Work of William Albery and a horse doing a spot of window shopping

Horse gets a treat at Shep's the newsagents, in North Street
Horse gets a treat at Shep's the newsagents, in North Street

With over 10,000 books to look through, a plain dull brown spine stood out.

When picked up and opened it revealed an amazing discovery that showed Horsham man, William Albery – the man with the world’s smallest handwriting – had stood on the shoulders of giants.

William Albery and his staff

William Albery and his staff

Now that discovery resides in Horsham District Council’s Horsham Museum, along with other stunning examples of Albery’s work.

Last week London was buzzing with dealers from across the world selling rare and unusual books at the annual book fairs.

One Somerset dealer had a dull-looking book for sale; however, under the covers was a copy of Thomas Tomkins’ The Beauties of Writing, published in 1777.

This was the nearest thing to a stunning best seller in 18th century London, when the written word ruled.

William Albery's letter

William Albery's letter

Tomkins was feted a celebrity: known to Samuel Johnson and painted by Reynolds, his writing school and manual caught the attention of Kings and nobility.

Horsham’s town saddler and local historian, William Albery, also had another talent: that of calligrapher.

Albery achieved the notable success of having the world’s smallest handwriting, as noted on a plaque in Horsham town’s main shopping street, West Street.

Horsham Museum also owns a number of his extravagant and stunning examples of his calligraphy.

Thomas Tomkins' The Beauties of Writing, published in 1777.

Thomas Tomkins' The Beauties of Writing, published in 1777.

The museum knew he was interested in the history of the town and his trade: after all he collected around 20,000 documents on the town and nearly 3,000 historical items of saddlery.

But what the museum did not have were any of Albery’s training manuals – nothing for calligraphy.

The book dealer was more interested in the fact that the book with the dull brown spine had a very rare Tomkin’s trade card pasted inside.

However, upon opening the book, a letter penned in doggerel verse fell out.

For The Friends of Horsham Museum who purchased the book for the museum, it was this letter, written on Albery’s letter-headed notepaper, which gave the bigger thrill.

It reads: “To Friend Norma Cox/Calligraphy!/The time was when/I could make beauty with my pen/At 78, in vain I try/This Art now to exemplify/I therefore hand to you this book/That on its pages you may look/And from them take the brilliant cue/Then show the world what you can do/Friend! Do your best and we shall say/’Well done’/Yours truly WA.”

The poem is dated September 20 1942. William Albery died 8 years later.

The book now adds real insight into William Albery’s life and puts his work into a context that we now know he shared with the greats of calligraphy.

We knew he was talented, that he won a competition at Collyer’s for penmanship – but not that he took inspiration from the leading calligraphy manual in the golden age of penmanship.

l The final picture shows a sight you don’t see very often – a horse doing a spot of window shopping.

The story goes that a carthorse used to deliver the milk around Horsham, and on its rounds it used to get a treat at Shep’s the newsagents, in North Street.

If anyone knows anything more about this or a different version, the museum would be very pleased to hear from you.

This photograph is part of a small but fascinating photography exhibition, showing some iconic and occasionally amusing shots of shops in and around Horsham, dating from as early as 1875 right through to 1960.

The exhibition Let’s Go Shopping at Horsham Museum, at 9 Causeway, is on until July 16.

Horsham Museum is open Monday-Saturday 10am-5pm. Admission is free.

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