Museum tells a Victorian Tale of Henry Burstow's Horsham

How often have we sat in a pub or café, thoroughly absorbed in listening to a local '˜character' describing their extraordinary memories, just wishing it could somehow be recorded?

Well, something similar did happen in 1911, and Henry Burstow’s colourful memories of Victorian Horsham were published.

Henry Burstow and his book Reminiscences of Horsham will be celebrated in an exhibition at Horsham District Council’s Horsham Museum that will run from March 18 to July 1.

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It certainly was the best of times and the worst of times for Henry Burstow: for, like many people living in the Victorian era, poverty was never far away.


Burstow’s Reminiscences of Horsham was published in 1911, at a time when most books were written by the wealthy, the famous and the powerful. Yet Henry Burstow was none of these things: he was a poor, working-class cobbler, born in 1826.

However, his lowly status betrayed the fact that he was a highly intelligent man blessed with a fantastic memory.

Over the years, he used his extraordinary memory, skills and talents to benefit the local community, and later, to provide a wealth of memories that were captured in one of this country’s earliest oral histories.

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Given his legacy to Horsham, it is sad to think that such a vibrant and charismatic personality endured such financial hardship.

Drawing on Reminiscences of Horsham, this exhibition will provide fascinating glimpses into Henry Burstow’s humble world, against the backdrop of a captivating and colourful Victorian world in the ‘Reminiscences’ of those who lived around him.

It will tell of some of the quirks of Victorian Horsham as remembered in his book, alongside some political and royal events of the era.

Discover the rivalry between our local public houses, as documented by image and song, and be entertained by Victorian Horsham scandal; enjoy descriptions of some of our more outrageous yet colourful characters… learn what ‘beggar-pooking’ was, read about some of Horsham’s villains, and discover the stories of some of Victorian Horsham’s more eccentric individuals!

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To celebrate Henry Burstow and his Victorian Horsham, this exhibition will feature the strange, the wonderful and the everyday.

dLiving in poverty, mice were a huge problem when it came to storing food, therefore objects on show will include various Victorian mousetraps: some that killed by squashing, some by decapitating and one that was a four-mouse mousetrap - a ghastly thought for most of us now, though necessary back then!

There will also be many original paintings and photographs of old Horsham on display, along with a generous helping of documents relating to Henry Burstow’s life and book, Reminiscences of Horsham.

This exhibition will also recall some of Henry Burstow’s involvement in bell-ringing: from cracked bells to the diverse social politics such as the rivalries of performance between bell ringing groups in the area. Possessing an extraordinary memory, our poor yet ‘noble artisan’ Henry Burstow also knew 420 songs by heart and could recite them on demand; his legacy as folk singer continues today, nationally.

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The exhibition A Victorian Tale: Henry Burstow’s Horsham will open on 18 March 2016. A centenary edition of Henry Burstow’s book Reminiscences of Horsham containing many rare photographs and images to celebrate and commemorate his life is also being published by the Friends of Horsham Museum, in conjunction with this exhibition.

Horsham Museum is open Monday-Saturday 10-5, admission free. The Museum will be open on Good Friday and Easter Monday but closed on other public holidays. For more information contact Jeremy Knight, Heritage & Museum Manager.

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