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The Carfax - a brief history

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At the corner of the Carfax and North Street lies Crates Local, on its Southern wall is a street sign that reads "Carfax". Immediately underneath is another sign that reads "Formerly the Skarfolkes". Literally translated as "scarce of folk", it would appear to be the most likely origin of the Carfax's name. The other possibility being the origin of the name of the only other Carfax in England - the Carfax in Oxford, which derives its name from "Quatrevois", meaning 'four ways' or 'crossroads' in French.

The precise date of the origin of the Carfax is unknown, but it likely began as an area of land cleared around the meeting point of the first routes into Horsham. For centuries people had brought (drove) livestock to trade in the area that was to become Horsham. The paths they used met with other tracks used by traders, and the Carfax began as a clearing around the junction of these tracks, the remains of which can still be recognised today as West Street, East Street, North Street, and South Street.

The Carfax developed into a thriving market, and in 1233 King Henry III granted Horsham a royal charter for "market and fair", which formally recognised Horsham as a market town.

The markets continued to thrive, and over the centuries, other establishments such as inns, taverns, and residential buildings evolved alongside them.

In the past, Horsham was well known for its crime and punishment. The Carfax has been the site of gaols and a place of public punishment and execution.

Crates Local occupies a building that still contains the framework of the house that was once home to Horsham's Gaoler - Nicolas Lintott.

Just outside Crates Local is a bandstand. Today it is used as a regular centrepiece for entertainment taking place on Horsham. It sits approximately on the site of the last place in England where somebody was pressed to death - a form of execution by torture.

The pressing of John Weeks, over three days, likely drew people to Horsham and the Carfax as public punishment and execution were popular forms of entertainment at the time.

Replica stocks and a whipping post can be found in Carfax today close to Panino Cafe. They serve as a reminder to the events that have taken place in the Carfax in the past.

The Twentieth Century saw theatres and cinemas appearing in the Carfax.

In 1911 the Electric Theatre opened on the site now occupied by Chesworths. The Theatre underwent several name changes over the years, and Michael Caine made his acting debut here at the then-named Carfax Theatre in 1953.

The original Capitol Theatre opened in 1923. Situated on the site now occupied by Marks and Spencer in Swan Walk, it was in use until its closure in 1983. The following year saw the opening of the current Capitol in North Street.

Sadly the 20th Century also saw two devastating world wars that cost the lives of many young men from Horsham. In November 1921, public subscriptions funded the Horsham War Memorial's construction to commemorate local men who lost their lives during the First World War. In 1992 it was repositioned within the Carfax to its current location. At the same time, the names of those who had fallen in the Second World War where added.

Throughout its history, the Carfax has been a focal point for people to meet in Horsham. Markets, trade, entertainment, and commemoration events have taken place here for centuries and are likely to continue doing so long into the future.

By Gavin Hewins

Published July 21, 2020, noon