Now home to Horsham Museum and Art Gallery Causeway House began its life 600 years ago..
It was in 1420, or thereabouts, that the owner of a 13th century building decided to create a new home and office complex next to his timber framed barn. Little did he realise that parts of it would still be standing 600 years later and it would become the home of merchants, lawyers, an heiress, an antiques dealer, a tutor to the Romanian Royal family and used as a base for making 37,000 gas masks; all before becoming the home of Horsham Museum and Art Gallery. Horsham Museum and Art Gallery is celebrating that history in a remarkable exhibition, creating a biography of an outstanding building.
Standing tall, overlooking one of Sussex’s most attractive streets, Causeway House is the gateway to a tree lined gallery of 500 years of domestic architecture. However, when built, the four-bayed house didn’t face the Causeway; it faced north into the rapidly growing market town. The merchant who owned the property had the rare privilege of being able to send two MPs to Parliament, one of 52 such properties in Horsham. He could also help in running the town, rather than the local lord; this gave him real power, to make Horsham work for the people of Horsham. As he grew wealthy he adapted and changed the building, which was both home and office.
Then nearly 200 years later Causeway House changed direction; instead of facing north, it swung round and faced the Causeway, thanks to a major new build that was built on to the side of the four-bayed building. From now on, we know the owners of the property; we also know that they were wealthy. The exhibition displays objects from the period that they probably used, for example, a late Elizabethan nightcap, used to keep warm and an early guide to the law, essential for merchants whose status in Tudor and Elizabethan England was key to the functioning of society; for their word was their bond.
Little remains of the life lived in the building, apart from a magnificent 1670s table, built for the house where it has remained ever since. However, back in the 1970s archaeological excavations uncovered fragments of pottery from pots and jugs showing the owners throwing their discarded material in the garden. There was after all no refuse service. These fragments of past life are supplemented with objects drawn from the Museum’s collections. They are displayed alongside documents written by the owners, all adding to a rich and diverse exhibition.
The prominence of Causeway House and its picturesque charm has attracted artists over the last 150 years, especially from a time when old buildings were no longer seen as a blight on the eye, but real assets as they add charm and historic depth to any street. The exhibition features a number of such paintings including the most recent one by Gordon Rushmer that the Friends of Horsham Museum commissioned to mark the Museum’s 125th birthday in 2018.