Pictured in April 2006
Pictured in April 2006

The [old] Town Hall is located in Market Square. The word ‘old’ is in brackets because The Horsham Society believes it should not be called old until we have a new town hall…

The Old Town Hall
The Old Town Hall in October 2014

A property has been on this site since at least 1648 when it was referred to as a ‘market house’ whose loft was used as an arms store during the insurrection of that year.

In 1721 Eversfield and Arthur Ingram, Lord Irwin, funded a new Portland Stone building of two storeys with a three bay entrance façade to the front and five bays to the side. The ground floor was used for a butter and poultry market. The upper floors were used for holding quarter sessions and assizes in addition to borough meetings.

By the early 19th century the building was in a dangerous condition. In 1812 the building was repaired and enlarged by the 11th Duke of Norfolk at a cost of £8000. The Norman style façade replaced the existing one complete with the three coats of arms (see photos), battlements and turrets. The open ground floor was enclosed at the same time for use as a lower court room.

In 1820 the clock was added but some 10 years later the building was again in a state of disrepair. A large bell, now in the care of Horsham Museum, was also added in 1820. There were plans to build a better court house and town hall in the Carfax at the site of the bandstand but these never came to anything. It continued to be used for quarter sessions and other official business as well as being the home of the fire engine. The three cells underneath were used until the first police station was built in 1846.

Howard Dudley wrote about the town hall in his book The History and Antiquities of Horsham, reproduced in full on this blog. In it he said:

The lower portion contains the large and handsome Town-Hall, of which the annexed sketch will afford some idea; a few years ago, the appearance which it presented was entirely different, being built on arches, in a similar manner, to the Council chamber, at Chichester, and surmounted by a stone with the inscription “Thirty six miles from Westminster Bridge,” engraved thereupon: by the kind liberality of the Duke of Norfolk, it was completely repaired, and greatly enlarged; and though no longer applied to its original purpose, (except in the instance of the quarter sessions) it is still found very serviceable for lectures, public meetings, &c. &c. The north front is embellished by the arms of royalty, flanked by those of Norfolk and Horsham.

townhall

In 1867, in the absence of a town council, a public meeting was held to decide the fate of the town hall. The hall was accepted as a gift to the town from the Duke on a 99 year lease at a cost of £1 per annum. Private subscriptions raised £288.15s.0d and a mortgage was taken out with the Horsham Building Society.

In 1888 the 15th Duke sold the building to the town for £25. The structure, except for the front wall as shown in the photograph, was demolished and rebuilt. The Norman façade was increased in height. It was then used for meetings of the urban district council and later the district council. Quarter sessions were held there until 1939 and it was used as a law court as recently as 1974. In 1925 the Town Hall was used to house the public library.

On April 1, 1949 John George Haigh appeared before 10 Sussex magistrates at the town hall charged with the infamous Acid Bath Murders. The hearing took two days but the main trial took place on July 18th 1949 in Lewes. Haigh was held at the Police Station in Barttelot Road

The front wall bears three coats of arms as shown in the photos. The Duke of Norfolk’s are to the left and in the centre is the royal coat of arms. On the right are Horsham’s arms derived from from two families historically linked to the town. The de Broase family from Chesworth Farm and the de Mowbrays. In 1298 John de Mowbray married a de Broase heiress and 100 years later Thomas de Mowbray was created the first Duke of Norfolk.

Town Hall viewed from the Causeway

Around 1958 the clock was replaced. By 1976 it had stopped working for a month when quotes for repair were received. The quote was in excess of £1000 comprising £385 for the actual repair not including the electrician’s fees. The striking mechanism was to be renewed at a cost of £600 allowing the chimes to be heard again. A further £70 would silence the bells between 11:00 PM and 07:00 AM. This was considered excessive by the council and public support was requested in support of this expenditure. Source: West Sussex County Times, September 24th 1976. Some months later the clock came back to life again when local watchmaker Terry Callaghan wound the mechanism up. He estimated that another £40 – 50 would be needed to correct the problems with the mechanism.

town hall clock

Recently the Town Hall lower floors were used for flea markets and the upper floors are the Horsham Register Office. Plans were being discussed to change the use of the lower floors to a restaurant but these fell through in November 2010 only to be revived and now Bill’s Restaurant is there.

Bill's in October 2013
Bill’s in October 2013

In 1965 Ian Nairn said of the Town Hall ‘Central crowstepped gable, octagonal corner turrets, three panels containing well-carved arms (a judicious each-way bet; Royal, Duke of Norfolk’s, Civic). On the ground floor arcading whose genesis was the neo-classical design of someone like Mylne but which has gone Norman for novelty’s sake’


The bell’s inscription

His Grace, the Duke of Norfolk,
presented the new Town Hall clock Anno Domini 1820
R. Hurst Esq and J. Torne
Bailiffs R. Stedman, gent
Town Clerke: Sir John Aubrey xxxx., and Robert Hurst Esq.,
Members of the Borough
Whose Praise and Fame
I’ll speak and tell,
as long as I remain a bell,
And after death I hope and trust,
They’ll all be numbered with the Just

The Bell

Pictures from inside the building taken in 2008 are in this post.

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