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July 2006 

Sign of the times (a story from Horsham Museum)

At the beginning of 2006 one area of Horsham was gripped by public concern. Grubb Hill area, it was suggested, would be the ideal place for a sex shop, or rather a shop selling Adult material.  Ironically in 18th century London Grubb Street, later known as Fleet Street, was the place for journalists, hack writers, prostitutes and adult pleasure. 

A vigorous campaign to reject this proposal brought a former local trader to Horsham's attention as L H Mills, butcher, traded from the premises in Barrington Road earmarked for the adult shop.  Fortunately for Horsham Museum a descendant of Mr L H Mills asked if the Museum would like the old trade sign of the butchers shop.  So, in June, the Museum became owner of this magnificent trade sign, resplendent in pale blue, following in the Victorian and Edwardian tradition.

However, although the Museum is grateful for the sign, it stretches some 15 feet across and now hangs in the Wealden Farmer display, together with the story of the butchers together with some brilliant photographs of the business provided by the family. The sign, which complements others in the Museum's expanding collection of trade signs, captures the sense of pride in the business, the idea of tradition, service to the community and an idea of dependability. But the story of the butchery shows how patterns of shopping have changed and why such shops no longer exist.

The story begins with Lionel Harry Mills Snr opening his shop in 1929 taking over one of the Hammond Butcher shops. Lionel had a son, also named Lionel Harry, who wanted to work in the ironmongery trade but was persuaded to work in the butchery business with his father. Lionel Jnr took over the shop in 1936 at the age of 25 when his father retired, only to join the RAF three years later leaving his father to come out of retirement to deal with rationing and the black market. The shop originally had its own abattoir but later used others in the town, including Horsham Pork & Bacon.

Lionel Jnr married, had four sons, the oldest also being called Lionel Harry. Lionel Jnr expanded the business gaining a regional reputation that was rewarded when elected President of the Master Butchers for the South of England. By the mid 1960's there were 11 independent butchers in Horsham alone. Lionel Jnr's son, Lionel (grandson) took over a now changing business - it was the early 70's and supermarkets were muscling in to the meat market. By the 1980's trade had declined so substantially that running the butchery became more and more uneconomic.  Lionel (grandson) also had a son named Lionel (great-grandson) who worked as a butcher/slaughter man at Horsham Bacon in Foundry Lane, helping out at the shop on Saturdays.  In November1999, however, the business closed its doors for the last time.

It wasn't until the spectre of an adult shop hung over the locality that the sign and its history were presented to the Museum; a realisation that times are changing with the trend towards supermarkets rather than specialist local traders. Fortunately for the museum and the history of Horsham one such specialist business has had its past captured.