Curators' Blog

Kicking up a stink!

Horsham Carfax in 1850, drawn by G Mann

On these glorious days of summer, I think most of us can agree that there is nothing more delightful than taking a stroll in the fresh air. And with all the laws now about litter and picking up one’s pooch’s… well let’s call it their ‘reprocessed dinners’ – it has become even more pleasant of late. So spare a thought therefore for the poor inhabitants who lived in the heart of Horsham, in 1788.

According to the case for prosecution, on 2 October that year, a Horsham man by the name of Richard Thornton ‘caused a prodigious amount of dung, human excrement and filth to be poured upon Gaol Green’ – which is the north side of the Carfax as we know it today. If you look at the image, Richard Thornton’s delightful addition to the community would have been roughly central. The evil ‘mess’ apparently from three houses, remained in situ for about a week (lovely!) and even when it was removed, there was quite a pong for a further fortnight. Eeeewww!

Thornton apparently had a habit of doing this when the two (parish) constables were absent – this was not the first time! The piles of muck caused such a nuisance and obstruction that riders, coaches, carts and carriages were unable to pass near, and pedestrians had to hold their noses with their hankies. And goodness knows how those poor local residents coped…

What is so remarkable, is that Richard Thornton was noted for being a ‘person of considerable standing’ in the town. At the time of his conviction, he was also Headmaster of Thornton’s Academy, which was a boy’s school on the north side of the Carfax.  He even served as one of the Bailiffs of the Borough in 1781, when he would have been responsible for keeping law and order in the town!

Quite rightly, Thornton was convicted and fined, and six months later he moved away from Horsham, which I should imagine, came as a great relief to the locals.