A New High Sheriff at Parham

The High Sheriff of West Sussex, Lady Emma Barnard, in the Great Hall at Parham
The High Sheriff of West Sussex, Lady Emma Barnard, in the Great Hall at Parham

Lady Emma Barnard is embarking on her year as High Sheriff of West Sussex. This ancient role, dating back to Saxon times, brings together important threads in the life of our nation and County.

We meet at Lady Emma’s Sussex home, Parham House. Thanks to Emma and her family’s stewardship Parham is a gathering and generous place. The April spring weather blesses us with a moment of warmth and light as we sit and talk. She is clearly excited about the coming year and says “I’m really looking forward to celebrating and acknowledging the quiet heroes in West Sussex; those people who add to the richness of life in our county by constantly contributing in so many ways without seeking praise or recognition.” I comment that the exceptional is so often to be found in the everyday and she agrees.

The Hon. Clive and Mrs Alicia Pearson, Lady Emma’s great-grandfather and a former High Sheriff of West Sussex
The Hon. Clive and Mrs Alicia Pearson, Lady Emma’s great-grandfather and a former High Sheriff of West Sussex

Lady Emma explains that she is not the first High Sheriff to live at Parham “There have only been three families who have lived at Parham and each family has fulfilled the office of High Sheriff. Thomas Palmer was the first in 1571. He inherited Parham from his father and was much regarded by Elizabeth I. The Bisshopps were next. Thomas Bisshopp was High Sheriff in 1583 before he bought Parham in 1601. His son, Sir Edward, held the office in 1636 under Charles I. The Hon. Robert Curzon followed under William IV in 1834. Then there was my great-grandfather, Clive Pearson, who fell in love with Parham and carefully restored this fine Elizabethan house during the 1920s and ‘30s. I have inherited his delight in sharing the joys of Parham with visitors. It is extraordinary to think that he was the High Sheriff in 1940 as the Battle of Britain was being fought in the skies over Sussex.”

Like Parham the role of High Sheriff is steeped in history. Originally known as Shire Reeves they were Royal officials appointed to enforce the King’s interests in the County. In particular they were responsible for the collection of revenues and the enforcement of law and order. Their extensive powers included the right to summon a ‘posse comitatus’, a military force, to enforce the law. It has often been suggested that it was Queen Elizabeth I who first marked the appointment of her High Sheriffs by pricking their names through on the Sheriff’s Roll. In fact there are earlier vellum examples dating back to the reign of Henry VII. Nevertheless the tradition of the Monarch pricking the names of the High Sheriffs continues to this day.

The role of the High Sheriff today is rooted in its history. Lady Emma will be called upon to support the Royal Family, the Lord-Lieutenant, the Judiciary, the Police, the emergency services, local authorities, and the Church and faith groups. Hospitality to visiting High Court Judges and promoting the voluntary organisations in West Sussex will also be central to Lady Emma’s shrieval year.

Despite the duties of High Sheriff Lady Emma and her team are excitedly preparing for the coming Easter weekend when Parham will once again welcome visitors, as it has done for centuries, as the House and Gardens once again open to the public.

Parham House and Park in the spring sunshine
Parham House and Park in the spring sunshine

In the grounds to the south of the house, beyond the ha-ha, is St Peter’s Church. The family’s pew still has its own fireplace but with beautiful weather forecast they shouldn’t need to light it this Easter. The Easter Sunday Holy Communion starts at 10am. The church remains open all day so you might decide to attend the service or perhaps just take time to be, to rest, to reflect and pray as part of your visit to Parham.

Parham House and Gardens opens this Easter Sunday 16th April 2017 at 2pm and 12pm respectively and last admissions are at 4.30pm. For more information go to www.parhaminsussex.co.uk or telephone 01903 742021.

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.

