Royal Visit Celebrates Heritage and Community

HRH Princess Alexandra of Kent with Peter Thorogood, Roger Linton, and The Lord Lieutenant of West Sussex, Susan Pyper, opening the new King’s Garden at St Mary’s, Bramber

It is a bright early Summer afternoon as Her Royal Highness Princess Alexandra of Kent opens the new King’s Garden in the company of the Lord Lieutenant of West Sussex, Susan Pyper, Peter Thorogood, Roger Linton and the volunteers at St Mary’s House and Gardens, Bramber. Heritage, hard work and community are affirmed and celebrated.

Peter Thorogood., MBE and Roger Linton., MBE, bought the house and gardens in 1984. Their passion for this wonderful place is infectious. They have created and gathered a community of people around the house and gardens. This team of volunteers have also offered their resources, time and talents to the repair, restoration and maintenance of this important house and garden.

Peter Thorogood has just celebrated his 90th birthday. I offer my congratulations on his birthday and work at St Mary’s. He responds self-effacingly noting the “hard work of the volunteers” and the camaraderie of all who have been involved in the house and gardens. These sentiments are echoed by Roger Linton who reflects upon how he gains such “pleasure from their pleasure”.

St Mary’s House and Gardens, Bramber

Whilst we await the arrival of the Princess I join the volunteers in the tea rooms. The great affection in which they hold Peter and Roger quickly becomes apparent. They clearly value the friendships and sense of community which underpins the work of St Mary’s.

HRH Princess Alexandra is shown around the house and gardens. She pauses in the Jubilee Garden to admire the Princess Alexandra of Kent roses and the Acer palmatum shindeshojo which has been planted to mark her visit.

A Boscobel Rose in The King’s Garden

The King’s Garden also shares a royal theme and has been designed by Roger Linton to commemorate Prince Charles, later Charles II’s escape through Bramber village to Brighton and then to Shoreham from where he would sail into exile in France. It is said that Charles eluded the Parliamentarian forces at both Houghton and Bramber by disguising himself as Colonel George Gunter’s servant and leading his horse. At the heart of The King’s Garden is a sapling oak whose lineage goes back to the famous Boscobel Oak in which Charles II hid after the Battle of Worcester in 1651.

St Mary’s House and Gardens has a vital and continuing role in our community. Its story encompasses and tells the story of our county’s place in the history of our nation.

The vision, dedication, hard work and generosity of Peter Thorogood and Roger Linton has permanently written their names into the story and history of this grand old house and her gardens.

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, The Street, Bramber, BN44 3WE, are open to the public for the 2017 season. For further details of opening times, concerts and events visit 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.

St Mary’s House Welcomes Visitors over the Centuries

As you walk up the garden path through the beautifully clipped topiary St Mary’s House reveals herself

As you walk up the garden path through the beautifully clipped topiary St Mary’s House reveals herself. The close set vertical timbers and contrasting white panels reflect the light with a particular quality.

St Mary’s captured the imaginations of her current custodians and patrons, Peter Thorogood and Roger Linton, who bought the house and gardens in 1984. They have worked tirelessly and invested constantly in the house and gardens which were in some disrepair when they took them on. It has always been their express wish to open them to the public.

Peter Thorogood and Roger Linton at work in the Library of St Mary’s House, Bramber

Their different gifts have blessed St Mary’s. Peter brought his experience at the British Council and his talents as a writer and researcher to the task of preserving St Mary’s. Roger, with a background in design seeded at the Royal College of Art, brought his skills as a conservator and set about restoring the property and designing the gardens. Peter’s love of music and theatre are given expression in the program of concerts and theatre which are also at the heart of St Mary’s life.

The house we see today incorporates the surviving wing from the late 15th century when William of Waynflete, the Bishop of Winchester, built a new Chapel House around a galleried courtyard. The house is a good example of the use of close set vertical timbers known as close studding which became widespread in Sussex at that time. The house would have originally welcomed pilgrims.

The Painted Room with trompe l’oeil panels which are believed to date from Tudor times

Although there is a grandeur to this wonderful old house it is very much a home informed by the passions and interests of Peter Thorogood and Roger Linton. The collections and furniture speak of their lives, families and interests. I discover them at work in the Library. They tell me about the continuing challenges of restoring and preserving this important landmark in the history of Sussex. We walk along the landing as they speak passionately about the history of the house. I am always delighted by the Painted Room with its trompe l’oeil panels. Peter explains that they are thought to date from Tudor times. The panels have beautifully painted landscapes and sea-battle vignettes.

Over the years they have inspired a team of volunteers and friends to join them. Peter and Roger have a deep sense of dedication to this place and their vision to share St Mary’s with all of us. The care of St Mary’s has become a way of life for them and they deserve our thanks.

Whether you are visiting for the first time or returning to an old friend, as I often do, St Mary’s has a particular gift of taking us out of the busyness of our own lives and allowing us to see ourselves in that broad procession of human history of which Sussex has so often been at the centre. St Mary’s House and Gardens are open to the public for the 2017 season. For further details of opening times, concerts and events visit www.stmarysbramber.co.uk.

