Secrets of the South Downs: Parham House & Gardens

PARHAM HOUSE & GARDENS

South elevation of Parham.
South elevation of Parham.

Before the present house existed, there was once a fortified medieval house, and some of this building was incorporated into Parham’s east wing. Parham Manor, later owned by the Abbey of Westminster, was granted by Henry VIII to Robert Palmer in 1540 following the Dissolution of the Monasteries.  Thirty seven years later the foundation stone for the Elizabethan house was laid by Robert’s two-year old grandson Thomas.

Part of the north and west elevations.
Part of the north and west elevations.

The house is built of stone rubble with stone quoins, with a Horsham slab roof, and many brick chimneys.  The main elevation is south facing and is built to the traditional E plan, with a central hall with a two storey porch, flanked at either end by two gabled cross-wings.  The porch, which was probably the original entrance, has a doorway which is flanked by pilasters, and surmounted by a cornice and a cartouche.  Such classical detailing would have been an expression of the owners taste and learning.

The Stables and Laundry Wing built in the 18th century.
The Stables and Laundry Wing built in the 18th century.

At the beginning of the 17th century the estate was sold to Sir Thomas Bisshopp (also spelt Bysshopp), whose descendent Sir Cecil Bisshopp became the twelfth Baron Zouche in 1815.  During the 18th century Sir Cecil Bisshopp, the 6th Baronet, built the current Stables and Laundry Wing to the north of the house.  The Bisshopp family remained at Parham for over 300 years until it was eventually sold to the present Pearson family in 1922.  The Hon. Clive and Alicia Pearson set about carefully restoring the beautiful old house to its former glory.  Both they and their daughter Veronica amassed a fine collection of sympathetically chosen furniture, paintings and textiles to fill the house.  Alicia opened the house to the public in 1948 following the end of the Second World War.

One of the beautiful greenhouses.
One of the beautiful greenhouses in the garden.

The Great Hall is a spectacular example of how a wealthy, ambitious courtier wished to show off his status.  The tall mullioned windows fill the huge two-storey room with light.  The decorative panelling reaches to the first floor, and is filled with classical pilasters and arches.  Parham’s most fabulous treasure is hidden in this room: Robert Peake’s portrait of Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales, riding a white horse.  This portrait, of James I’s eldest son, portrays him as the popular, strong, war-like, intelligent heir to the English throne that he was considered to be.  He is shown to be pulling the winged figure of Father Time by the forelock, possibly symbolising Henry’s capability of  “taking opportunity by the forelock” (a contemporary saying).  It was not until the portraits restoration in the late 1980’s that the figure of Father Time, the plumed helmet, lance and brick wall were revealed for the first time to modern eyes.  They had been painted over in the late 17th century.  Unfortunately, all the hopes and dreams that had rested on Prince Henry wilted away when he died tragically young at the age of 18 from typhoid fever.

One of the entrances to the Walled Garden.
One of the entrances to the Walled Garden.

Parham consist of seven acres of Pleasure Grounds and four acres of wonderful gardens.  The current Walled Garden originates from the 18th century and is a delightful mixture of vibrant colours, ornamental statues, box hedges, herbaceous boarders and interlinking paths,  There’s a romantic orchard with a range of fruit trees, a herb garden which harps back to Parham’s Tudor roots, a Wendy House built in 1928 by Clive Pearson for his three daughters, flower-filled greenhouses, and an 18th century Orangery.  The Pleasure Grounds consist of sweeping lawns and pathways, a tranquil lake and specimen trees dating from the 18th century, a classically inspired Summer House called Cannock House from the early 19th century, and Veronica’s maze created in 1991.  On a warm summers day, there really is nowhere better to escape to.

One of the many ornamental statues.
One of the many ornamental statues.

Parham Park comprises 875 acres, including an historic deer park with approximately 350 fallow deer, a fine dovecote dating from the 18th century and the church of St. Peter which lies south-west to the main house.

The lake and boathouse.
The lake and boathouse.

Parham is still enjoyed by the Pearson family and as such it’s opening times are restricted.  This should not deter you as it still retains its family feel and makes a visit feel all the more special.

Please refer to the link for more information: http://www.parhaminsussex.co.uk/index.html

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