Celebrating our Quintessential Affair with the Garden

Sweet peas in the cut flower beds at Parham
Sweet peas in the cut flower beds at Parham

This week I am visiting Parham House in West Sussex as preparations for their 22nd annual Garden Weekend are in full swing. For me this quintessential celebration of our passion for gardening is one of the highlights of the Sussex summer calendar. This year’s event will be opened by the celebrity gardener and broadcaster, Rachel de Thame.

Head Gardener, Tom Brown, at Parham House

As I arrive at Parham the scene is one of great activity. An enormous cherry picker fills the courtyard, they have been tending the ancient roses on the walls of the house. Lady Emma Barnard greets me with a wave from the far side of the fountain as Head Gardener, Tom Brown, welcomes me. Tom and I walk through an ancient wooden archway and door, its russet paint complimenting the silver grey of the stone buildings. On the other side the stillness which gathers you at Parham is immediately apparent.

As we walk towards the walled garden Tom begins to talk about the gardens and his role as Parham’s Head Gardener. His face is alive with enthusiasm as he says “The garden is bigger than all of us. It’s humbling to look at how this garden behaves and its needs.” I remark on how I have always loved the naturalistic planting at Parham. Its swathes of colour and textures interact with the movement of light and a gentle breeze in the walled gardens. Tom responds “The palette of the plants is very important to the ‘Parham way’, as are the big opulent artistic borders. But this is underpinned by a rigour in the way we approach our work in the garden.” It quickly becomes apparent that I am in the company of an accomplished and sensitive horticulturist who has the rare gift of observing well. He describes how he is attentive to the way that plants respond to the garden and also people’s reactions to it. There is a quality of the relational, a deep sense of stewardship, in Tom’s approach. It is also clear that he has an awareness of his place in the ongoing story of this ancient house and garden and an understanding of the responsibilities of his position.

The Greenhouse at Parham being tended by Peta and Henry
The Greenhouse at Parham being tended by Peta and Henry

Our conversation turns to Tom’s team and the creativity it embodies. He talks with obvious respect and pride as he describes how Peta, Henry, Max, Jake and Sam bring different gifts and experience. He remarks “There is a sense of ownership for all of us with belonging to a team.” This is a team defined by respectful dialogue. There is respect both for the members of the team and the garden.

As we talk a visitor approaches us. She expresses her pleasure in the garden and Tom is clearly delighted. He stands and listens carefully to her question about planting in the shade of her garden. He responds generously and with expert advice.

Tom is clearly grateful for the time he spent at Wisley but his pleasure in the ‘canvas’ of these gardens, that Lady Emma’s patronage has given him to work on, is unmistakeable. Tom brings his generosity of spirit and depth of expertise to his role as he facilitates and leads the ongoing vision for these gardens. He loves the domestic qualities of his position too. He always ensures that there is a basket of fresh vegetables for Emma and her family when they return home and wonderful cut flowers for the house. That the gardens bless the family is very important to him. His generous care for the gardens, his team, the visitors, Lady Emma and her family is underpinned by the relational in all that he does. Tom is richly deserving of our thanks.

Parham House and Garden’s ‘Garden Weekend’ is on this coming Saturday and Sunday, 11th and 12th July 2015, 10.30am to 5.00pm. For more information go to www.parhaminsussex.co.uk or telephone 01903 742021. Tickets include the wonderful gardens and entry to the house and its superb collections. There will be a number of specialist nurseries and the opportunity to be inspired and take home some wonderful stock for your gardens. Don’t miss out on the marvellous cut summer flower arrangements in the house and the flower festival in St Peter’s church. I hope to see you there!

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 8th July 2015 in the West Sussex Gazette.

Embroidered into the Rich Threads of Sussex History

Parham House

This week I am visiting Lady Emma Barnard at Parham House and Gardens. As we walk through this wonderful house, I am struck by the quality of the famous needlework in the collection. We come to the Great Chamber and are greeted by the gentle light of this spring afternoon. Lady Emma’s great-grandparents, Clive and Alicia Pearson, bought Parham in 1922 and set about restoring the house and gardens after years of neglect. The Great Chamber was remodelled in 1924 to become Alicia Pearson’s bedroom.

