The Market-Houses of Steyning
by Janet Pennington

Pages 1 . 2 . 3 . 4

Timber Framing

Figure 7.

Timber-framing on the first floor of the rebuilt market-house at 72 High Street, Steyning.

Some time after the rebuilding, the possibility of moving the 'Sussex Epiphany Sessions' (the January Quarter Sessions) from Midhurst to Steyning was discussed. County Magistrates wanted to view the 'new' market-house to see whether it was fit for the purpose. The constable, Tilly, gave notice to four Steyning inhabitants to remove goods they had deposited there. Despite all the good intentions originally of keeping it clear, the constables had presumably seized the opportunity to raise some cash. Cozens, Easton and Read '… immediately removed their goods but … [Joseph Curtis] who had four or five pieces of Old Cables Cut in Lengths and some small Old Rope positively refused to take the same away …' So Tilly, assisted by Edward Young, the former constable, threw it all out of the window and into the High Street. Tilly sent his servant William Dumbrell to Curtis's house to tell him what had happened, asking him to clear the mess from the street, which he did in about half an hour.23

This does not sound too alarming, but it is not the whole story - in the subsequent Court Case at the East Grinstead Assizes in March 1790 it becomes clear that far more than some old cable and rope belonging to Curtis had been hurled out of the window. The Duke of Norfolk and Sir John Honeywood (the latter the grandson and heir of his namesake who had died in 1781) were also at odds over electioneering practices in Steyning.24 Sir John brought the action to show that he had exclusive rights to the market-house, but the Duke of Norfolk's lawyer, Mr. Medwin of Horsham, acting for Joseph Curtis on behalf of the Duke of Norfolk, describes in his brief just what Tilly and Young had done with his client's belongings:

… with force and Arms [they] Seized and took possession of divers Goods and Chattles (to wit) Ten Cart Loads of Wood, 200 lb weight of Hemp, 500 Ropes, 200 Sacks, 50 Chairs, 50 Tables, 50 Stools, 200 Dressed Hides, 200 Undressed Hides, 20 Beds, 20 Bedsteads, 20 Bed Curtains, 20 Blankets, 20 Pillow, 20 pair of Sheets and 20 Coverlids of the s[ai]d P[lainan]t (£500 value) in the room of the Market House … and then with great force and Violence Tossed, Hurled Cas't and Flung the s[ai]d Goods and Chattles … from and out of the room into the public and open Street … and thereby then and there greatly dirtied spoiled and damaged the same and rendered them of little use or value …25

Apart from the underlying antagonism between Sir John Honeywood and the Duke of Norfolk, and allowing for a little written exaggeration, it would seem that Curtis had a case, though he had surely rather overfilled the upper room of the new market-house with his goods. It is approximately 34' 6” (c. 10.5 m) long by 16' 8” (c. 5.0 m) wide. Amongst the surviving documentation relating to the case there are some bills for food and drink during the court case. The lawyers and witnesses stayed at the Swan Inn at East Grinstead, taking breakfast, tea and dinner, as well as imbibing gin, punch and French brandy. A special jury was called; 48 names were submitted to begin with, all Sussex gentry. It is clear that those known to be siding with either Sir John Honeywood or the Duke of Norfolk were removed from the list. Twenty-four presumably non-partisan jurors were finally sworn in and at least 11 Steyning inhabitants were called as witnesses to give evidence.26

The defendants, Tilly and Young (the Honeywood interest), were found not guilty. They had been justified in removing Curtis' goods after having given notice and receiving his refusal. However, Curtis (the Duke of Norfolk interest) was awarded £500 to cover his spoiled property, presumably to be paid by Honeywood. Mr. Medwin, the lawyer for Curtis, submitted a bill to the Duke for a year's fees for working on the case, amounting to approximately £193; it had been an expensive business for everyone involved.27

Steyning's eighteenth-century market-house is quite a feature of the town. The Duke of Norfolk's clock rings out the hours and the bell can be heard from far afield. It once struck more than 300 chimes instead of ten, and occasionally the three faces of the clock all show different times.28  While no Quakers met in the upper room in 1655, as stated at present in notices both inside and outside the building, the riotous scenes that did occur there over 130 years later have led indirectly to the building in which they did meet - Steyning's 'lost' market-house.

I am very grateful for help from the following people: to Sue Rowland who drew the maps for Fig. 1; to John Townsend for alerting me to the 1763 sketch map at the West Sussex Record Office; to Kim Leslie of WSRO for information on the date of the Turnpike Act; to Chris Tod, curator of Steyning Museum, for information and advice and to Jeremy Knight, Curator of Horsham Museum, for help with locating documents and for his hospitality and also to Barbara Dickson, formerly of 72 High Street, who allowed me full access to the building.

Postscript by Janet Pennington
Due to research I have been doing on the former Swan/George/King's Head Inn at what is now 46-52 High Street, I can more accurately locate the market-house between that range of buildings (more or less the present fishmonger's shop) on the NW side and numbers 33-35 on the SE side.

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Page last updated
16th August 2021