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HORLEY LOCAL HISTORY CENTRE
On Wednesday 15 November 1995 the “Horley Local History Centre” desk came into being in Horley Library. So from that date on, the “Desk” has opened every Tuesday 3-5 pm and Saturday 11 am -1 pm to answer any historical query about the locality. Yes, it is now in its 21st year.
The setting up of this completely free facility came about by a desire of the “Horley Local History Society” to make available to everyone its historical knowledge about the town and locality. At the same time the Surrey County Council was tasked to do the same thing with its historical knowledge and the idea of the “DESK” was conceived.
It is manned entirely by volunteers from the History Society and the “DESK” has a dedicated section within the Library. Since it opened it has handled many queries, well over 1500 in the last 5 years. Some dealt with in 5 minutes, others lasting over several visits. Not only does it attempt to answer those who personally visit the “DESK”, but it also answers the many emails received from all over the world, some requiring many weeks of continued interaction.
As one volunteer said, “it is extremely fascinating as you never know what the next query will be about. For example we recently had an enquiry from a German owner of a 1930s Bentley car who wished to know about a garage in Horley by the name of Hunt, who he said was responsible many years ago for modifying the coachwork of his car? We even learned a lot more ourselves.” It was by the way at Salfords, where the second-hand car sales site is today.
A lady enquirer phoned one day to ask where the WW1 hostel for Belgium families was in Horley? We had no idea. Her husband was billeted with a Belgium family during WW2 and both families became the best of friends. During one of their recent visits one of their Belgium son-in-law’s took them for a car ride around the Belgium countryside and remarked that his father was born in England during WW1 but did not know where. When the lady returned home to the UK she immediately applied for the father’s birth certificate that boldly gave his birth place as Hostel in Horley. Hence her phone enquiry. One volunteer realised that we had a WW1 post card of a group of Belgium refugees that stated it was taken in Horley so we copied it and it was sent to the son-in-law. He in turn showed it to an elderly aunt who recognised many in the photo and pointed to a babe in arms and said this was your father!
Many of the enquiries received are far more involved than the two examples above and often take weeks to research with several letters and emails to follow. Frequently they add to the Centre’s knowledge and to our photographic archives. Some add to our knowledge so extensively that it is thought so important as to produce the subject as a history note or monograph to place on the library shelves with a copy to the Surrey History Centre. In this way we are building up Horley’s heritage for all to read about. (For details of past, present and planned publications see www.horleyhistory.org.uk and follow the link to Publications) Some we give permission to those still building up their own knowledge on the subject, to use what the Centre has produced. (Eg see www.wadhurst.demon.co.uk and follow the history link for High Trees School at Horley).
The Centre also maintains a constant and varying photographic exhibition on different subjects that is found to be of great interest to the general public when just visiting the library. Volunteers are always ready to discuss with those who view them which often leads to other local enquiries that were not initially intended.
This type of activity relieves the full-time library staff of having to deal with such enquiries while at the same time having a facility akin to a semi-professional arm about local history within the library. This in turn can often interest the general public to take up the study of the subject and help to improve the desirability and knowledge of the area.
Another benefit is to the Surrey History Centre through Centre volunteers suggesting to enquirers perhaps they should carry out further research there. This was one of the prime reasons for the initial idea to set up such centres back in 1994/5 as mentioned above.
There are now 7 such Local History Centres within Surrey, some servicing larger community areas but all benefit by knowing what others are doing. Horley set up the very first in Surrey and won an auspicious award for doing so..
Brian Buss 01.06.16