s and his ‘agents’ who between them compiled the monumental two-volume The History, Antiquities and Topography of the County of Sussex (1835).

Their account of the town, in keeping with the entire work, manages to be both florid and factual.

As Horsfield notes: “The town and ancient borough of Horsham, occupying in the centre of the parish a space of about half a mile square, is sited on the river Adur, at the distance of twenty-nine miles N.E. from Chichester, and thirty-five and a half S.S.W. from London.

“It is in the centre of a fertile district, and is surrounded by varied and interesting scenery. The town consists of two streets, crossing each other at right angles, with an open space on the south, in which stands the Court House, and a green on the north.

“The mixture of trees among the houses gives it a more sylvan aspect than most other country towns.

“The houses are generally timber built, but new faced with brick and in the street leading to the church, rows of trees afford to the dwellings, an agreeable shade.

“The town is well paved with stone, obtained from the excellent quarries in the neighbourhood, and is as well supplied with water. The springs vary from hard to soft; and the depth of the wells range from ten to fifty feet.

“The quality of the water is generally very good. Mineral springs, chiefly impregnated with iron, abound in the neighbourhood; but they are little sought after, and seldom applied to medical purposes.

“The weekly market on Saturday is abundantly supplied with corn, and that on Monday with poultry, a great quantity of which is reared in the neighbour for the supply of the London market.”

As for policing: “The town is governed by a steward and two bailiffs, chosen annually at the court-leet of the lord of the manor, at which constables and other officers are also appointed.”

Between them, they fill up that ‘commodious gaol’ - but don’t feel too sorry for the prisoners.

“A small garden extends along the front of the building, which has two spacious court yards of about half an acre each, with gravel walks surrounding a fine grass plot.”

Slightly bizarrely, Horsfield feels the need to add: “The wall which encircles them encloses the whole prison.”

Thank goodness for that.

Next week, take a trip with Horsfield to 1830s Petworth.

The History, Antiquities and Topography of the County of Sussex has been reproduced in two volumes at £90 by Country Books, Courtyard Cottage, Bakewell, Derbyshire, DE45 1NN.