Over the centuries people have journeyed along ancient Sussex lanes in the shadow of the Downs. These Pilgrim routes brought people to the important bridge at Bramber and to St Mary’s House and Gardens which still welcomes visitors today.
In Saxon and medieval times Steyning was an important port. The Adur estuary was much wider than it is today. In the late 11th century William de Braose had built the castle at Bramber to protect the estuary and town.
A great stone bridge, now lost, crossed the Adur. It was built with a chapel upon it. The Priory at Sele had responsibility for its upkeep and repair. The bridge at St Ives in Cambridgeshire was built in the 1420s. With its bridge chapel it allows us to glimpse what the bridge at Bramber may have looked like. The bridge at Bramber would have brought pilgrims to St Mary’s House. In those days this Hospitalier house would have provided rest and accommodation to travellers. The rooms were arranged around an enclosed courtyard. Visitors today can still see the east wing with its rare interiors, painted panels and collections. The house is a good example of the use of jettying. Technically and aesthetically it marked a significant development in vernacular architecture. The use of close set vertical timbers is known as close studding. This decorative type of construction became widespread in Sussex in the 15th century.
Thanks to the generosity of Peter Thorogood, who bought St Mary’s House in 1984, and Roger Linton, the house and gardens still offer great hospitality. They have spent more than 30 years conserving this remarkable house and creating a series of gardens.
From the time of the Roman Emperor, Constantine, roses have been associated with the veneration of Jesus Christ’s mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary, after whom St Mary’s house is named. The rose garden at the house is at its best right now. The gardens, designed by Roger Linton and restored by an army of volunteers, gift us with space in the busyness of our modern lives, a generous punctuation mark – time to imagine and to be.
Peter Thorogood and Roger Linton are deserving of our thanks. These generous custodians have always wanted to share St Mary’s with others and it is their intention that St Mary’s will remain accessible and at the heart of the local community for future generations.
St Mary’s House and gardens are open to the public throughout the summer season on Sunday afternoons and Bank Holiday Mondays. For further details go to www.stmarysbramber.co.uk or telephone 01903 816205.
By Rupert Toovey, a senior director of Toovey’s, the leading fine art auction house in West Sussex, based on the A24 at Washington. Originally published in the West Sussex Gazette.