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MARKET TOWNS OF SUSSEX (from SDUK Penny Cyclopedia)

Petworth in 1842

Petworth is a market-town in the hundred of Rotherbridge and rape of Arundel, 49 miles south-west by south from London, on the high road to Arundel and Chichester. It is situated on an eminence above a small stream near the river Rother, from which it is supplied with water, raised by works erected by the late earl of Egremont.

The property originally formed part of the honor of Arundel, but was given by Adeliza, dowager queen of Henry I, to her brother Joceline de Louvaine, from whom it passed to the noble family of the Percys, lords of Petworth, and afterwards earls of Northumberland, and ultimately devolved upon Elizabeth, baroness Percy, only daughter and heiress of Joceline, eleventh earl. She married Charles Seymour, duke of Somerset, and her daughter Catherine carried the estates to the Wyndhams.

The mansion of the Percys backs upon the churchyard. In 1309 Henry de Percy had a licence and embattled his house at Petworth ; the house was new-fronted by the duke of Somerset, and greatly altered by the late possessor, George O’Brien, earl of Egremont, who adorned its galleries with the rarest specimens of ancient and modern sculpture, and added to the already rich collection of pictures.

A market is held on Saturdays. The market-place and court-house is in the centre of the town : it is a neat stone building, erected at the close of the last century by the earl of Egremont, and here are held the Easter and Epiphany sessions for the western division of the county. One of the first results of the philanthropic Act of 1782 for regulating prisons, procured at the instance of Mr. Howard, was the building, in 1785, of the house of correction at Petworth. It was built on two stories, over arcades : there was a cell for each prisoner, and the system of separate confinement was pursued here as successfully as at Horsham till the year 1816, when, in consequence of the increase of prisoners on the termination of the war, the structure of the prison was altered, and the prisoners were employed in the factory.

The church, dedicated to St. Mary, was erected about the time of Henry VII, and is a cruciform structure in the decorated style, to which an elegant spire has been added. The benefice is a rectory, in the deanery of Midhurst, and in 1835 the average net income was £856.

There are almshouses for 12 aged people, founded in 1624 by Thomas Thompson, but the number has been increased to fourteen, who each receive house-room and an allowance of £20 a-year. There is also a splendid endowment for twelve poor widows, founded in 1746 by Charles, duke of Somerset, and by a liberal interpretation of the terms of the endowment by the late earl of Egremont, between £700 and £800 are annually given in support of forty-eight females, of which twenty-two are in the almshouses.

There is a school for twenty poor children, founded in 1753 by Richard Taylor, and the earl of Egremont added in 1834 an endowment for twenty-five boys, to be taught gratis on the national system, and for fifteen more on payment of 2 pence a-week ; and also in 1833 an endowment for like numbers of girls, on similar conditions. The population in 1831 was 3,114.