Those of us who call Horsham home have a special affection for this old market town. Of course it’s been modernised and changed over the years and some of those have been improvements, whilst some, it has to be said, have not!
But overall we think that the inevitable growth of the town has been done in a reasonable way and has often enhanced Horsham.
Swan Walk is our indoor shopping centre. It’s a pleasant area, although somewhat sprawling considering there aren’t really many shops. That means that one “branch” doesn’t get the traffic it needs. Fortunately there are plans in the pipeline to change all that and we hope it brings prosperity to new shops and restaurants that move in.
When we first moved to Horsham nearly 40 years ago, we could only find one café where we could stop for a cuppa. Goodness, how that has changed! Now every other unit is taken by a coffee shop chain or independent – Costas, Starbucks and numerous others. It’s been one of the most momentous changes in the town in our opinion.
Of course the whole district has grown substantially in that time. Horsham has a district council that encompasses many local villages, including Billingshurst and Southwater which are now substantial communities, probably deserving to become towns. Both are expanding at a rapid rate with house-building on a pretty epic scale considering the original size of these rural communities.
If you want to see what Horsham used to look like, join the Memories of Horsham Facebook group, where residents post photos and postcards on a regular basis. The group now has over 10,000 members from as far afield as Australia and the USA. It seems that those who group up in the district still like to keep in touch and follow what’s going on. Horsham seems to get into your bones!
Talking of building, there have been huge developments in South Horsham around the Tanbridge school area and into Broadbridge Heath. That once historic and small village has been swallowed up by the Greater Horsham area. And now there are plans afoot to expand north towards the urban sprawl that is Crawley. Let’s hope they keep the green gap between the two as the towns have totally different characters.
Horsham was originally just a market town, serving the rural community and villages round about. There was a cattle and sheep market held weekly in the Bishopric (hard to imagine now!) and although there’s still a regular farmers’ market in the Carfax, it’s not quite the same. In fact in the Middle Ages there were apparently two weekly markets and the town was known for its annual fairs.
The name “Horsham” is probably derived from Horse Ham – eg a place where horses were kept. There are different interpretations, but this seems to be the most likely.
Venture beyond the town and you’ll see that this is still an area where horses are kept. Polo is played at Knepp Castle and there are several polo yards around the south of the district. Hickstead isn’t far and eventers, showjumpers, livery yards and horse dealers abound. It’s also hunting country with the Crawley and Horsham being the local hunt and the Lord Leconfield further afield in Petworth.
There are some great places to visit for those who like the outdoor life, including Sumners Ponds in Barns Green with trout fishing, lovely walks, beautiful lakes and fabulous café. It’s a campsite that has won awards and attracts visitors from miles around.
For the children a wonderful playground is Fishers Farm in Wisborough Green. We remember when they just had a few ponies, a couple of goats and calves and did children’s parties in their barn. Nowadays, by all accounts, it’s a much more sophisticated affair and draws families from far afield.
Just two examples of enterprising farmers who’ve turned their farms into profitable businesses.
There are also some wonderful eating places in the district and some great pubs. We’d particularly recommend The Countryman in Shipley and The Queen’s Head in Barns Green, though we’re by no means experts! Try out some of our local hostelries to see for yourself.
But back to Horsham itself. It’s not a huge town, most of the population being in the surrounding areas, but it’s big enough to have some decent, though not large, stores.
Unfortunately BHS was the latest casualty to leave and as far as I know the shop hasn’t been re-let yet. But we have a reasonable sized Marks and Spencer, a nice Sainsbury’s in the town and the latest arrival is Waitrose with its adjoining John Lewis at Home. We also have the usual chains that proliferate everywhere but alongside is a good selection of independents.
That’s what makes Horsham a little more interesting for the casual visitor and resident alike. We don’t venture into town very often these days, but it’s always a pleasant place to stroll around, stop for a coffee and wander along some of the ancient roads and passageways.
One of the big attractions of moving to Horsham is its proximity to London. Far enough to remain properly rural but close enough for a daily commute with direct trains to Victoria and London Bridge. The journey is only 45 minutes if you get the right train – and it’s running! Hopefully the disputes and troubles with Southern Rail will eventually get sorted and a better service will resume.
Crawley is another big employer of Horshamites. With its vast trading estates and Gatwick Airport on the doorstep there seem to be skilled and unskilled jobs always available. Then some commute down to Worthing and over to Brighton, although judging by rush hour traffic on the A24, it looks like far more people come up from the coast to work in Horsham.
That’s the other thing about Horsham. It’s only 20 miles from the coast, just north of the South Downs. Close enough to be able to pop down in 30 minutes, but far enough to miss out on the winds that whip around south of the Downs. We find it’s colder than the coast in the winter but warmer in the summer.
All in all, it’s a lovely area, surrounded as it is by green and lush countryside, festooned with English Oaks and hundreds of miles of ancient hedges. Despite the increase in traffic and non-stop building, it’s hard to find anywhere nicer to live than the heart of Sussex.