200th Anniversary of the Old Town Hall’s first rebuild.

The Old Town Hall. Archive picture.
The Old Town Hall. Archive picture.

2012 not only marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Dickens and the enclosure of Horsham Common, it also marks the anniversary of the rebuild of Horsham Town Hall in 1812.

This work generated the unique design feature of the deliberately constructed solid arches; a feature that was designed to stop people looking in on proceedings of the magistrates’ court hearings; hearings of those such as John George Haigh, the infamous ‘acid bath murderer.’

In 2004 English Heritage described the solid frontage of the Town Hall as a “a deliberate construction to stop people looking in at court proceedings, and as a feature of the past should remain.”

This rebuild was a very significant step because for the first time, the entire building became a single unit for the exercise of government and legal proceedings.

In the earlier buildings the lower part had provided cover for the fire engine as well as being the site of poultry and butter markets!

In 1812 a considerable step forward had also been made via the three grandiose coat of arms on the frontage, but as time would show, there was still little substance in the building itself.

It had been rebuilt by the then Duke of Norfolk in an effort to retain some of the town’s political importance at a cost of £8,000.

The cost however did not ensure quality workmanship for over the following years many of the effects of shoddy workmanship became apparent; judges were reluctant to visit the building because the roof was leaking so badly that they believed that one day the floor would give way and they would all tumble down into the chamber below.

By strange co-incidence, 2012 also marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of architect Augustus Pugin.

Robert Mayfield, local author and Treasurer of local arts charity the Blue Flash Music Trust said: “I feel that it was Pugin’s vision and influence that indirectly saved the Horsham Town Hall for future generations.

“Pugin felt that architecture should be honest, and what the building said on the outside, was also what it said on the inside.

“He despised lack of architectural honesty and attacked it in many of his writings.

“By the time of the rebuild of 1888 Augustus Pugin had been born, worked and died.

“However, Pugin’s influence did not end there for once the Old Town Hall had been handed over by the Duke of Norfolk in 1888 to the three Trustees of the Local Board of Health, one of whom was the local MP Robert Hurst, the building, other than the frontage of 1812 had undergone a further rebuild.

“Now the whole building gave out the same message; that it was a place of local government in tune with the retained front façade, displaying the Royal Coat of Arms, and the arms of the Horsham Borough and the Duke of Norfolk.

“The building was now giving out the same message in its entirety.”

In the prologue of her book ‘Pugin; God’s Architect,’ upon which a recent BBC4 television programme was based, Rosemary Hill, of the Victorian Society, wrote “The architectural texture of our towns and of the countryside is still largely nineteenth – century and none of it would look, quite, as it does had AWN Pugin not lived.”

Mr Mayfield added: “Augustus Pugin was educated at Christ Hospital and became a very famous architect working on such grand houses as Albury Park Mansion near Leatherhead, and Horsted Place near Uckfield.

He was also the architect of the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben after the earlier buildings were destroyed by fire in 1834.

“His preference for solid construction had a long lasting effect and can be seen in the confident and noble building that now stands in Market Square today.

“The rebuild was so sound that although one hundred and twenty four years has passed since, the building is as good as ever, and to quote the words of Dr Timothy Brittain-Caitlin, who contributed to the programme, ‘God could go round the back and be pleased.’

“Like other Horsham buildings such as St Marks Church, now the site of Royal and SunAlliance and the Capitol Theatre, now the site of Marks and Spencers, the Town Hall was rebuilt as a charitable act.

“The further rebuild must have cost a great sum of money compared with the cost of 1812, considering the extra amount of work that had to be done.”

The Blue Flash Music Trust has approached Rosemary Hill and the Pugin Society with the idea of holding a lecture on Pugin and his legacy.

Article contributed by Blue Flash Music Trust: http://blueflashmusictrust.org.uk/Welcome.html

Send us your news at ct.news@sussexnewspapers.co.uk