Surgeon Richard Penfold, variously referred to as 'Mister' or 'Doctor', was the agent of the Honeywood family who owned many Steyning properties. Penfold proposed that the old building be pulled down and a new market-house erected on the site of a house owned by Sir John Honeywood. Honeywood and the Duke of Norfolk were normally only interested in Steyning properties in order to promote their own candidates as Members of Parliament. The Duke of Norfolk was Lord of the Manor, and between 1798 and 1799 he acquired c. 80 properties in the town, having come to an agreement with his rival in 1794 that they would share the votes, after two recent disputed elections. Steyning was one of the many 'Rotten Boroughs' in the country that profited from corrupt voting practices in the parliamentary elections. Votes in the town were attached to houses built on old foundations and until the 1832 Reform Act voting was usually a matter of who lived where and who paid what to whom.12
Local politics were not the only problem. It can be seen that nearly ten years earlier Richard Penfold had been in correspondence with Mr. Parham, Attorney at Law in Horsham, over the matter of the market-house and a new Turnpike Act.13 He wrote on 30 December 1763 thanking Parham for a copy of the preamble to the Bill, indicating that he wanted some changes made regarding the pavements in the High Street. He mentioned the plan which showed '… two black lines drawn across on each side the Market House as the end of the pavement at each hollow way ...' (Fig. 2). Four years later, on l December 1767 he was still writing to Parham, requesting that the pavement of the town might be included in the new road, as it would be much better for everyone. He continued that '… we likewise could wish to have leave to remove the Markett House to any commodious place of the Town that the major part of the Inhabitants shall think proper …' though nothing was said about its being in a ruinous condition then. Penfold kept Sir John Honeywood informed of his views and sent him a copy of the plan.14
It was noted in 1771 that the town constable (a different inhabitant was appointed annually) generally let the upper room of the market-house for one guinea (£1.05) to whomsoever provided stalls or standings at Steyning Fair each year.15 The person who looked after the clock had a key to the room, and handed it over whenever the Parish Clerk needed it. So several people were involved in the administration of the building. While various inhabitants were agitating about the fate of the apparently ruinous market-house, Edward Young (town constable in 1771) was passing along the High Street and saw Andrews, who normally looked after the clock, pulling down the bell. He asked what was going on and who had given him authority for such action. Andrews replied that Mr. Penfold had done so. Hearing this, Young damned both Mr. Penfold and Andrews, saying that nobody had the right to touch the market-house without his authority. Andrews stopped what he was doing and hurried away to let Mr. Penfold know that the constable was very angry.16
Penfold took quick and tactful action, going round to some of the inhabitants, and particularly to constable Edward Young to gain his consent for the taking down of the market-house. In this he succeeded as '… Soon after w[hi]ch it was accordingly pulled down and with the old Timber and Mat[eria]ls the present Town Hall or Market House was Erected upon the Scite of a House [at 72 High Street] then belonging to S[i]r John Honeywood which was held … of the Duke of Norfolk as Lord of the Boro' …' (Fig. 3). These two landowners both had an interest in the building and its site.17
Everyone seemed pleased with the outcome. The obstruction to the High Street had been removed, which would help the traffic coming down a possible new Turnpike road, and a new market-house had been built with the timber and other materials salvaged from the old. 'The Town Clock and Bell were also removed from the Old Building and Replaced in that newly erected. The Dungeon or Cage and Stocks were fix'd in the lower part …' It was agreed that the room above '… being more neat and decent than the old one …' would be kept locked by the succeeding constables and not let out as before, though this did not happen (see below).18 The parish authorities wanted to keep the room in a fit and proper state for the manorial courts that were held from time to time, and also for electioneering purposes, or any other public need.
The town fire engine was put in the lock-up (and presumably removed when the space was needed for miscreants) and it was agreed that the constable would have the keys, could let the lower part of the new building, and use it for the display of earthenware and other goods for sale at the Fairs. There was also the problem of 'His Majesty's Troops' who had by custom been allowed to deposit their baggage in the Upper Room of the old market-house when they were quartered in, or marching through, the town. The new upper room had to be kept clear for this purpose too. The old clock was re-erected and can be seen hanging out over the High Street on the end of a timber support; the bell can also just be glimpsed in the turret (Fig. 5). Between 1827 and 1840 the Duke of Norfolk presented the town with a clock which struck the hours. A new turret was built for it in 1848-9 and the old bell was presumably removed (Fig. 3).19
On 31st July 1771 a jolly scene can be envisaged, as an account of Steyning grocer and builder Daniel Easton, who supplied men for the work, shows 9s. paid for 'Beer at Rearing the Market House'.20 This would have been a celebration after the successful erection of the timber-framing which can be seen today within the present building at 72 High Street, particularly on the first-floor landing and in the room overlooking the street (Fig. 7). Whether most of the timber came from the old market-house or whether some came from the building that formerly stood on the new site is unknown. Just over a month later, on 3 September, there was more 'Beer for the men', as well as beer for Mr. Penfold, Peckham and 'myself' (presumably Easton the builder).21 This was probably for the 'topping out' ceremony. Nine years later, in 1780, the windows needed mending and in 1788 a new pair of town stocks was made by carpenter John Streeter, who also put new locks on the dungeon door.22
It might be thought that that was the end of the story - the old market-house pulled down, a new one erected at reasonable cost thanks to the recycling of timber and other materials. But no…