St Mary’s Church has been part of Horsham life in one form or another for almost 800 years.
While the name ‘Horsham’ first appeared in records in 947, the borough wasn’t formed until 1235* and St Mary’s followed soon after.
According to the church’s official history, a Norman Parish church had been built on the site – traces of which can still to be found at the west end of the building. The current St Mary’s was founded some time around the year 1247.
These pictures come courtesy of the West Sussex Library Service and show two views of St Mary’s unmistakable tower. The first was taken looking along the Causeway in 1898, the second from across the River Arun in 1927.
The church’s archivist wrote that, despite some alterations and additions over the years, St Mary’s has changed very little and would be “easily recognisable” to Horsham people from hundreds of years past.
Burials in the churchyard itself have long since ceased but the earliest tomb was made of brick with a Sussex marble slab and houses the remains of Richard and Joan Dendy, who died in 1690 and 1693 respectively.
The first vicar of St Mary’s was Roger of Wallingford, who was appointed in 1231. Some of his successors have memorials in the church.
The church’s website records: “One of the best remembered was the Revd John H Hodgson who was vicar from 1840-1883. He lived with his large family, in the present vicarage, built in 1840, the old one on the edge of the churchyard having, even in 1724, been described as ‘old and ruinous’.
“As a permanent memorial to his 44 years incumbency, the North Porch was renovated in 1884 ‘by his wishes and in grateful recollection of the complete and happy restoration of this church AD1865 effected during his ministry’. A plaque records his impressive list of achievements.”
The church records provide a fascinating look at life in Horsham through the centuries.
As well as the usual registers of baptisms, marriages and burials dating from 1540, which are kept in the West Sussex Record Office at Chichester, there are the 17th century churchwardens’ accounts which date from 1610.
At that time the churchwardens’ duties included upholding ecclesiastical law and they even prosecuted offenders such as adulterers. absentees from church and swearers.
The websites records: “In 1646 John Carpenter was fined 12d. for ‘swearinge’ and John Chapman was fined 5/- ‘for being drunck on ye Lordes day’.
“Some of this revenue went towards small expenses, such as ‘keping the dogs out of ye church’ or ‘watching in the church’.
“Men working in the church were often provided with beer and bread.”
*Source: www.british-history.ac.uk . Other source: www.stmaryshorsham.org.uk .
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