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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/