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The Story of Horsham Gingerbread

Gingerbread, that ever popular bread or biscuit, has a centuries old tradition. Horsham, in West Sussex, was known far and wide for its own version of this delicacy.

In July 1803, Percy Bysshe Shelley, who lived just outside Horsham at Field Place, Warnham, wrote to an aunt, asking her to buy some gingerbread from a Horsham market to take on a picnic. Some sixty years later the gingerbread industry in Horsham was at its height, with gingerbread makers ( Maker and Moulds) throughout the town using their own carved wooden moulds to produce a variety of different sizes and shapes of gingerbread. But in 1917 Horsham’s last gingerbread maker, Mr Lovekin, died, and with him his secret recipe. Bakewell continued to be famous for its tarts, Banbury its cakes; Bath its buns, but Horsham was no longer known for its gingerbread. *The surviving finely carved wooden moulds from the town’s many makers which were in the care of Brighton museum, have now been returned to Horsham, and are now on permanent display at the Horsham museum.( Makers/Mounds)

The Modern Day Story of Horsham Gingerbread

In 2009, Jeremy Knight, Curator of Horsham Museum, found a 200 year old recipe book for sale which had an important connection with Horsham. Written by a member of the Shelley family, it contained, in a fine clear hand,
a recipe for gingerbread, but not the kind of easy-to-follow recipe that we would recognise today. Without the advantage of modern ovens with thermostats, cooks recorded recipes that were rather vague about cooking times and temperatures. (Old Recipes) The museum bought the book, and between 2011 and 2012 Lesley Ward spent a whole year painstakingly trying to recreate its gingerbread recipe, using modern cooking methods. Members of her dedicated tasting team (family + Horsham museum staff and volunteers) slowly munched their way through numerous batches of gingerbread, until the recipe was perfected. No one tired of its luscious flavour; all were happy to try yet another sample in the interests of reviving a little bit of lost Horsham history. Like all good cooks, Lesley eventually added her own twist to the recipe. The original mix of ingredients often produced great variations in texture: sometimes the gingerbreads were pleasantly chewy, sometimes too hard. The addition of rolled oats was the answer. This ingredient resulted in a consistent, softer, chewier gingerbread, which still captured the rich flavours of Regency England.

Gingerbread makers in Horsham would have sourced their flour from local mills. Horsham Gingerbread is continuing this tradition by using flour milled by Lurgashall Mill, which is a working mill at the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum, Singleton, Chichester, West Sussex. http://www.wealddown.co.uk/

Escape to the Country

The story was also featured by the BBC an excerpt is available on this site click here