Horsham has had many visits from esteemed guests, royalty and foreign dignitaries over the centuries. Many famous and infamous faces have made their appearance here at one time or another. For instance, did you know that the King of Belgium had a secret holiday in Horsham in 1935 and actually stayed at a house in Broadbridge Heath? Did you know that Barnes Wallis was a student at Christ’s Hospital, or that the town’s first swimming pool was opened by an African king?
Did you know that Langhurst Wood was, and still remains, a secret government research facility? During the Second World War it was used as a flame warfare research establishment and became one of the first places in the country to test rockets. The flame-throwing Crocodile tank, put to effective use on D-Day, was developed here, as was the very key to D-Day’s success – Operation PLUTO, or Pipe Line Under The Ocean. Langhurst also played a role in dealing with one of the UK’s worst ecological disasters – the Torrey Canyon oil spill in 1967. The Home Office later took over another nearby site where such diverse things as nuclear shelters, body armour and crowd-control fences have been developed and tested. In 2018 this site was merged with the notorious lab at Porton Down.
In contrast to this breaking-edge technology, Horsham magistrates once had a reputation for medieval-style punishment. Until 1844 the town was home to the Sussex County Gaol and the justices used to inflict harsh sentences for minor offences. Did you know that a small debt could result in life imprisonment? Did you know that Horsham was the last place in the country to use the peine forte et dure (pressing to death), that the town was still burning women at the stake in 1776, that some of the first public dissections were carried out in Horsham, or that being dragged around the Carfax and whipped ’till ye body be bloody’ was quite commonplace? Did you know that the last instance of whipping for a crime committed at Horsham was as recently as 1930? Did you know that World Cup-winning bowler, Jofra Archer, played for Horsham Cricket Club, and that the Club is built on the site of Horsham Barracks? Did you know that many soldiers from here were imprisoned for such diverse crimes as highway robbery and killing a smuggler?
Contrary to these barbarous acts, those accused of witchcraft were dealt with relatively lightly in comparison. Sussex was never gripped by the zealous fervour of other regions and only eight cases were tried at Horsham, of which only one was found guilty and imprisoned. But, did you know that the town’s own gaoler was once in the dock accused of witchcraft?
Dozens of criminals – and several innocent victims – were hanged in Horsham, firstly at a spot near Kingslea Primary School, then on the site of Sandeman Way, and finally outside the East Street Gaol on the site of Pets at Home. Despite the frequency of these executions – even gaining the name of the Horsham Hang Fairs – things did not always go smoothly, such as the time when the hangman arrived drunk. Did you know that Horsham even once had a female hangman (albeit unofficially)? Did you know that one smuggler was arrested for stealing his own horse?
Did you know that fascism was once so popular here that Horsham had not one, but two headquarters of the British Union of Fascists? Did you know that Mosely’s Blackshirts even formed a youth wing for the town’s children? Did you know that the infamous Lord Haw-Haw hosted several meetings in the Market Square and at the Drill Hall? Did you know that Horsham has been rocked by several earthquakes (and not just those of the recent swarm)? Did you know that it was the testimony of a Middle Street jeweller that resulted in the arrest and confession of the Acid Bath Murderer?
Why did Billingshurst women dunk a man in the village pond? Why is the Black Lady of St Leonard’s buried at St Mary’s Church, and why does her grave face the ‘wrong’ way? Why did the townspeople riot in 1830, and why did the army forcibly remove the town’s children under armed guard in 1835? Why did MI5 have its eyes on Horsham’s chief air raid warden, and why did the Gestapo have a Rudgwick resident on their arrest list? Why did the workhouse chaplain keep a piece of an inmate’s dress locked away in Roffey Church?
The answers to all these and more are revealed in the new book, A-Z of Horsham: People-Places-History by Eddy Greenfield. The book is not a street atlas or visitor guide, nor is it a bland gazetteer of what can be seen and where. No, it uses each letter of the alphabet to relate a different aspect of Horsham’s long and fascinating history from the prehistoric Horshamosaurus to the recent earthquakes of 2018/2019. The book strips back the visible façade of this ancient market town and uncovers what lies beneath – often hidden in plain sight. It unearths the unusual and long-forgotten stories to present a history that will fascinate from start to finish. It begins with A for Acid Bath Murders and ends with Z for Zany Buildings, with many stories of plague, corruption, POW camps, witchcraft, spy scares, air raids and flying bombs, workhouses, royalty, UFOs and the supernatural, weird weather, cruel crimes, unusual punishments and much, much more in-between, revealing many facts and anecdotes that have hitherto remained untold in other books on Horsham. Even familiar town landmarks harbour their own secrets. If you think you know Horsham, this book may yet surprise you!
A-Z of Horsham by Eddy Greenfield is available now at Waterstones, W. H. Smith and online at Amazon or direct from the publishers – Amberley Publishing.
Eddy Greenfield is a Sussex-based author and historian. He has spent over a decade researching the places and people of Sussex, with a particular interest in discovering the lesser-known and long-forgotten stories hidden within the county’s eventful past. He was born in the county and has lived and worked in and around the Horsham District ever since. He has previously written a number of articles for publications in the Sussex area, but this is his first book with Amberley Publishing. He is currently researching and writing his next book, Secret Arundel, which is due for publication with Amberley Publishing in spring 2020.