In January 1911, the West Sussex County Times published a lengthy letter from an unnamed man who signed off as ‘Nobody’. His letter looked back at the early 19th century, sharing tales of the ‘considerable’ amount of stage coach traffic, soldiers, the lack of ready made goods in shops, pub fights, destructive storms, imprisonments, executions and murders. These are his words.
In 1810, Horsham borough and town, though relatively more important in the county than it is today, contained but 600 houses and about 3,750 inhabitants.
Most of the houses were of two storeys only and timber- built. Horsham at this time contained more timber-built houses than any other town of its size in the kingdom, I was told. The shops were small and low-pitched, the windows of small panes and the shop doors mostly in two halves, divided laterally.
The uneven and, in the winter, dirty streets from which the shop doors were approached by flights of steps were laid much lower than they are now, and other roads outside the town were sometimes in winter so bad that many people could not get away if they wanted to. I was told of a young couple married in February 1807, who were forced to spend their honeymoon at Horsham for this reason.
The shops were occupied with handicraftsmen actually making things ordered or to order with substantial necessities, rather than with the ready made goods of frivolous patterns and fleeting fashions as they are today.
Many trades were flourishing then that are extinct or nearly so today. Hats, chairs and tables and other furniture, clock cases, brooms, ropes, spun yarn and twines, carriages and harness, tobacco pipes, tinware and other household requisites were actually manufactured.
Very little ready made clothes and underwear was imported, whilst all the boots and shoes – in fact nearly all the local requirements – were made in the town, stocks consisting chiefly of raw materials and partly made up goods.
The old church and the gaol in East Street, both about the same size, were the two largest buildings in the town. I much preferred the old unrestored church building to the then comparatively new gaol.
The theology of the church seemed to me of a doubtful kind, but the gaol gave out certain conviction. Batches of transports of from 10-20 being sent away periodically for 7 or 14 years or for life, via Portsmouth or the hulks in the Thames.
The only other places of worship were the Anabaptist Chapel in Worthing Road, built in 1770 by the congregation, whose minster had been the celebrated Horsham Divine Matthew Caffyn, five times sent to prison for dissent; and the Independent Meeting House, in Springfield Road.
There had been a Presbyterian meeting house in East Street but I did not notice it in 1810.
The amount of vehicular traffic through the town was considerable at that time, though not a 10th or 20th of that to today. Several four-horse stage coaches went through from London to Brighton to Worthing and Bognor and from Oxford, calling at the Crown, King’s Head, Anchor and Swan to take or leave passengers and change horses.
The cost of a journey to London by coach from here was 12 shillings sixpence inside, eight shillings sixpence outside. Each of the local gentry had his own private carriage, chaises or coach for visiting, shopping or travelling.
Many four-horse and sometimes six- horse farmers and carriers wagons loaded with corn (Horsham had a splendid reputation as a corn growing and dealing centre), barley, coal, timber, groceries and many other commodities, some fetching their loads from the canals at West Grinstead and Newbridge, Billingshurst, more than equalled in bulk the other kinds of traffic to which must be added the many people, farmers,lawyers and other professional and private gentlemen and tradesmen who rode horseback.
The Parish boundary was the same as today but in 1810 there was the ancient borough boundary which included all the ancient burrage property consisting of about 70 acres. The boundary was nearly square, from near the corner of Trafalgar Road in North Parade, south as far as Tanbridge, from Tanbridge following the river east past Denne Road to a point in line with New Street, then called Pest House Lane after the isolation house there for infection diseases. From this point north to another point about where the Bedford Hotel now stands. Thence across to Trafalgar Road.
Most people in Horsham know where the Barrack Fields are. In 1810 the barracks, as well as the fields, were there. They were built in 1795 and sold by auction in small lots in 1815.
During the whole of that time, with one or two very short periods of exception, Horsham was never without the presence of several regiments of soldiers or militia. Many of these gentry were very difficult to manage.
The long succession of wars had denuded the country of suitable food for powder. There were no press gangs for the army and in order to get young men to take up the quarrels of foolish statesmen, large bounties of £5 or £7, sometimes more, were offered to militiamen to join the regular Forces.
Sometimes 100 or 150 of these young men would be paid this bribe, each in hard cash, guineas and £1 notes at Horsham Barracks. As there was no post office nor other savings bank, they spent the money very quickly and very foolishly – most of it, needless to say, at the public houses.
Old Michael Bromley, the clocksmith, who lived at what is now 17 West Street, sold many a silver watch at £2 or £3 each to these young fellows who, tiring quickly of them, would be seen playing hopscotch with them or having a lark frying them in grease up at the cook’s canteen.
Other tradesmen, too, favoured them by supplying goods they did not want, but ‘Boniface’ got the lion’s share of their money – a sure drunk being far preferable to the doubtful security of the private bank.
The Crown, which up to 1805 or 1806 stood at the south top corner of West Street where the bank is now, and the Lamb, which was at the west corner of Richmond Terrace, where Messrs King and Chasemore’s offices are, were the two favourite houses of the soldiers. They have been known to spend as much as £200 on liquor in three days at one of these houses, and as it would seem, this rate of swallowing money was not fast enough for they ate £1 notes between bread and butter. The consequent drunkenness, insubordination and quarrelling among themselves and with the townsmen, who used generally to get the best of the fighting, originated the elegant and expressive phrase ‘Hell or Horsham’, which I find survives today in some quarters and placed Horsham in a position analogous to that of the young man of whom it was said he married a lady with a past. “Well, he may be unhappy but he certainly won’t be dull.”
On January 8 1810, about 40 Irish militiamen marched into the town from Steyning. They stopped at a public house – I don’t know which – and at once the noted Horsham ales stripped them of their artificial civilisation and got to work on their real disposition.
