The oldest part of the building is the public room nearest the High Street, down the steps from the bar. It probably dates from the 15th century. It was part of the original hostelry which fronted onto the High Street. At that time one of Steyning’s public officials was the Ale Taster. His job was to ensure that beer was properly brewed and customers were fairly charged.
In the 1460’s and 1470’s 12 Steyning men and two women were charged with selling beer by the jug and not by stamped measure. Whether one of these was the landlord or landlady here we do not know. The earliest certain identification of the White Horse as an inn was in 1614 when William Holland, a Steyning born cloth merchant, bought it – in the same year that he endowed the Grammar School. From the profits of the Inn he willed that 50 poor people of the town should, between them, receive £5 a year in perpetuity. This payment, made by whoever owned the White Horse, continued until 1967.
The White Horse on the inn sign and, consequently, its name is taken from an element in the Duke of Norfolk’s coat of arms. The Duke had an interest in the inn because it was one of the ancient houses whose occupant could vote in parliamentary elections. In the 1790’s the original building on the High Street was considerably enlarged and modernised. A large “music gallery” was used by the magistrates for court hearings, for other public and social functions and for meetings.
Disaster struck in March 1949. Overnight a faulty fridge in the basement caught fire. The one guest staying that night smelt smoke and woke the landlord and his family. They got out safely but the whole building was ablaze. The Steyning Fire Brigade turned up, supported by five other brigades – but they couldn’t save the main part of the hotel. This was despite the fact that this was where the local crews used to test their engines by checking that the jets of water could clear the building. Luckily the wind was from the north-west on this occasion so the blaze didn’t spread down the High Street.
Rebuilding was considered but it was felt that the £30,000 they were quoted was too much. Instead they converted the stables and coach house into the bar and, in due course, the restaurant. In the past they had been busy stables but, by 1949, no longer. The inn was on one of the principal routes from London to Brighton and Worthing.