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Henry Burstow: Reminiscences of Horsham


 
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There was a race ball and supper in the evening at the King's Head Hotel.

These race meetings were held annually for seven years. I never attended any others, but I got enough experience to warn me of their attendant evils — betting, drinking, and swindling. Refreshments of all kinds were on sale or, I should perhaps say, were sold, for some of the more enthusiastic supporters of the turf were carried off the ground on hurdles.

At the 1836 race meeting a big bazaar was held on the course to raise money for building the little Church in the Coolhurst grounds. I am unable to define the bonds of sympathy between the racecourse and the Church, but they were strong enough to raise over £200 at this bazaar. On the other hand they were very offensive to the popular Horsham curate, Mr. Kenrick, whose representations to the owner of St. Leonard's as to the presence of so many undesirable characters, hawks and pigeons, sharps and flats, bounders, boozers, and harpies of all sorts at the races, brought about their discontinuance.

The most important sporting event at Horsham, previous to these races, that I ever heard of, took place in 1823, when a man named Verrall, called the "Lad," undertook to walk 1000 miles in 20 consecutive days for a wager of £30. Verrall, 43 years of age, married, with 11 children, a pig jobber by trade, had fallen upon hard times and decided to try the sporting instincts of the Town as a means of improving his fortunes. His walk was from the "Swan" Inn to the "Dog and Bacon" Inn and back again, a distance of exactly a mile away, twenty-five times daily, fifty miles a day. He started on Tuesday, Nov. 4th, 1823, at 4.30 a.m., and finished his first day's work just after 9 p.m. The next day he started at 4 a.m. and finished at 7 p.m.; on Thursday he started at 4 a.m. and finished at 9.30 p.m. He


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declared "The lad will not give in until he can go no longer, and of that he is not afraid." He had had no previous training except the walking from town to town necessitated by his ordinary business. His attempt to set such a record met with a great amount of support in the Town. The people on the coaches, too, were very interested and also encouraged him. He stuck to his self-imposed task and manfully completed it within the specified time, though he got so sleepy towards the end that he was obliged to have a man to support him and keep him awake. He finished on the night of Sunday, Nov. 24th, the old Band playing him in at the finish, thus winning his wager and making altogether in winnings and presents £300.

Horsham was first lighted by gas on Monday, Jan. 25th, 1836. It cannot be said the lighting of the town previously was very brilliant. The few oil lamps about the streets were kept more or less in bad order and odour by old Tinker Smith, and there were besides a few more, one each attached to several private houses; nor can it now be said the new illuminant was very brilliant either, but it was thought to be so; my own expectations ran very high. "Ah," I had heard it said, "this new gas is something wonderful; it beats all your common daylight." On the first night of lighting up by the new way the streets were crowded with folk, many of whom came in from the country to enjoy the sensation. At the "King's Head" Hotel there was a large-sized star of gas jets; at the "Crown" Inn there was a large crown produced in the same way. The Town Hall decoration, consisting of a large W.R. with jets around, compelled everyone's admiration. Standing by me an old countryman asked his neighbour, "What does W.R. mean?" "W stands for William and R for Rex," replied the individual addressed. "What does Rex mean, then," persisted the yokel: "Oh, that means God Almighty

 
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bless him," was the further answer, which seemed quite satisfactory. The price of gas at first was 12s. 6d. per 1000 ft.; in 1848 it was reduced to 10s. per 1000 ft.

On Tuesday, the 29th Nov., 1836, there raged the most tremendous storm that ever happened in my life; the wind began to rise in the morning and gradually gained in strength till about 12 o'clock noon, when it had acquired a terrific force. We schoolboys, and the Collyer's school boys, got a lot of fun out of it; we went round the south side of the Church and when we got to the Belfry door, we spread out our jackets like sails, and were irresistibly carried up to the Churchyard gates by the wind, which blew from the S.W. It was impossible for us to go back the way we came, so we went round the East end of the Church to get into position and repeat the fun; this we did many times. As we went up the Causeway and into the streets things began to look and sound very serious. I got home to dinner just about 1 o'clock, and we had but just sat down to it when Mother cried out, alarmed, "Did you hear that hallooing?" "No," we replied, for the wind was making such a noise that we had heard no voices. "A house has blown down with someone in it!" she said, in an agitated voice. I rushed out to see if she spoke truly and, sure enough, a few doors off, a cottage had been completely wrecked; nothing of it was left standing but the chimney stack. Mrs. Smith, who lived there (mother of the lad who was killed at the "Queen's Head"), luckily escaped death or mutilation through having gone to the door to see if her husband was returning to dinner, and there she stood, unhurt, just where her doorway used to be. Mrs. Grinstead, an old lodger, who was quietly sitting upstairs, was almost as fortunate: when the floor gave way, she,



