Exciting New Displays as Horsham Museum & Art Gallery Re-Opens

Jeremy Knight, retiring long-term Curator of the Horsham Museum & Art Gallery

As the newly refurbished Horsham Museum & Art Gallery reopens Jeremy Knight, its Curator for some thirty-three years, is preparing to retire.

I ask Jeremy about his time at the museum, he replies “I arrived in 1988 and remember thinking what a fabulous building and collections and that feeling has deepened over time. Horsham and the District has such a rich history and cultural story which needs to be celebrated. The museum is the only organisation that brings those threads together and makes it accessible to the people who live here and visitors to the district.”

Building up the collection for future generations has required all of Jeremy’s deep knowledge and understanding of the history of Horsham and her district. Without him being here so much would have been lost.

Thanks to Jeremy Knight’s curatorship the Horsham Museum & Art Gallery’s reputation has grown beyond all measure. His vision and work has attracted the attention of curators and institutions ranging from Tate Britain, the V&A, the Royal Collections, the National Trust and the RA to name but a few. This reputation has brought extraordinary bequests, gifts and partnerships which most recently have included works by John Constable and the artist Vincent Lines.

Jeremy has always practiced servant leadership; what he does is always about the flourishing of others and not about self.

The new galleries tell the stories of Horsham, her industries, people and communities across centuries through wonderful objects. The new cabinets and displays bring the collections alive and it is as though you are discovering the objects for the very first time.

One of the newly refurbished displays with the Gruffalo

I notice a number of the displays are lower down. “They’re for the children.” Jeremy explains “It’s really important that all this is accessible to them and their families.” I agree, I have been coming to the Horsham Museum since I was a child.

Jeremy Knight has the qualities of a patron supporting artists, local historians and bibliophiles. Through his work at the museum he has created strong links with local people and enriched the heritage community.

He explains that he is looking forward to writing, and a PhD on The Book in the Museum. There is a fine new display of the important history of literature in the Horsham District.

I ask Jeremy about the reasons behind his leaving. He answers “The museum is a constant in people’s lives as the narratives and displays change reflecting the community. The refresh is a perfect moment, [the new layout] makes it possible to change the displays so that the museum can remain relevant to each generation in its turn. And it will allow those who take it forward to reflect their own and the public’s evolving interests.

All I have achieved and this exciting refurbishment has only been possible because of Horsham District Council’s support of the museum and me, and the help of the staff and volunteers.”

The refurbishment of the Horsham Museum & Art Gallery is a terrific footnote to Jeremy Knight’s long-term stewardship. You must see it.

This gifted and generous antiquarian has blessed us with his professionalism, knowledge and passion for the people and history of Horsham and her district. Jeremy Knight is deserving of our thanks.

Horsham District in 100 Objects

Geoffrey Sparrow’s sketch of the Crawley and Horsham Hunt in the Carfax

Jeremy Knight has distilled his extraordinary and unique knowledge of the heritage of the Horsham District into a newly published book which explores our common heritage through 100 objects.

The book was made possible by a grant awarded by the 2019 Horsham District Year of Culture and will provide a lasting legacy.

Learning, agriculture, industry, retail trade, domestic life and the military are just some of the topics covered by this remarkable book in a series of historical vignettes told through the objects

One of the stories relates to a Union Jack flag from Henfield which connects us with the poignant and powerful story of the Unknown Soldier laid to rest in Westminster Abbey.

A Great War Union Jack with a remarkable story from Henfield

Jeremy explains “The flag was used to cover one of four exhumed candidates for the Unknown Soldier who fell on the Western Front during the Great War. Their bodies were exhumed from the Somme, Arras, the Aisne and Ypres. Only one of these bodies was chosen to be buried at Westminster Abbey.”

I ask how the flag came to be in Henfield and Jeremy replies “Captain Brooks of the War Graves Registration Unit lived in Henfield. This flag was one of the smaller ones used to cover the bodies as they were stretchered from the battle grounds to bring them home. Brooks kept this smaller flag. It was hidden in Belgium during the Second World War. He donated it to the Royal British Legion in 1953 who in 1976 loaned it to St Peter’s Church in Henfield. It is still used there in the Services on Remembrance Sunday.”

I never cease to be humbled by the power of objects to unite us with our common heritage and give us a sense of place in the procession of human history.

I enjoy the work of Dr Geoffrey Sparrow and my eye is taken by a sketch of the Crawley and Horsham Boxing Day hunt gathered in Horsham’s Carfax. His pictures give expression to a love of horses and hunting and provide a fond but humorous insight into country life in and around Horsham between the wars.
As a small boy I watched the Crawley and Horsham Hunt riding out from the Carfax on Boxing Day with my Grandpa. The warm smell of the horses, the red hunting coats, the sounds of hooves on the tarmac, huntsmen’s horns and the hounds remain alive in my memory. Today the scene is very much one of history.
You can still see Horsham Museum’s exhibition displaying many of the objects illustrated in the book until 12th October.

‘The Horsham District in 100 Objects’ by Jeremy Knight is superb and beautifully illustrated. It distils thirty years of knowledge and understanding into a concise and accessible format. The book provides a superb companion and guide to a journey of discovery around the district and its rich heritage. It has just gone on sale at the museum and really deserves to be on your autumn reading list!

By Rupert Toovey, a senior director of Toovey’s, the leading fine art auction house in West Sussex, based on the A24 at Washington. Originally published in the West Sussex Gazette.