Lady Emma Barnard beside the Great Bed at Parham House and Gardens

At the heart of the room is the Great Bed. Emma explains: “My great-grandfather, Clive Pearson, purchased the bed from Wroxton Abbey in Oxfordshire and brought it to Parham. It is partly Tudor and probably from the court of Henry VIII.”

The exquisite headboard, backcloth, canopy and bedspread are delicately embroidered with interwoven monograms and fleurs-de-lys within an overall design of flower and leaf tendrils. It is thought that they date from about 1585 and are of French or Italian workmanship. The two sets of curtains, pelmets and valances are also rare. They date from around 1620 and are worked with flame stitch embroidery.

Emma quickly draws my attention to an extraordinary mid-17th-century embroidered panel depicting ‘The Finding of Moses’. She remarks enthusiastically, “My husband, James, and I love this piece. It was a great favourite of Great-aunt Veronica’s too.” Veronica Tritton lived at Parham before Emma and her family.

The scene depicted on this needlework panel is from the Old Testament story in Exodus, chapter 2, in which Pharaoh orders all the newborn Israelite boys to be killed. Moses is hidden by his mother in a cradle amongst the bulrushes of the Nile. Pharaoh’s daughter discovers Moses and brings him up as her son. The story of Moses is one of obedience, leadership and salvation. Lady Emma points to the three women in the scene and exclaims, “Look how surprised they are to find him; they’ve two sets of eyebrows! It’s so finely worked, thirty stitches to the inch, and the details are amazing. Look at the sun with a face, the caterpillar, grasshopper, leopard and even a kingfisher with a fish in its beak. The more you look at it, the more fantastic it is. But those eyebrows, so surprised.” This family favourite is signed with the embroidered initials ‘ML’ and dated ‘1644’.

‘The Finding of Moses’, an embroidered christening cushion dated 1644

The embroidery of ‘The Finding of Moses’ at Parham has traditionally been considered to be a christening cushion. The textile specialist and conservator Dr Mary M. Brooks has suggested that this particular scene might reasonably be interpreted as reflecting concerns about political loyalties, issues surrounding royal succession and personal concerns, such as the safe upbringing of male heirs at this time.

These interpretations and the date of the panel, 1644, have a significance for Parham and its history. On 6th January 1644 Arundel Castle was surrendered to Sir William Waller, leader of the Parliamentarians, during the English Civil War. Amongst the prominent ‘hostages’ from the besieged castle, demanded by Waller as part of the treaty of surrender, was Sir Edward Bishopp, 2nd Baronet and owner of Parham. Sir Edward had fought at Winchester, Portsmouth and Arundel for the Royalist cause. He was taken to the Tower of London and heavily fined by the House of Commons.

Returning to the kitchen, we sit drinking tea in this timeless place, looking out over the park and gardens. I am reminded how important objects can be in bringing the common narrative of our island nation’s history to life.

Lady Emma and her family bring such life to Parham through their delight in this place, its history, collections and their desire to share it with others. We are blessed that Parham has such passionate, dedicated and generous custodians.

Parham House and its collections provide a window to our past and our future. Whether you are visiting for the first time or returning, Parham never fails to captivate and delight anew.

Parham House and Gardens are open until the end of September on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, Sundays and this May Bank Holiday Monday, at 2pm and 12pm respectively, closing at 5pm. For more information go to www.parhaminsussex.co.uk or telephone 01903 742021.

Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 20th May 2015 in the West Sussex Gazette.

Parham House and Gardens’ Annual Garden Weekend

Parham House and Garden
Gardener and patron, Peta Ashton and Lady Emma Barnard, in conversation in the Tudor herb garden at Parham House and Gardens

This week I am visiting the walled gardens in the lead up to one of the highlights of the Sussex summer calendar: Parham House and Gardens’ famous ‘Garden Weekend’. This year’s celebration of gardening at Parham will be opened on Saturday by the BBC Gardeners’ World presenter Joe Swift.