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bed, bedding, and all else crashed down, but she got nothing worse than a shaking. I can plainly see her now, quite dazed, supported by a few neighbours, all standing in the middle of the wreck. As soon as she collected her wits, she philosophically applied them to the situation. "It's nobody's fault," said she, addressing the crowd, "it must be a 'Poor Law' wind," referring to the then new and unpopular poor law. Everything possessed by the occupants was destroyed, and a fund was immediately raised in the Town to replace them. As we stood there an old man, Harry Fillary, brought us news of further havoc up Town. "This!!" he cried, contemplating the scene, "this is nothing, just go up Town and see the houses! Why, Dr. Martin's stables have all blown down atop of the horses." I went up Town and, though old Harry had exaggerated somewhat, things were bad enough, surely: very few houses or buildings had been able to completely withstand the fury of the storm. Both chimneys of Dr. Martin's house had blown down and one had crashed into the stable. The Independent, or, as it was then called, Harms' Chapel, was almost entirely unroofed; slates blew off houses by the score; the streets were strewn with chimney pots, bricks, and all sorts of debris; slates and tiles went flying about in all directions, to the consternation of everybody. It seemed just as if some unseen giant hand were stripping the houses of their roofs and hurling the dangerous missiles about regardless of everything. Outside the Town trees were dismembered and uprooted by the score, by the hundred. Some of the finest elm trees round the Barrack walks were ruined: eight or ten in Springfield Park were blown right across the North Parade. Denne Park also suffered much, whilst Mick Mills' race, which seemed to lay right in the track of the wind, was completely denuded of mature growing

 
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timber; only young saplings that could bend to the violence of the storm were left standing. Upwards of 1500 full-grown trees were here "dashed down and scattered by the winds assiduous fury." The mansion and outbuildings at St. Leonard's also received great injury, whilst everywhere cornstacks and hayricks, barns and hovels, were unroofed and scattered like chaff. The storm lasted till late in the evening, when we began to hear of the mischief it had done in many other places. The next morning we heard it had blown down Brighton Chain Pier.

I have heard my father speak of storms in his time, before I was born, one particularly in 1790 when the Church steeple was struck by lightning and set on fire; the fire was soon extinguished by the rain, which fell in torrents. It was soon after this that a lightning conductor was first fixed to the steeple. Again, on Tuesday, the 28th March, 1809, there was a very severe storm, and such an amount of rain as literally to flood the town; and on Sunday, the 1st July, 1810, a yet worse storm broke over the town and did much damage.

The coldest weather I ever remember came in at the beginning of 1838. The extraordinary severity of it was first remarked upon Sunday, 14th January, when the thermometer fell to zero; grape and elderberry wine was frozen solid. The cold continued to increase till Saturday, the 20th January, when the thermometer fell to 16 degrees below zero.

"The cold was so intense as never before to have been felt by anyone living, and caused a peculiar feeling impossible to describe. Gin was now also found to be frozen solid. Innumerable small icicles or thin wedges of ice were noticed floating in the air, and glistened like prisms as the sun shone on them.*"

* See letter in "West Sussex County Times," Jan. 9th, 1909, by Mr. Honeywood.


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I remember coming down to breakfast on this particular morning, we hugged the fire pretty closely. When we had finished breakfast we found the cups were frozen to the saucers. I heard too, afterwards, that some of the carter boys' noses had frozen as they came in to the Horsham market.

On Thursday, 29th November, the same year, there was a very severe hailstorm, the most severe one yet remembered, which did a lot of damage, but it was quite eclipsed on the 7th of July, 1839, when in a short space of time many hundreds of pounds worth of glass was smashed, besides incalculable other damage done. Fortunately, it happened on a Sunday evening, between 8 and 9 o'clock, when all the shops and many private houses had their shutters up. The storm, with much thunder and lightning, came on rather suddenly. Some of the hailstones, rough and jagged, were as large as walnuts, and tore peoples umbrellas to ribbons. Every skylight in the town, and all the glass in the gardens of the large houses in the neighbourhood was smashed to atoms. The damage at Lyne was £500, at Holbrook £200, at Denne £150, at Tanbridge £60; nearly everybody suffered more or less, and whilst the storm lasted everybody was frightened. The glaziers only were in a contented frame of mind; one of them, indeed, received an inspiration, by breakfast time he had cornered all the glass in the town, with which he immediately set about repairing yesterday's havoc, the others having to wait for fresh supplies from London, then fetched by old Jas. Lloyd the carrier, a matter of three or four days.

