This post was first published in September 2008. Since then the building has been extensively modified by its current occupation Bill’s Restaurant. The text was updated in August 2014 though the description as the building was in 2008 has not been changed.
On Saturday the 20th of September 2008 the Old Town Hall in Market Square was opened to the public. Whilst the main hall downstairs was frequently opened for markets, exhibitions and the like the other areas were more restricted. The Register Office was open for its normal business purposes and the Marriage Room could be booked. The committee room is directly above the area used for markets and is therefore the same size, it is in normally out of bounds.
Tours of the room were led by Councillor Christine Costin who was able to give some history of the room’s usage. In addition to what is available in the Horsham’s Photographer’s feature information was given that the building is haunted by the ghost of Dan Roberts (1737-1831), the town crier well known for his large nose. It was said that he was concerned for the wellbeing of the building and it was rebuilt in 1812. Although his influence on the rebuild has not been determined Roberts is graphically described by Henry Burstow.
Access to the cells in the basement was not allowed because of the storage of theatrical equipment. The cells are in two set of three on opposite sides for male and female inmates. Access to the turrets at the front of the building was denied on ‘health and safety’ grounds although the specifics of the reason was not given. Amusingly all of those on the tour were advised not to ascend the stairs if any medical condition suggested that they shouldn’t.
The staircase has impressive baluster castings that go up and around as the stairs turn through 180o. At the top of the stairs was the notice listing the town council chairmen between the years of 1974 and 1987. The landing leads to the marriage room and the committee room which have doors facing each other.
The committee room was unused in 2008 although was in good condition. At the opposite end to the door and backing onto Market Square was an elevated stage running the full width of the room. In each corner was a door to the turrets. It is not clear what was behind these doors, perhaps a spiral staircase or ladder. A third door, to the right as you entered the room, lead to a service staircase which emerged near to the downstairs kitchen.
Although the cells and their corridor were not accessible the staircase was in place. The route that inmates would have been taken down is shown in the photographs. There was also a suggestion that a tunnel was once in place between the Town Hall and the East Street prison site although no evidence was put forward. However, during the recent refurbishments of Scott & Seargant, now the Steamer Trading Cookshop, a tunnel was discovered running parallel with East Street and this would be in the correct location.