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.

The Future of Sussex Defined by the Past

Capability Brown’s very English landscape at Petworth

Capability Brown’s very English landscape at PetworthAs a New Year begins it gifts us with a moment to reflect on the rich identity of our county and the role heritage and the arts have in re-telling the common stories which we all share and which bind us together.

Over the millennia when the English, a diverse race, have needed to define themselves they have returned to their monarchy, their landscape, their history and their church, as well as the qualities of service to others, tolerance and fairness. 2016 seemed to epitomise these themes and qualities.

The Rt. Revd. Bishop of Horsham, Mark Sowerby, joined me at the Steyning Festival for a church service to celebrate HM Queen Elizabeth II’s 90th birthday. The celebrations included a concert

We celebrated HM Queen Elizabeth II’s 90th birthday with church services and festivals.

The Bernardi Music Group fund raising for Sussex hospices in the music room at Goodwood House

Our hospices were celebrated and supported by a fund-raising concert given by the Bernardi Music Group at Goodwood House. New and traditional music celebrated the Sussex landscape.

In reaction to the industrial revolution and war from the late 19th and 20th centuries onwards there was a desire to articulate the ancient hope of the English expressed in and through their landscape. A hope bound up with a romanticized view of a rural idyll, lost or under threat.

The West Grinstead & District Ploughing & Agricultural Society Annual Ploughing Match and Country Show

The West Grinstead & District Ploughing & Agricultural Society was founded in 1871 and its Annual Ploughing Match and Country Show still seeks to honour countryside traditions and learn from the past whilst looking confidently to the future of farming in Sussex.

The 300th anniversary of the birth of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown (1716-1783), the famous landscape designer, allowed us to focus on the beauty of our Sussex landscape with exhibitions at The Horsham Museum, curated by Jeremy Knight, and by Tom Dommett, the National Trust’s Regional Archaeologist, at Petworth House and Park.

It has never been more important for us to be confident of who we are – to remember our shared story. It is this generous and outward facing identity which will bless us and our county with hope and opportunity in 2017.

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.

Autumn in Sussex

José Weiss’ oil painting of the River Arun and Amberley chalk pits at dusk
José Weiss’ oil painting of the River Arun and Amberley chalk pits at dusk

As autumn approaches we look to the changes in the season, perhaps a last and precious glimpse of summer before the leaves fall. The morning dew has been lying heavily on the fields and the geese call to each other in their V-shaped formations as they fly on their winter migration. I am always excited by the fruits of the hedgerows, especially the blackberries and elderberries. In orchards across Sussex apples and quince are gathered and there is a sharper quality to the breeze on an incoming tide.

There is a wonderful sense of journeying and returning in the seasons of year – a time to reflect. T.S. Elliott had strong associations with Sussex. Writing from a perspective of Christian faith he observed the seasons in his poem ‘Little Gidding’:

Oliver Clare’s Still Life of Quince, Grapes and Berries, in Naturalistic Setting
Oliver Clare’s Still Life of Quince, Grapes and Berries, in Naturalistic Setting

‘We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, unremembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.’

The Downs are beginning to change from their warmer summer hues to the cooler greens so beautifully depicted in José Weiss’ oil painting of Amberley chalk pits, viewed from the river Arun at dusk. José Weiss was born in Paris in 1859. He holidayed and painted at Amberley where he met Agnes Ratton. They were married and made their home at Houghton. Weiss would become famous for his Sussex views, particularly from along the river Arun.

The abundance of the autumn hedgerow has inspired successive generations of artists.

The painter Oliver Clare’s technique even captures dewdrops on the texture of the fruit. The naturalistic setting gives this jewel like still life context, connecting it with nature.

A pair of Royal Worcester bone china two handled urns and covers, painted by M. Morris, after 1950 with still life studies of fruit
A pair of Royal Worcester bone china two handled urns and covers, painted by M. Morris, after 1950 with still life studies of fruit

The translucence of the glaze adds life to ceramic artist M. Morris’ still life painted on the pair of Royal Worcester bone china urns and covers. Here peaches accompany the blackberries of the hedgerows.

The seasons continue to inspire us as they did writers and artists in the early and mid – 20th century. We delight in the joy of gathering blackberries and apples for a pie. Walks along ancient lanes and footpaths in the Weald, on the Downs and by the sea connect us with the Sussex landscape.

This delight is reflected in collectors’ interest to acquire art and objects which speak into our experience of this marvellous country. Prices for pieces of this quality range from hundreds of pounds into the low thousands at auction.

Whether you are foraging for art or the blessings of the approaching autumn season allow yourself time to reflect in the landscape.

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.

St Mary’s House, Hospitality over Centuries

St Mary’s House, Bramber
St Mary’s House, Bramber

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.

Rupert Toovey and the pilgrim’s bridge at St Ives, Cambridgeshire
Rupert Toovey and the pilgrim’s bridge at St Ives, Cambridgeshire

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.

The Rose Garden at St Mary’s, Bramber
The Rose Garden at St Mary’s, Bramber

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.