As anyone who lives in the beautiful Sussex town of Horsham knows, it’s an endearing place, lively, individual and beloved by its inhabitants and visitors alike.
Horsham is an ancient market town, with much of its history still on show when you stroll around away from the centre.
There’s a great Facebook group called Memories of Horsham to find out more and to see some wonderful historic photos, with many of the members having spent 70 or 80 years in the district.
Horsham District Council covers over 132,000 people, though most of the population live in the outlying towns and villages. The town itself has far fewer people, but some of the local villages are growing rapidly as Sussex is bombarded with demands for more housing.
As I write, Southwater is adding a huge new settlement and the same thing is happening with Billingshurst. These two villages lie to the south of Horsham and are taking the brunt of more rural development, with their boundaries bursting into the surrounding countryside. It’s sad to see for those of us who love the rural nature of the district, but housing needs fuel all and large building companies benefit at the expense of local residents who’d like to add an odd house here or there. But that’s a subject for another day!
Horsham itself is expanding rapidly too. Currently there is a planning application for a large new settlement to the north of the town, the other side of the A264 bypass. That proposal includes new schools and even a railway station. It will lie between Horsham and Crawley, further narrowing the strategic gap between the two.
Then there’s massive building to the immediate south of the town, effectively merging Horsham into Broadbridge Heath. The latter used to be a small village with its own character, but the building of dual carriageways and hundreds of houses on former farmland has destroyed its individuality and sucked it into the growing urbanisation of Horsham. It's hard to see an area that has such a rural nature becoming so much larger and losing much of its character, but somehow Horsham has managed to retain much of its charm.
At the heart of the town is the Carfax – meaning the meeting of 4 or more roads apparently. It’s pretty-much pedestrianised these days, though there is still a one-way road around the edge. It’s a delightful area housing the war memorial and bandstand and hosts regular farmers markets, occasional French markets and the annual fair. It’s a meeting place, somewhere to sit and watch the world go by on the lovely afternoon. And although many shops have disappeared, you can still buy cheeses, ice creams and antiques from the little shops around the Carfax.
The best-preserved ancient area of Horsham is The Causeway. A stroll down this lane to the beautiful St Mary’s Church will take you back in time. Fortunately it’s not a through-way so there’s little traffic and it remains a calm and peaceful area, away from the bustle of the Carfax. The Causeway also houses Horsham Museum, which is full of interesting artefacts and a great place to start if you wish to find out more about our town.
Part-way down the Causeway, on the opposite side of the road from the museum, is a twitten to take you past some newish flats through to Sainsbury’s. A twitten – for those of you unfamiliar with Sussex dialect – is simply our local word for a passageway. This particular walkway links the old with the new, past those delightful flats that have been well-designed to fit in with the surroundings. You arrive at the other end of the twitten to the supermarket carpark, but around the edge have been retained some wonderful old trees and the area is just about as pleasant as a car park can be!
Turn right and you’ll end up at The Forum, another relatively recent (within 20 years) addition to the town that adds another dimension. A new arrival in this area is Dunelms, who have just moved into the large unit vacated by Beales. Next door is TK Max for those who like a bargain – and who doesn’t? There’s a lovely round café where you can sit outside on a sunny day and eat ice cream or a cake and at the other end of the square is one of those ground fountains with little shoots of water popping up at random. I’ve no idea what they’re called, but children love them. And while we’re in that area, walk a little further, down the steps and you’re at Horsham Library, opposite the modern bus station.
The Bishopric is another historic part of the town, albeit these days choked with traffic from dawn to dusk. You can still see, though, some of the old cottages and imagine how it must have looked when there were no cars and the local cattle market was housed here. It’s a very broad street, but somehow it doesn’t give that impression these days with a broad pavement on one side and cars parked along both sides of the carriageway. You can see some revealing old postcards of this area and the market at the aforesaid Facebook group.
The latest large retail arrival has been Waitrose and John Lewis, who built on the site of the old Ford dealer (I believe) and opened up that side of town. It’s not an unattractive addition, but it has further divided up what has become a town of different parts. Somehow it doesn’t all mesh together in my view to give a coherent whole, but at least we still have some great history and have retained many of the small and individual shops that add to the character of Horsham.
Horsham district is a great place to live, but unfortunately house prices have driven out many of our younger generation. It’s very difficult to buy a house locally unless you’re a high-earning couple or have a large sum to invest. Even the new houses, wedged in as they are on top of each other, sell for ridiculously high sums. It’s probably our proximity to London that provides much of the attraction, since on a good day it’s just a 45 minute train ride to Town. Mind you, with all the recent train strikes and hold-ups, your journey may take considerably longer!
However, with all its shortcomings, we still think the Horsham area is beautiful and a wonderful place to live.