This Easter weekend sees the town open its arms to all things Italian at the annual Piazza Italia event.
One of the key historic links between Horsham and Italy comes via our town’s beloved, home-grown literary giant, Percy Bysshe Shelley. Percy Bysshe Shelley was born in Warnham, Sussex and his father Sir Timothy Shelley was MP for Horsham from 1790-92. He gained fame as a romantic poet early in life, and was a proponent of the “free love” movement.
In 1822 Shelley and his wife, renowned author of Frankenstein, Mary Shelley, were living at Lerici, on the North West coast of Italy, and Shelley had bought a boat to sail in with his friend Edward Williams. On 8 July, on a hot summer’s day, Williams and Shelley set out to sea and were caught in a sudden storm. Their bodies were recovered several days later and cremated on the beach. Shelley’s ashes were later buried at the Protestant Cemetery at Rome, not far from the pyramid of Caius Cestius; his heart was rescued from the flames and kept by his widow Mary. It was buried with her when she died in 1851.
Did you know that Horsham was twinned with that fateful town, Lerici, in the 1990s? Ultimately it was decided by the council not to expand on the link and continue with a formal twinning, but the paperwork and agreements still exist. Interestingly, whilst Horsham’s twinning association do not appear to promote the “almost” twinning with Lerici, it is still listed on many websites and article online.
A party from Lerici actually came to Horsham for the opening of The Shelley Fountain with the mayor of the Italian town describing the (ultimately doomed) sculpture as ‘very brave’. More than 4000 people came to Horsham’s town centre to see the opening of the Shelley Fountain, with a further 3500 people coming to a specially organised temporary visitor desk nearby. The opening of the fountain received widespread coverage in the media.
The fountain is no more, having been dismantled in 2016, but those who want to learn more about Shelley and his time in Italy can come to the Museum’s dedicated Shelley gallery to learn more.