They were soon fighting among themselves, doing their best to provide work for coroner and undertaker. When the constables and headboroughs interfered, matters became far worse and with the townspeople generally going in for the purpose of rescuing the peace officers and quelling the riots, a regular pitched battle ensued, which resulted in a draw and many broken heads and wounded limbs on both sides.
This was not the only storm Horsham witnessed in 1810. On July 1 that year, a fearful thunderstorm broke over the town, doing much damage.
The house of Mr Rickward, surgeon, was struck, several rafters of the roof were broken, every door in the house forced open except the one of the room in which the family were sitting. A range was torn from the fireplace and hurled into the middle of the kitchen.
One the Common, an oak tree was shattered to laths. At Plummers Plain, which then contained but two houses, the end of one of them was torn away and three women struck down, one of whom never recovered. Altogether it was the most fearful storm within memory at that time.
Murders are happily not of everyday occurrence at Horsham. There have been several cases of manslaughter, but the last deliberate murder with ‘malice aforethought’ in the neighbourhood took place at Monk’s Tollgate House on October 14 1810.
The paygate was kept by an old woman and her daughter, the latter of whom was well known to all passers, as she opened the gate to them and took the fees. She was courted by a man named Lindfield, whose jealous feelings had been aroused by a rival for her favours named Naldrett. At six o’clock a.m on the above date, Lindfield went to the house and called the daughter by name. Her mother answered, asking him what he wanted. “To shoot your daughter,” he replied.
At this jolly piece of information of course, the old lady started screaming and Naldrett, who lived near, came to see what was the matter. Lindfield at once, without word or warning, shot him through the heart dead.
The coroner’s jury brought in a verdict of wilful murder and Lindfield was committed to Horsham gaol to take his trial at the next assizes, which were held at Horsham on March 26 1811.
It used to be said at the time that it was safer to kill a man than a hare, regard for property, by many judges, being higher than regard for human life. The Horsham Assizes of 1811 went to prove that assertion. For, whilst the judge sentenced a lad of 14 years to be hanged for stealing a bank note from a letter – a sentence afterwards commuted to transportation for life – he let Lindfield off the capital punishment on the grounds that, as the woman in the case was 30 years old, hopelessly deformed and otherwise ill-favoured, he must have been non compus mentis, so he was sentenced to imprisonment during his Majesty’s pleasure.
The calendar of prisoners delivered from Horsham gaol for trial at these assizes contained 23 names: one for forging and uttering a bank note for £10, two for murder altered to manslaughter, one for bigamy, one obtaining goods by false pretences, one for returning from transportation before the expiration of his time, five for stealing, seven for burglary, one robbery with violence, one horse stealing and three sheep stealing.
Five of the prisoners, all relatives by the name of Harbroe, belonged to a notorious gang of thieves and footpads at Copthorne, the members of which used to waylay and rob any and everybody unfortunate enough to go near them. They were all transported for life.
Other sentences ranged from that of death without reprieve to William Treble for forging the £10 note, to that of the two men Michael O’Neil and William Pugh, who having really killed a man at Chichester, were acquitted.
The most interesting case was that of William Treble, a well-educated gentleman of 57, a bank clerk at Arundel. His counsel tried hard to save his life by raising a legal point, and so far succeeded as to get it referred to 12 judges for decision.
Treble was sent back to Horsham gaol where he remained till August. At the Lewes Assizes in that month, the point was found to be not strong enough to sustain life and he was condemned for the second time. With him were also condemned William Wilson, 27, for burglary and stealing a silver watch, and William Langley, for horse stealing. All were sentenced to be hanged on September 8.
On August 28, it was found William Treble had anticipated the executioner. He had hanged himself by a rope made of his handkerchief and neck cloth, which he had tied to the grating of his window.
He had written most loving and affectionate letters to his wife, his daughter and son, and thanked with his last breath the gaol keeper Mr Smart (now got to be an old man, he was appointed to Horsham gaol in 1781) for his kindness. He also addressed the following letter to ‘his unhappy fellow prisoners condemned to death’.
“For the love of God, my dear fellow prisoners, and for the saving of your souls, let not my wicked conduct turn either of you. Think O think, what a dreadful abyss I have plunged myself into. May Almighty God in his infinite goodness pardon you for your sins is my fervent and last prayer. My ties are greater than yours or my weakness greater – this is the plea by which I can justify myself.
“May God forgive us all our sins is the last word uttered by your unfortunate fellow prisoner. W Treble.”
At the coroner’s inquest a verdict of felo de se (felon of himself) was returned and the remains of William Treble were buried at the crossroads on Horsham Common without ceremony but with much sympathy from a crowd of silent spectators.
Wilson and Langley met their fate on September 8. Just before 12 on that day Saturday – executions were carried out almost without exception on Saturday about midday – a horse and cart with two coffins pulled up at the great gates of the prison in East Street and the two prisoners got up into the cart which moved eastwards slowly.
They were accompanied by the executioner, the chaplain, gaoler, Mr Lucart, the under sheriff, Mr Peare, officers and a crowd of people of about 400, much smaller than usual at Horsham executions.
On their arrival at the gallows just this side of Hornbrook Hill on the north side of the road, they had half-an-hour’s prayer with the chaplain. Wilson was then given a handkerchief, which he was to drop when ready as a signal to the executioner.
After another short prayer by the chaplain, Wilson asked Langley: “Are you ready?” “Yes,” replied Langley. Wilson then dropped the handkerchief at the same time throwing himself along in the cart which, moving off, left them suspended, and in a few moments dead.
There was no ‘drop’ at executions here till 1822.
I should have mentioned the death in 1810 of old Simon Southward, after 46 years incarceration in Horsham gaol for a small debt.
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