When the past was a foreign country

Petworth Park - illustration from the book.

Petworth Park - illustration from the book.

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THEY knew how to treat their prisoners in the 1830s.

Those kept in the “bridewell or house of correction” in Petworth were a fairly industrious bunch, according to Thomas Walker Horsfield’s immense two-volume The History, Antiquities and Topography of the County of Sussex (1835).

Noting slightly strangely that the prison stands “in a healthy situation”, Horsfield adds: “The prisoners are employed in manufacturing rugs, horse-cloths, and other coarse woollen articles.”

Presumably, if it scratched, it came from the town jail.

“The tread-mill for the males is kept in all due order,” Horsfield adds, again slightly strangely.

But then again, the past was clearly a foreign country. Back then, Petworth’s population was a mere 3,114.

“Petworth” - the book notes - “is a market-town, twelve miles north of Arundel, fourteen miles north-east by north from Chichester, and forty-nine south-west by west from London.

“It is situate on a considerable eminence, upon a small stream near the now navigable river Rother, and on the high road from London to Arundel and Chichester.

“The streets are very irregular, but many of the houses are large and convenient.

“The inhabitants are supplied with water from a spring in the Earl of Egremont’s park, and from wells, principally from the Rother by means of water-works erected by the present Lord at Coutlershaw Mill, whence it is conveyed by iron pipes in sufficient quantity to supply the mansion-house, and without cost, every street of the town.

“In the centre of the town is the market-house and court-room, built of stone, and handsomely adorned at one end with a bust of William III, now enclosed.

“Above is the court-room for transacting public business.

“This convenient structure was built at the sole expense of the present truly munificent Earl of Egremont.

“In the court-room are held, by sufferance, the Epiphany and Easter quarter sessions for the western division of the county, as is also a petty session of magistrates alternate Saturday.”

As for Petworth Park: “The enclosure is beautifully undulated, and graced with trees of the noblest growth. In the front of the mansion is a sheet of water of considerable extent.

“The views which the park commands of the down of Surrey and Sussex, and the intervening scenery, are of singular beauty and grandeur.”

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.