Horsham has had three gaols in its history, the first was opened in 1531 and the last closed in 1845. The first two were in the Carfax and the third just slightly away from the town centre near the iron railway bridge.

The gaol was important to the town, as was the court house, because it brought visitors to the town on the days of the trials or assizes. The first gaol replaced one in Lewes and the last was pulled down in favour of one again at Lewes.

Some of the crimes and punishments are recounted in the Horrible Horsham feature

The First Gaol 1531 – 1640

Horsham’s first gaol was a privately owned building to the north of the Carfax, opposite Waitrose. The Borough Survey of 1611 recorded that the Gaol House was owned by John Lyntot. It was adjacent to the gaoler’s house which still stands today in the premises occupied by Bateman’s Opticians in 2006, now Crates Local. The brickwalls and tiled roof conceal the original 16th century structure. The area in front of the shops towards the Carfax bandstand is still known to some as Gaoler’s Green and was the scene of the public executions and punishments.

The first recorded gaoler was Nicholas Lintott (son of Richard Lintott of Southwater, born 1541) who was appointed in 1589. He was the county gaoler and his job included carrying out the punishments and executions that his inmates were sentenced to. The prisoners had to pay for their keep and that was part of Lintott’s income. In 1598 Lintott was indicted for allowing eight breakouts to take place although it is not known whether the breakouts were due to the lack of physical security or if Lintott somehow assisted them.

In 1596 Edward Jeffreyes was appointed as Lintotts assistant and took over the full role on Lintott’s death in 1600. He was then the gaoler until 1622. The prison held male and female convicts and, as a consequence there were children born within the walls; there were seven baptisms recorded between 1600 and 1630, three to married prisoners and a further three illegitimate. During the same period there were 11 executions of which three were female inmates.

The Second Gaol 1640 – 1779

The Post Office now occupies the site of the second prison. The House of Correction was built next to the prison in order to save running costs; in 1645 it is recorded that William Wadet was the Keeper of his Majesty’s Gaol and Master of the House of Correction. There was some dispute as to who should pay for the building, the eastern side of the county objected to contributing to something that Horsham would benefit from financially.

Horsham Post Office

The second gaol began in 1640 on the burgage plot known as Oakendens, puchased from the butcher Willaim Greenfield & Son. The building was not of a good standard and soon after being built required further work; between 1651 and 1656 the sum of £460 [2006: about £50,000] was spent on it. In 1720 the building was described as being built of stone. It had a two-bayed two-storeyed façade and was crowned with battlements. In 1767 the prison could hold up to 19 inmates.

John Howard, after whom the Howard League for Penal Reform takes its name, visited Horsham gaol in 1774. Appalled at what he saw in Horsham and elsewhere in the UK and Europe he wrote his book ‘The State of Prisons in England & Wales’. Horsham took note and so the third prison was built.

The Third Gaol 1775 – 1845

Horsham’s third gaol occupied a much larger site away from the Carfax market centre of the town. Two acres of land known as Causey Croft were purchased at a cost of £350 [2006: £32,765.18] from Samuel Blunt. A further five guineas [2006: £491.48] was paid to the tenant for his possession. The total cost for this stage was put at £3,560 [2006: £333,268.68].

The prison was built in three stages, the first from October 1775 to Christmas 1777. In this phase the main prison block was built by Thomas & Edward Griffeth, Carpenters of Horsham and directed by the architect Mr Ride. The block measured 126 x 32 feet and consisted of two floors over an arcaded ground floor. The debtors and felons were seperated and each had 10 rooms. There were five on each side with a five foot passageway between them. The cells were 10’8″ by 7′ with a 9′ high vaulted ceiling. Additionally there was a day room measuring 28′ by 12’3″. What set this Horsham prison apart from any other prison in the world,at that time, was that each prisoner had his or her own cell – a result of John Howard’s report.

The gaol was enclosed with a 20′ high wall, 18″ thick and supported by strengthening piers spaced at intervals of one rod (16’5″ or just over 5m). An acre of land was enclosed.

The second stage was built by Ralph Jones of Horsham at a cost of £1,070 [2006: £100,972.40] and added the gaol house, chapel and infirmary placed between the prison block and East Street. This addition took place between February 1778 and Ladytide 1779 (25th March).

Between August 1819 and 1822 a further £2540 was spent adding 16 more cells and a large yard on the felons side. The yard was divided into three for the use of felons, debtors and female inmates.

The gaol saw its last execution on the 6th April 1844. John Lawrence was hanged for the murder of Henry Solomon, Chief Constable of Brighton. During a police interview about the theft of a roll of carpet Lawrence struck Solomon on the side of the head with a poker. Such was the force of the blow that Solomon recieved a deep wound and the poker was bent.

A sketch of the gaol appears in Henry Burstow’s Reminiscences of Horsham and is reproduced above (top left). The black X is Burstow’s indication of where Lawrence was hanged. He goes on to say that, for a year, Lawrence was buried where the Jireh Chapel (now a mosque) is today. His body was moved to St Mary’s Church graveyard when the prison closed. To this day there is a large area to the west, without headstones; this is where executed convicts were buried.

A year later in 1845 the gaol was closed and dismantled by Henry Michell. However, prior to the demolition Michell opened the gaol to the public. He also had plans drawn up so that ‘future generations’ could appreciate the layout. These pictures were reproduced in Albery’s Millennium and have been scanned into the views above.