I love the stillness that gathers you in the walled gardens at Parham. It transports you, separating you from the business of life. To create a garden of this subtlety, depth and beauty requires a sensitivity to place, light, the elements and the seasons.

Tom Brown, Head Gardener at Parham, leads a team of gifted people, whose creativity allows this sublime garden to honour the past while remaining forward-looking. I am excited to be meeting Peta Ashton, a gardener and member of this team, whose individuality and talent is apparent in her work in the Parham gardens.

Lady Emma Barnard and I walk from her wonderful house to the gardens and she leaves me in the path between the long borders as she goes off to find Peta. If you have ever dared to still yourself and stand in a landscape, you will know that out of the silence your senses become heightened. You become more alive. Sounds, colours and movement reveal themselves to you. As I stand between these borders with the warmth of the sun upon my face, the wind and shadows cause the soft planting to dance. I become aware of the swathes of colour and their relationships to one another, which, together with the textures of flowers and foliage, form complex compositions. The gentle breeze plays upon the leaves. There is a rhythm and wholeness, born out of this rich canvas. Lady Emma appears with Peta, the sound of their voices and feet on the gravel paths marking their approach.

Borders at Parham House and Gardens
Peta Ashton’s sublime borders at Parham

The borders which have just captured my imagination and gathered me are the work and inspiration of Peta Ashton. I remark on my experience of this particular part of the garden. She listens thoughtfully. Her face breaks into a gentle smile beneath her broad-brimmed hat, evidently pleased by my unexpected response to her work. I ask her what has influenced the garden layout. She replies, “The gardens are laid out in the ‘Old Parham Way’ with secret and open spaces.” There is much talk today of garden rooms but it would seem that this is nothing new at Parham.

Together the three of us walk towards another of Peta’s creations, the restored herb garden, which is bordered by a tall yew hedge of dark green hue. Entering through an arch cut into the hedge, we find ourselves in a secret, sunny garden. A circular stone pond with a lead putto is framed by tall herbs. Excitedly Peta leads Emma and me around the herb garden, delighting in the names, the foliage and the characters of each individual plant. It is apparent that we are in the company of a generous and passionate plantswoman, who expresses her hopes and fears for each of them in turn.

In Tudor times, when Parham was built, herbs were used for their culinary, medicinal and strewing properties. Herbs would be strewn on the floors and surfaces of homes to deter insects and to disinfect, as well as for their fragrant qualities. In this enclosed garden, I am reminded that herbs were associated with the monastic tradition in medicine. It is these influences which are expressed in the disciplined, balanced planting. Peta explains that this would be defeated if it was too ornamental. There is a sense of working with nature and history.

The Gardens at Parham House
A view from the gardens looking towards the house and Sussex Downs

I ask Peta how she comes to imagine and create these remarkable borders and gardens. She pauses for a moment, considering her reply, and then says, “The borders come out of being in this space in silence. It is the combination of this inner criterion and influences from outside which I try to work with.” Being attentive to nature, colour, form and movement requires a particular quality of engagement and a generous discipline – a combination of relationship with our environment and an attempt to shut out the white noise of our lives and be truly present, undistracted in the given moment. It is a form of meditation, of prayer. Peta clearly understands this and it gifts her creativity and remarkable vision with depth and subtlety. She is both artist and gardener.

Calling and vocation can be expressed in infinite ways. Peta Ashton’s sense of vocation towards her work, like her gardens, is inspiring. It is bound up with her very personhood. Like so much at Parham House and Gardens, Peta’s tremendously personal expression of creativity is possible thanks to the patronage and involvement of Lady Emma.

