Tag Archives: Sussex

Secrets of the South Downs: Petworth House

PETWORTH HOUSE

Petworth House is located in the charming village of Petworth, West Sussex. The main body of the current house was commissioned by the the sixth (or “Proud”) Duke of Somerset between 1688 and 1696.  However, Petworth’s origins stretch as far back as the 12th century when the estate was gifted to Jocelin de Louvain, by his half-sister Adeliza of Louvain (widow of Henry I).  Jocelin married into the powerful Percy family whose stronghold was based in the north.  In 1309, Jocelin’s descendent Henry de Percy, 1st Baron Percy of Alnwick (1273–1314), obtained a licence to crenelate.  The Percy family were elevated to the Earldom of Northumberland during the 14th century, but it was not until the lifetime of the 8th Earl that Petworth saw a substantial rebuild between 1576 and 1582.  This was primarily due to the fact that queen Elizabeth I was suspicious of the Percy’s allegiance to Mary, Queen of Scots, so confined them to their southern estates.  The 9th Earl, also known as the ‘Wizard’ Earl due to his scientific interests, remodelled part of the house after 1621, of which part of the walls survive to the north of the building.

View from the landscaped park towards the principal front.
View from the landscaped park towards the principal front.

In 1682 Lady Elizabeth Percy, the heiress of the Percy estates, married Charles Seymour, 6th Duke of Somerset.  Together, they set about remodelling the largely outdated Petworth in the most fashionable style of the day: the Baroque.  It is debated whether the architect was Pierre Puget or Daniel Marot, but in truth, there is not enough evidence to conclusively say.  The house is 322 feet long and the main front has two principal storeys each with 21 large sash windows, and an attic storey with 21 smaller windows, thus creating an impressive elevation.  Above the first floor there is a heavily moulded cornice which runs the length of the elevation, and above the second floor (attic storey) there is a second cornice, with parapet and a decorative balustrade, to hide the roof.  The central three bay ground floor windows as well as the three at either end of the elevation are picked out with extra decoration: each have cornices with consoles.  The three windows at either end are also surmounted by busts.

Close up of the main elevation, showing the busts above the ground floor windows.
Close up of the main elevation, showing the busts above the ground floor windows.

The interiors followed in the Baroque taste and perhaps the most impressive of which is the Carved Room: the specacular work of Grinling Gibbons.   A fire in 1714 is said to have triggered the building of the Grand Staircase.  A breathtaking sight with its murals painted by the famous Louis Laguerre, it is even possible to spot Elizabeth, the Percy Heiress, riding in a triumphal chariot.  When the 6th Duke died in 1748, quickly followed by his son in 1750, the titles and estates were divided.  His son-in-law took the Northumberland estates and titles, and his nephew, Charles Wyndham (1710-1763) took Petworth and the title 2nd Earl of Egremont.  It was this heir who commissioned ‘Capability’ Brown to sweep away the formal gardens and re-landscape the park.  He also commissioned what is now regarded as one of the finest examples of an English Rococo state bed.  Attributed to James Whittle and Samuel Norman and dated to the 1750s, it is riot of detail, including a Chinese dragon, shells and a small squirrel  eating a nut.

View of the principal front.
View of the principal front.

The 3rd Earl of Egremont was a patron of the arts, and it is during his lifetime that he collected some of the finest art in existence.  Amongst his friends he could count JMW Turner and John Constable.  He added extensively to Petworth’s collection as a whole, and today the art collection is considered one of the best owned by the National Trust.  With works by Lely, Van Dyck, Turner, Titian, Kneller, Reynolds, Gainsborough and Claude, to name but a few.

Rotunda in the gardens.
The Ionic Rotunda in the gardens.

The National Trust was gifted Petworth in 1947 as the family were lumbered with extortionate death duties.  The current Lord and Lady Egremont continue to live in part of the house.

The beautiful parkland.
The beautiful parkland.

Petworth Park is a stunningly beautiful place to experience, dating back nearly 1000 years.  The park is home to a 900 strong herd of fallow deer which can often be glimpsed in the distance as they graze.  The serpentine lake, designed by Brown offers a lovely vista from the House.  Strolling through the Pleasure Grounds offers even more delightful views, such as the marvellous Ionic Rotunda, and the graceful Doric temple.

It cannot be denied that Petworth is a special place. Its beautiful setting, its fabulous collections, its delightful gardens, its charming restaurant, its tranquil park all serve to make it the perfect place to restore ones energies.

