This month's Culture Chat takes us to The Horton Arts Centre in Epsom. I chatted with Elin Joseph, Marketing and Sales Coordinator, who shared some of the history of this beautifully restored building, an arts and culture treasure for the community.
'A magnificent new destination for creative arts, heritage and events, created within an iconic and historically significant chapel space.'
Article by Luna Russell
The Horton is a Grade II listed building that until recently had been empty since the 1990s. Before then it was a chapel, built at the beginning of the 1900s as part of the 'Epsom Cluster' which were five psychiatric hospitals built by London County Council. There were five chapels, but only the Horton survived, and in 2016 the Chapel Arts & Heritage Society worked tirelessly to develop a business plan and raise funds to restore the building and open its doors as an arts venue to the residents of Epsom and the surrounding areas. Elin says 'it's just a 20-minute walk from the town centre, and there is a regular bus service, E9, running past the door, making it a perfect venue for music concerts, theatre performances and art workshops.'
Originally a chapel for those living and working at the psychiatric hospital, The Horton, with its barrelled ceilings and grand pillars, offered ample space for all faiths to come together. Elin says that 'staff came from all over the world and settled in Epsom, raising their families here and staying after the hospitals had closed.'
As Elin shows me around, she points out the original parquet flooring that has been painstakingly lifted, restored, and re-laid. The original organ pipes sit proudly above the box office; I assume that these have been painted as part of the new décor but Elin tells me 'that's what they looked like originally, and their colours have influenced the accented areas we have painted, predominately in the café.' As we head over to this area, I am struck by the curved stained-glass window above the bar and the dark blue ceiling painted with gold stars, making the space feel inviting and unique.
The functioning chapel had rows of pews; some have been restored as part of a Heritage Lottery-funded permanent exhibition at The Horton. The work explores the lives of those who spent time at the hospital. Their voices were captured through interviews, hospital records, and images stored at the Surrey History Centre and Bourne Hall Museum.
Reading the exhibition panels and the accompanying guide it is clear that, whilst the Horton operated within the hospital structure, there was a true sense of community. Elin tells me 'during the 1960s part of the chapel was annexed to create a space where music therapy sessions could take place and concerts performed.' It is fitting that on the day I visit, a candle-lit music concert takes place the same evening.
The Horton echoes the past, from the sensitive restoration to the permanent exhibition, but the Horton Charity continues to work hard as they plan for the future. The Horton currently opens from Wednesday to Saturday with a diverse arts programme ranging from yoga sessions to life drawing, all genres of music, theatre, comedy and social events in the bar.
As I say goodbye to Elin, I hear the chatter of friends having lunch in the café and a group discovering more of the history of this unique building as they walk through the exhibition. The heart of the community is present at The Horton; what a wonderful space for Epsom's residents and visitors.
Learn more about the Horton in Epsom