Sheltered by the warm hues of the old brick garden walls covered in lichen, these gardens have a remarkable ability to gather and engage people. Families find a gentle place to wander in conversation, their time in the garden informed by the beauty around them. Keen horticulturists will pause to explore the subtleties and effects of the planting and compositions before them. Whatever your approach, though, you cannot fail to wander in this beautiful place without being moved by it.

I am looking forward to the Parham House and Gardens’ ‘Garden Weekend’ this Saturday and Sunday, 12th and 13th July 2014, 10.30am to 5.00pm. For more information go to www.parhaminsussex.co.uk or telephone 01903 742021. Tickets include the wonderful gardens and entry to the house and its superb collections. There are Parham plants for sale too – wonderful stock – so don’t forget to treat yourselves!

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 9th July 2014 in the West Sussex Gazette.

The Art of the Garden at Parham House

Cascading summer flowers in the Great Hall at Parham
Cascading summer flowers in the Great Hall at Parham

The park and gardens at Parham reflect a timeless English love of landscape and horticulture. They contain many rare specimens, ranging from lichens to ancient oaks, which work in concert with the surrounding downland landscape. In the walled garden, the swathes of summer flowers, box-hedged ornamental vegetables and espalier fruit trees are complemented by an array of medieval and Tudor culinary and medicinal herbs.

Lady Emma and James Barnard
Lady Emma and her husband, James Barnard, delighting in the cutting beds in Parham’s walled gardens

Regular readers of this column will know that Clive and Alicia Pearson bought Parham in 1922 and set about restoring the house and gardens after years of neglect. Mrs Pearson loved to fill the house with fresh-cut summer flowers, arranged in what she called the “Parham way”. Lady Emma Barnard, the current custodian of Parham House and gardens, acknowledges her great-grandmother’s influence on the walled garden today. “Alicia’s love of blocks of colour and fluid forms is reflected in the naturalistic effect of the planting in the garden,” she says. “My great-grandmother wrote instructions on the flower arrangements for the house, especially in relation to colours, so that they would complement the collections of the rooms in which they were placed. We still follow her notes today!”

Mrs Pearson’s tastes reflected those of her generation. She embraced the modern whilst keeping a firm eye on the past. The famous florist and designer Constance Spry also drew from nature. She inspired a generation with her naturalistic taste before and after the Second World War – perhaps she was inspired by the special “Parham way”. As you journey around Lady Emma’s delightful home, you notice that each room has a flower arrangement which draws your eye to the treasures before you and the play of light upon them. My eye is caught by the cascading array of summer flowers shown here against the cool hue of the limed oak panelling in the Great Hall. The flowers bring the colours of the flanking tapestries to life in an unexpected, beautiful way.

Parham’s gardens are particularly fine this year. The swathes of summer flowers seem to dance in the gentle breeze. They frame the paths as you approach the orchard and the vegetable and herb beds with their clipped box hedge borders.

Oil on canvas by Harold Clayton
Oil on canvas by Harold Clayton, discovered in Sussex by Rupert

Lady Emma and her husband, James, are keen to show me the cutting beds where all the flowers for the house are grown. In amongst the brightly coloured blocks of flowers Emma declares, “We are always keen to take the naturalistic into the house – cow-parsley and even bolted rocket can be very good in arrangements.”

The work of British artist Harold Clayton (1896-1979) was shaped by his love of the garden and his attention to detail. Like the taste expressed in the special “Parham way”, Clayton took the Dutch still life of the 17th century and made it modern. This taste is much sought after today. I discovered the oil painting by him shown here some years ago. Today it would realise £6000-8000 at auction, testament to the enduring popularity of the English country house and garden aesthetic expressed so beautifully and timelessly at Parham.

Parham’s 20th Annual Garden Weekend is this coming weekend, Saturday 13th and Sunday 14th July 2013, between 10.30am and 5.00pm each day. It is a must for all of us who love gardens but don’t forget to check out the beautiful flower arrangements in the house! For more information go to www.parhaminsussex.co.uk or telephone 01903 742021.

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 10th July 2013 in the West Sussex Gazette.