Letter: A gesture of our humanity and enlightenment needed for Horsham teenager John Sparshott

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Sadly, English social history has taken a back seat in our educational curriculum these days - on two counts.

First, the emphasis today is upon vocational skills to ensure gainful employment for our youngsters.

And second, because it is considered that immigrants are not overly concerned about our past - understandably, they look towards the future in their new country.

With this in mind Jeremy Knight’s well researched tragic tale of a Sussex lad, 19-year-old John Sparshott being hanged in public outside Horsham County Gaol in 1835.

His crime which called for the death penalty for a youth not yet of age - being a homosexual - and expressing his love for another by unnatural acts - forbidden by law. Truly, the past is another country.

Today, thank God, we take a more enlightened view of what until comparatively recent times was considered a heinous crime - and certainly not something to be discussed in polite company.

Euphemisms of one kind or another abounded - such as, ‘Does he bat for the other side’ or even more obscure, ‘Is he a friend of Dorothy’s’? Heaven knows where the latter came from!

During my entire National Service in the early 1950s I never knowingly came across a case of homosexual conduct when we were housed thirty teenage blokes to a barrack room.

Those, I believe were more innocent times - the term, ‘Virgin Soldiers’ was indeed a reality.

It was only when working for The Rank Organisation in 1961 and attending the premier of the ground-breaking film, ‘Victim’ that the scales finally fell from my eyes. It was a truly revolutionary film staring Dirk Bogarde - whom we later learned was himself gay.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Sexual Offences Act - which legalised homosexual conduct between two consenting adults over the age of 21 in private.

And as a gesture to the memory of young John Sparshott, surely it would be appropriate for some sort of commemorative plaque to be positioned as near as possible to the site of his execution as a gesture of our humanity and enlightenment.

Here I suggest is a unique opportunity for Horsham District Council to give a positive lead - which would command the support and respect of most young people today.

Robert B. Worley

Bourns Court, Ayshe Court Drive, Horsham