This charming market town sitting between the Surrey Hills and the South Downs National Park in Mid Sussex punches way above its weight. A £250 million town centre redevelopment was opened in Horsham in 2003 by the Queen, and with major employers attracted to the town, such as insurance group MORETH>N, pharmaceuticals giant Novartis, and more recently West Sussex county council, it has a healthy two-way traffic in commuters: people pour into Horsham each morning just after others have left to work in London, Brighton or nearby Crawley.
Despite all this bustle, Horsham still manages to retain the feel of a proper country town. South of the busy shopping centre, the pretty Causeway runs from the fine old town hall to St Mary’s Church. The street is a hotchpotch of medieval, Georgian and later Victorian houses and is lined with pollarded plane trees. Horsham’s town museum, with a very pretty garden, occupies one of the oldest houses.
The museum tells the town's stories: everything from the life of the poet Shelley, who was born at nearby Warnham, to the famous Horsham Iguanodon, the fossilised remains of which were discovered in 1840: the creature was immortalised — somewhat inaccurately — in concrete in Crystal Palace Park. You can also learn about brewing and brickmaking, the town's two traditional industries.
The little market town that punches above its weight Display: Unformatted Line wrapped
Spotlight on Horsham As many people commute into Horsham each morning as leave for work in London. Anthea Masey finds a thriving town set among rolling Sussex countryside
What's on offer
In the town centre there are affordable Victorian cottages, and flats in new developments. In the rest of the town there is a mix of large detached and semi-detached Victorian houses to newer homes, ranging from estates of dull Fifties and Sixties properties to places such as Rookwood Park, where large modern executive houses were built by Berkeley Homes in the late Nineties. There are period village properties in the nearby villages, the most desirable of which are Slinfold, Warnham, Wisborough Green, Loxwood, Mannings Heath, Rudgwick and Slaugham.
Who comes, who stays
Professionals, families and freelances: the local council estimates that about one in eight of Horsham's residents works from home. Families are drawn by some very affordable house prices and by the fact that Horsham is surrounded by beautiful countryside, not far from the sea. Once there they tend to stay; good state schools are big bonus.
The best roads include The Causeway in the town centre, which is charming but the prices vary, as all the houses are different and they don't change hands very often. Expect to pay between £350,000 for a cottage and up to £1.3 million, the price paid for the Chantry in 2005.
In Richmond Road and Wimblehurst Road there are fine five-bedroom detached Victorian houses which sell for between £600,000 and £750,000. Kerves Lane on the southern edge of town has large detached Twenties houses with names such as Clovers, Merrimeet, and Hawthorns; these sell for between £560,000 and £1.25 million. Rookwood Park has modern detached executive-style houses which sell for between £850,000 and £1.2 million.
It is not hard to find a good primary school in Horsham and two are rated "outstanding", by government education watchdog, Ofsted: St Mary's CofE in Normandy and All Saints CofE in Tylden Way. There are three comprehensive schools which take pupils from age 11 to 16: Tanbridge House (mixed); Millais (girls) and Forest (boys). Most pupils go on to Richard Collyer, the sixthform college. Millais and Richard Collyer are both judged to be "outstanding" by Ofsted. Christ's Hospital is a boarding school on the outskirts of Horsham with its own railway station. Most of the pupils come from state schools and most, or all, of the fees are paid for by a charitable foundation. The pupils still wear 18th-century dress with the school's characteristic yellow stockings. Last year, the school started to take a few day pupils for the first time in its 450-year history.
Farlington is a popular girls boarding and day school which takes pupils from age three to 18, with boys in the nursery. The two nearest prep schools are Pennthorpe in the nearby village of Rudgwick, which is co-ed and takes pupils from age three to 13, and Handcross Park in Haywards Heath, also co-ed, with pupils aged from two to 13.
Northbrook Court in Hurst Road is a new block of 14 flats from Matthew Homes with two-bedroom properties starting at £250,000. Contact Cubitt & West (01403 269268).
Horsham has done well in recent years and has grand ambitions for the future. Crest Nicholson has won planning permission for a 2,500-home development west of Bewbush between Horsham and Crawley. Plans include a new primary school, supermarket, doctor's surgery, care home, pub and railway station. On the drawing board is a scheme for a 2,000-home development between Southwater and Billingshurst.
Arts and leisure
There are two busy shopping centres: Swanwalk and Piries Place. With the medieval street pattern still intact, Horsham retains the feel of a traditional market town, but the centre is dominated by the big chains. Independent shops worth seeking out are Between the Lines (a small southern counties chain) for cards and gifts; Juce and Cape Scarlett for women's fashion, and the museum garden for interesting plants.
The love-it-or-loathe-it Shelley Fountain at the end of West Street still causes controversy. There is a market on Thursdays and Saturdays in Bishopric, a farmers' market on Carfax on Saturdays, and on Fridays and Saturdays, there are craft, gift and fashion stalls in Piries Place.
Over the last few years, East Street has become Horsham's buzzy restaurant spot — it is being branded "The Quarter". Here you will find Pizza Express, Strada, Côte, Giraffe and the Japanese restaurant Wabi, while Wagamama is opening soon. The Black Jug is a gastropub and the Half Moon at Warninglid is famed for its restaurant.
There is walking, riding and mountain biking in The Weald, the Surrey Hills and the South Downs, now a National Park. In Horsham itself, Horsham Park is a wellmaintained local park with a sensory garden, trim trail, tennis courts, an orienteering course, a bowling green and a café. There is also an 11-mile riverside walk along the edge of the town that follows the River Arun.
The Pavilions in the Park is a modern leisure centre with two indoor pools, a heated outdoor pool and a gym. The Capital Theatre and Cinema is a modern glass building on the site of the old ABC cinema. It puts on concerts, amateur dramatics shows, comedy nights and children's shows, as well showing movies.
The A24 bypasses the town, and the M23 London to Brighton road is a few miles away.
Trains to Victoria and London Bridge take between 52 and 60 minutes — the cost of an annual season ticket is £3,368.
Horsham district council (Conservative-controlled); Band D council tax for 2011/12 is £1,459.67 (Horsham Town).