The initial £5.5m development of Swan Walk first opened its doors to the public on May 9th, 1976. Sainsbury’s opened 10 days later and were the largest store occupying the site now used by BHS. The arcade of shops joined West Street to the Carfax. The two floors of offices above Wilkinsons, Albery House, occupied by Trend Controls, were originally intended as shopping space. More than 30 years on the centre has continued to evolve as Horsham’s only indoor shopping venue.
The foundation stone was laid by Bernard Fitzalan-Howard, 16th Duke of Norfolk, on December 3rd 1973 and the opening was almost three years later on the 24th November 1976 by Lavinia, Duchess of Norfolk. Stones marking these events can be found in the Swan Walk entrance in West Street. A third stone marking Longley’s involvement can also be found to the left of the entrance from the Carfax.
The centre now offers a range of shops that are fully accessible, albeit with gentle slopes. By day it is well lit by natural light and sheltered from the rain. As well as the regular high street chains a number of ‘independents’ now trade here, reflecting the overall make-up of Horsham’s shopping experience. The centre is locked shut outside of shopping hours.
Initially the original Capitol Theatre remained in place where Marks & Spencers are today. When Swan Walk was extended in 1982 the theatre was demolished amid much public concern. The £200,000 from the sale of the land was used to purchase the ABC Cinema. A further £900,000 added to renovate and convert it into a theatre. The ABC in North Street, now re-using the name ‘Capitol Theatre’ was further updated in 2002/3 and is now an arts centre.
Back in Swan Walk the open square by BHS and W H Smith that was planted with Mountain Ash trees has since been enclosed. Above the BHS entrance there was a giant clock on the brickwork. Spanning a 12 foot diameter it had featured gold coloured Roman numerals. The once open walkways are now given shelter from the elements by glass roofing. Springfield Court was created in 1989, being the far end of the extension from Superdrug to Wilkinsons. The area by what is now Wilkinsons has since been further enclosed, the lift was once in the public part of the centre with views down into what was a small food hall.
The name Swan Walk is marked by two pieces of artwork. There is a mosaic of a swan at the junction by Superdrug and a bronze scuplture of three swans landing into a water feature, just outside BHS. The sculpture arrived in November 1990 but was removed in September 2007 after a ‘environmental and water safety review’. Following a public revolt and investigation it was revealed that the swans were removed to increase retail space. To the credit of the management they have backed down and restored the swans to their original position. The water supply to the swans is, at best, intermittent and, at the time of updating this article is currently less than perfect.
You can enter Swan Walk from a number of ways. There are primary entrances from West Street and the Carfax as shown above in addition to the staired entrance next to Wilkinsons. You can also enter via Wilkinsons, Boots and, of course, the Swan Walk car park via Marks & Spencer or other stairwells. The unit until recently occupied by Sussex Stationers also allows level access.
The West Street entrance to Swan Walk was The Swan public house until it was demolished in 1973 in preparation for the new centre. The pub sign is now in Horsham Museum. In c1798 the inn served as an indoor corn market and later was just four and a half coaching hours from London. In the 1830s the coach left the inn every day at seven, except Sundays, and returned by eight in the evening. The establishment of the railway link to and beyond Horsham in the middle of the 19th century lead to the decline of the coach service. Up until 1882 the inn was also home to a poultry market until that moved to the nearby Black Horse.
The Swan mosaic is usually the site for the animatronic Christmas display. This is a scene that changes from year to year, sometimes the theme is the Capitol pantomime. Further photographs of Swan Walk are on the Christmas Shopping 2006 feature.