On Wednesday, the 23rd August, 1837, there was a big jewel robbery, the largest of its kind known at Horsham. During the night thieves broke into Michael Bromley's shop and stole £300 worth of the best of his stock. The attack was deliberately planned

 
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and successfully carried out by persons who knew their business: they took all the gold and silver articles and went their way undiscovered, leaving old Michael to get what satisfaction he might out of the plated goods they had disdainfully rejected.

On Thursday, the 13th February, 1840, there was another big robbery in West Street, this time at Messrs. Henty's Bank. In the first two or three decades of the 19th century Horsham was noted for the frequency of its bank failures. No other town of its size suffered more from theirs. In this chronic state of insolvency they were thought, I suppose, by respectable burglars not worthy of attack; anyhow, I never heard of a bank robbery in the town, but in 1840 there seemed to appear the prospect of a good haul. It was supposed the thieves concealed themselves in the bank a day or two. On the night of the robbery the keys of the strong room were taken from under the Bank Manager's head as he lay asleep, and £450 in hard cash was taken by the thieves, who, after regaling themselves with ham and wine, got safely away with their booty, and were never again heard of.

Lots of people in my time mistrusted the banks, and would not put money in them. I heard of an old farmer at Shipley who, having been warned by his doctor that he had not long to live, sent for his two sons and told them that he had £600 in cash hidden in the pigeon coo, and that when he was dead they were to divide it. The old man, however, notwithstanding the doctor's warning and medicines, got better — got quite well. When he went to the pigeon coo he found it empty, an experience that probably bred as great a mistrust of his sons as that he had of the banks.

Then there were old Jack and Will Weller, who lived up Hurst Hill, they were reputed to be worth


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a lot of money. One day old Jack came into the shop of Mr. Gilburd, my master, with a pocket full of gold, between £80 and £100. Mr. Gilburd said to him, "You old silly, why don't you put the money in the Bank?" "Bank, be —," he replied, "I can keep it a — sight better myself," a statement he was soon after able to prove, for he and his brother were late at night visited by four or five roughs: "What do you want," asked Jack; "What we can get," they replied, "and we mean to have it," "Do you by —, then we must see what we can do." Jack got his gun and bayonet, and the brother a watchman's rattle, and with these they frightened their assailants away.

On the 25th June, 1837, the Windsor Coach brought news of the death of King William IV. to Horsham, and on the following Oct. 5th the new Queen we heard would be travelling by post chaise from London to Brighton, going through Crawley and Peas Pottage. We had heard a lot of talk about the new young Queen, who, I thought, must be something wonderful, so on Oct. 4th about twelve of us Rookery boys ranging in age from eight to fourteen years of age, met, and determined to walk to Peas Pottage to see her go through there; one of the smaller boys, Bill Etheridge, was so poorly dressed, being literally in rags, and without boots at all fit for such a journey, that the other boys threatened he should not go. "What'll the Queen think of him and his tatters?" asked one of the bigger boys contemptuously. The prospect of offending the Queen by his appearance, or of being deprived of the chance of seeing her, made the boy cry; so I made up my mind he should not be disappointed. "Never mind, Bill," I said to him after the others had gone, "you shall see her alright; you and I will start off together early in the morning before the others; I know the way alright." I didn't know the way, but I wanted to

 
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pacify him, and I felt sure I could find it. Accordingly, about seven o'clock the next morning, Bill, in nothing but his rags, and I, with nothing more than the clothes I stood up in, started off, trusting to luck to lead us the right way and fill our little bellies. We trudged on alone, through Roffey, hoping for a friendly waggoner to give us a lift, but none came along. At length we got to Peas Pottage, where we saw a large archway made of evergreens, with "VICTORIA REGINA" worked on it in various coloured dahlias; we were mightily impressed, and felt we must now tread the ground very lightly. Here we waited until the other Horsham Rookery boys came up, when, hearing the Queen's chaise would change horses at Crawley, and thinking we should get a straighter and longer stare at her there, we decided to go. We found Crawley very gaily decorated and crowded with people. All the school children were penned in like sheep, awaiting the Royal arrival, and under orders to sing when called upon. We, the Horsham contingent, now getting very hungry, crowded ourselves together in a bunch close to the "George Hotel," carefully hiding in our midst our ragged and tattered little companion, lest the Queen when she came might see him and, perhaps, we thought, order his head off. Presently the Queen and her mother, in a post chaise, with post boys and outriders, and escorted by a large number of yeomen from the neighbourhhod, each carrying a white staff, drove up to the Hotel, close to us boys. The Crawley folk cheered tremendously, but the sight of these two very ordinary-looking women by no means satisfied our very youthful but elevated ideas of Royalty; worse! it did not appease our hunger, now thoroughly aggravated by the information that the Crawley youths were to have a big feed as soon as the Queen was gone. "Which is the Queen, then, Harry?" asked


