Who was this Sussex pedestrian?

3 May

I have been reading about pedestrianism recently, I suppose pedestrianism is probably what would be known as race walking these days. My interest stems from the “celebrated Captain Barclay” who once lodged with my GEERING ancestors in Hailsham, Sussex.

It helps that I like walking, however my style of walking is not the same as these pedestrians, less about speed and more about having the time to take everything in and enjoy myself.

I was browsing a copy of the 1813 book Pedestrianism by Walter Thom (available on Google Books) when I discovered the following passage:

Thomas Miller, of Cowford in Sussex, on the 7th of July 1795, walked from the market-house at Horsham to Westminster Bridge-a distance of thirty-six miles-in five hours and fifty minutes, with apparent ease.

I wasn’t sure whether to be pleased or not. I was pleased to discover a Sussex pedestrian, especially one so close to home. Cowford is almost certainly meant to be Cowfold (which is just up the road from me) and Horsham is my closest town, which I pass through every day on my way to work.

I was a little disappointed that Thomas Miller had walked one of the routes I was intending to walk this year, and what is more he had done it in a time that would put my feeble efforts to shame.

The idea came to me last year as I was sitting on the train on my way home from work, watching the milestones at the side of the track. I noticed that we were only about thirty miles from London (or a couple of days comfortable walking). It was then I remembered a milestone in Horsham alongside the park (pictured left) indicating the 36 miles to Westminster Bridge.

At first I thought that with a bit of judicious planning I could probably find a more direct route, following footpaths rather than roads, but then I thought it might be more interesting to try to follow the route of the original road to London.

I have done some preliminary work on the route, but I haven’t finalised my plans yet. In a way the discovery that someone else had already walked the route over two hundred years ago adds more to the story, especially if I could find out more.

Unfortunately my initial efforts at finding out more about Thomas Miller have proved fruitless (no sign of him in the Cowfold parish register transcriptions), but I don’t really have a lot of information to go on. Hopefully I can find another account of the walk which might provide more details.

Copyright © 2011 John Gasson.

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