Secrets of the South Downs: Uppark House

UPPARK HOUSE & GARDENS

View of the south and west elevations.
View of the south and west elevations.

Uppark is located in the heart of the South Downs National Park, West Sussex.  It is happily situated on the top of a great hill commanding spectacular views over the surrounding countryside.  Built in 1689 by Ford Grey, 3rd Baron Grey of Warke, later created Earl of Tankerville in 1695.  Lord Grey lived a dangerous life; he was arrested in 1683 for his involvement in the Rye House Plot against King Charles II, but managed to escape to France.  Two years later he became one of the main leaders of the Monmouth Rebellion, leading the cavalry, but was defeated and condemned for high treason.  Remarkably, he escaped death by turning against his former conspirators.  Earlier, in 1682 he was even accused of seducing his wife’s sister, Lady Henrietta Berkeley, for which he was found guilty, but again, escaped punishment!  It is, therefore, remarkable that he ever found the time to build himself a country house at all.  The design of Uppark has been attributed to William Talman, which may explain its exemplary symmetry and simplicity.  It is constructed from red brick and comprises two main storeys, with attic and basement.

View of the principal elevation.
View of the principal elevation.

In 1747 the house was sold to Sir Matthew Fetherstonhaugh and his wife Sarah, and it is their coat of arms that is displayed prominently in the pediment on the south front.  They were also largely responsible for the delightful interiors, commissioning the extensive redecoration in the mid 18th century.  Sir Matthew and Lady Sarah embarked on a two year Grand Tour of Europe whilst work was being carried out and during this time they purchased much of collections that now fill Uppark.  The crowing glory of Uppark’s fabulous 18th century interiors must be the Saloon, which is attributed to James Paine, who also built Dover House in Whitehall for Sir Matthew.  Sir Matthew also commissioned the building of two balancing blocks located behind Uppark, an elegant stable block to the north-west and a service block containing a laundry and kitchen to the north-east.  Both are constructed of matching red brick and are adorned with decorative features, such as pediments and turret cupolas.  These service wings are both connected to the main house via underground tunnels, which enabled the servants to go about their work without being seen by their employers.

The edge of the south front with the stable block in the distance.
The edge of the south front with the stable block in the distance.

On the death of Sir Matthew in 1774, his only son and heir Harry inherited Uppark.  Sir Harry was a true Regency playboy and is well known for his friendship with the Prince Regent and his liaison with Emma Hart (who later became Lady Hamilton and Lord Nelson’s lover).  He scandalised society in 1825, by marrying his young dairymaid at the age of 70!  Nonetheless the marriage was very happy and lasted 20 years until his death at the age of 90.  Sir Harry commissioned Sir Humphry Repton to partially update Uppark in 1810, including the addition of a stone colonnade to the north front, a dairy and the landscaping of the gardens.

A closer view of the south front of the stable block.
A closer view of the south front of the stable block.

Tragedy struck Uppark on 30th August 1989 when a fire broke out, caused by builders using a blow torch for repairs up on the roof.  It destroyed the upper two storeys completely, but thankfully due to the dedication of the fire-fighters, staff, family and members of the public, as much of the collection that could be saved from the lower storeys were saved.  Although the main ground floor interior wasn’t gutted by fire, it was still damaged by the water, smoke and soot.  Amazingly, although Uppark came close to demolition at this point, the National Trust decided to embark on its largest conservation project to date.  Calling on skills and expertise from accross the country Uppark underwent an estimated £20 million restoration plan.  Such has been the success of the project that when walking around the house today it is nearly impossible to conceive that a fire ever ravaged the building.

View from the dairy towards the east front of Uppark.
View from the dairy towards the east front of Uppark.

Highlights of the collection include a magnificent 18th century dolls house with all of its original fixtures and fittings.  It is a remarkable sight because it is so interesting to glimpse the fashions and tastes prevalent in that era.  There are an array of fabulous paintings including works by Batoni, Zuccarelli and Vernet.  If the life of the servants is of interest, then the basement won’t disappoint with its wonderfully preserved and presented servants quarters, including the Housekeepers Room, Butlers Pantry and Beer Cellar.

View from Uppark looking out over the South Downs.
View from Uppark looking out over the South Downs.

Before you leave Uppark make sure that you: take a stroll around the gardens, enjoy the views of the South Downs, find the Gothic Seat designed by Repton, indulge in a tasty afternoon tea at the restaurant and browse the well-stocked gift shop!

Please visit: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/uppark/