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Tom Vinall of me. "Why, the young'un, I suppose," I answered crossly. I felt disappointed and hungry enough almost to be uncivil, and as the crowd sang "God save the Queen," &c., I could not help thinking He would be attending to a more necessitous case if, instead of "sending her victorious," he sent us Horsham boys something solid to eat, together with a new suit of clothes and a pair of boots for Bill Etheridge. With the Queen gone, the Crawley people dispersing, and without a farthing between us Horsham boys, we now had to face the seven miles' walk home; this we did, luckily finding a few blackberries in the hedges, our only refreshment all day, getting back at night thoroughly exhausted. Many people walked from Horsham to Brighton the same day to see the young Queen. Some of my elder brothers went. Poor Billy Claytor, who was something of a simpleton, decided to go, and having been told that he would be able to get nothing to eat at Brighton, provided himself with a gallon loaf of bread, which he carried with him.

Speaking of Royalty, it will surprise most and, I am sure, gratify many of my readers to know that a Royal wedding has actually taken place at Horsham. It is astonishing to me to find how nearly completely this celebrated event has faded from the minds of Horsham people, yet it was thought a lot of, and much talked about, at the time. It was not an ideal wedding — both bride and bridegroom were over 60 — and it was said that the prospect of a smooth running of their united love was not very high; but still, think of it — a Royal wedding. Early in the morning of Monday, the 27th November, 1837, the Royal one-horse carriage drove down to the Old Church, and there the "King of the Rooks" was married to the "Queen of the Beggars," or, to descend to plebeian language, John Cole — shoemaker, other-
 
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wise known as King Cole — who lived in the Rookery, whence he took his Royal title, was married to Mrs. Simpson, who kept a beggars' lodging house known as "The Beggars' Opera," in one of the old cottages that lie back about 50 yards off the south side of the Brighton Road, just west of the South Grove. The townspeople were very interested in this wedding, and were much relieved when it had taken place, as the old Queen was known to be somewhat fickle, and cast her affections about rather carelessly: once before she had betrothed herself to a tramp and had the banns properly published: on the appointed happy day, however, instead of a wedding they had a stand-up fight, and then parted, never again to meet on friendly terms.

The next Royal event was the Coronation of Queen Victoria, which took place on Thursday, the 28th June, 1838, in beautifully fine weather. Early in the morning the church bells began to peal. All shops were closed by 11.30 a.m., when the children in the town — about 800, including myself — assembled in the Church Causeway; each child was provided with a knife, fork, and mug, and a ticket on which was printed "Victoria, Crowned 28th June, 1838." Headed by the band a procession marched round the town, and then to the Swan Field, so called from its connection with the "Swan Inn," West Street. This field, when I first knew it, reached from the backs of the houses on the north side of West Street right across to the south-west side of London Road, and from the backs of the houses and sheds on the west side of the Carfax to the east side of what is now called Springfield Road. There was but a footpath with an outhouse or two where Albion Terrace is now. In this field the townspeople were assembled to make merry. There were several booths into which barrels and barrels of beer were rolled and quickly consumed by


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people anxious to prove by their drinking capacity their devotion to the Throne. There was also a temporary wooden bandstand erected, upon which the old Town Band played and drank, and drank and played again. Some people danced, other tried to dance, but had partnered too early in the day with "John Barleycorn," and so couldn't. A substantial dinner of roast beef and plum pudding was provided for the poor in the field, and also for the inmates of the County Gaol and the Workhouse at their respective institutions. Public dinners were also given at the "Anchor" and "Richmond" Hotels, and a ball at the "King's Head." Sports and amusements of all kinds were enjoyed till the evening, when there was another procession round the town, but by this time there was a large number of people who could not join in the second procession — they were, in fact, unable to leave the field. As, at about dusk my father and I left for home, we were obliged to take a very crooked path in order to avoid treading on the bodies of these patriotic fellow-citizens, who, representing every point of the compass, helplessly lay about, thoroughly prostrate in their loyalty — one of the most drunken days that I remember.

It was in this year I first saw a match struck. With the tedious difficulties of the old "tinder box" I was familiar enough. Many times I had heard the flick, flick, flick accompanying mother's patient and often protracted efforts to get a light from it, and my youthful mind had anticipated no better means of ignition. When, therefore, a school chum, the son of a commercial traveller, said to me "Harry, my father has got some matches, and if you only rub them like this" — drawing his hand down his sleeve — "they will catch fire," I promptly called his statement a terminological inexactitude (spelt in three letters), but he took me to his house and astonished me by proving his word.

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