Celebrating Sustainable Farming at Applesham Farm

Hugh and Christopher Passmore at Applesham Farm with Rowan Allan
Hugh and Christopher Passmore at Applesham Farm with Rowan Allan

This week I am visiting Christopher, Hugh and Sara Passmore in my role as President of the West Grinstead & District Ploughing & Agricultural Society with the society’s Hon. Secretary Rowan Allan.

As we leave H. J. Burt, Rowan’s offices in Steyning, for their farm he describes how the Passmore’s and their team have been practising sustainable farming at Applesham long before it became fashionable.

We arrive at Applesham Farm amongst the flint and tile workshops and are met by Christopher and Hugh. They point out how these units have gained new life and are being occupied by craftspeople in a similar way to the estate workers who used them when they were first built.

Hugh’s wife, Sara, joins us as we gather in their farmhouse kitchen. Christopher explains how his Grandfather came to Applesham in 1901 as a tenant of the Petworth and Leconfield Estate. He says “My Grandfather subsequently bought the farm. Before he came it had been empty for 18 months. We still farm 850 acres of that land today.”

The importance of continuity and long-term stewardship quickly becomes apparent. But while there is a willingness to embrace the best of traditional farming practice their approach is very modern analysing each season and allowing the facts to inform their decisions.

Changes at Applesham Farm are processional rather than revolutionary as Hugh and Christopher apply science and their deep experience and understanding of their land to their farming.

Hugh Passmore and his herd of Limousin cattle
Hugh Passmore and his herd of Limousin cattle

Today the farm combines arable with sheep and beef which is key to Hugh and Christopher’s approach. Hugh explains “We employ a traditional seven year crop rotation with the last cereal crop undersown with grass and clovers. We graze sheep and cattle on the new grass leys once the cereal crop has been harvested. The fresh grass and clover is highly nutritious, bringing fat lambs on from ten weeks.”

Hugh highlights how the sheep and cattle replenish the soil with natural manure saying “We have thin chalk soils so we must feed it constantly”. This natural approach blesses the soil with a high organic matter content.
Hugh regularly walks the cereal crops, keeping spraying to a minimum. Christopher says “We don’t use any insecticide in the summer because we would take out a lot of the beneficial predatory insects which feed on the problem insects, they are the natural pest controllers.”

As we drive out onto the farm we come across the Limousin cattle with their bull, grazing alongside the Lleyn and Texel cross sheep.

The farm sits in a bowl and the steep escarpments are nutrient poor but species rich. Hugh and Christopher maintain it as chalk grassland, occasionally grazing it to maintain the wild-flowers. There are an abundance of butterflies, birds and insects once common to our land and some 140 species of plants.
The farm has won awards for Best Farm and Conservation across the South East and Christopher was awarded an OBE for services to nature, conservation and agriculture.

Their balanced approach has created a productive, profitable farm working in balance with nature. Applesham Farm is rightly celebrated and will be hosting the West Grinstead & District & Agricultural Society annual ploughing match on Saturday 21st September 2019. Save the date!

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.

Ivon Hitchens at Pallant House

Ivon Hitchens – ‘Arno II’, c.1965, oil on canvas © The Estate of Ivon Hitchens
Ivon Hitchens – ‘Arno II’, c.1965, oil on canvas © The Estate of Ivon Hitchens

Pallant House Gallery’s long awaited retrospective exhibition of the important Sussex based Modern British artist Ivon Hitchens is exceptional and beautiful.
This chronological exhibition highlights the themes that preoccupied Ivon Hitchens and the development of his unique voice in Modern British Art – a poetic artist in the landscape.

The show explores how Ivon Hitchens emerges from surrealism into lyrical abstraction with an increasing connection with that most English of obsessions, the landscape. His distinctive style is immediately recognisable.
Pallant House Gallery Director, Simon Martin says “The very first artworks that Pallant House Gallery acquired were two paintings of Sussex donated by Ivon Hitchens before his death in 1979.”

The exhibition describes how Hitchens joined the Seven and Five Society in 1919. This group included many of Britain’s leading artists and was distinguished by their freedom of association and lack of artistic dogma.

In the mid-1920s Hitchens painted with Ben and Winifred Nicholson staying at their Cumbrian farmhouse, Bankshead. These paintings focus on Still Lifes in domestic settings, themes which would remain central to his work.
Ivon Hitchens painted ‘Spring in Eden’ in 1925 on his return to London from Bankshead. This reflective, luminous painting with its classical torso is airy – light in tone and colour – creating a dialogue between the world of classical art and mythology.

When his Hampstead studio was bombed in 1940 Ivon, his wife Mollie and their young son John evacuated to Sussex near Lavington Common where they had bought six acres of woods and a Gypsie Caravan. Hitchens became rooted in this landscape – his eye captured by the woodland that surrounded him.
He became more interested in painting the underlying harmony of the natural world through his landscapes. Music informed him stating “I often find in music a stimulus to creation, and it is the linear tonal and colour harmony and rhythm of nature which interests me – what I call the musical appearance of things”.
Hitchens famously said “My pictures are painted to be listened to.”

Ivon Hitchens – ‘Spring in Eden’, c.1925, oil on canvas © The Estate of Ivon Hitchens
Ivon Hitchens – ‘Spring in Eden’, c.1925, oil on canvas © The Estate of Ivon Hitchens

There is a rhythm in his long canvases which are often divided into three vertical panels which play against each other. In ‘Arno II’ sunlight filters through the foliage to reveal a boat lying on a woodland pool in the left hand section. The centre and right sections of the composition are more abstract, suggestive and experiential. This poetic, lyrical landscape conveys the experience of inhabiting, space and emotion in a remarkable way – it has a spiritual quality.
I am excited that Toovey’s together with Irwin Mitchell Solicitors are headline sponsors of this exceptional exhibition. Thanks must also go to the Arts Council England for their support.

‘Ivon Hitchens: Space through Colour’ runs until the 13th October 2019 at Pallant House Gallery, Chichester. It is this summer’s must see exhibition! For more information go to www.pallant.org.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.

Wiston’s Sublime Bubbly and Wimbledon

Harry and Pip Goring at the Wiston vineyard on the Sussex Downs
Harry and Pip Goring at the Wiston vineyard on the Sussex Downs

Wimbledon fortnight is fast approaching as I set out for the Wiston vineyards on the slopes of the Sussex Downs. I drive up the shady, narrow lane with dappled sunlight breaking through the canopy of trees, past a farmyard and the view suddenly opens onto the beautiful vineyard bathed in brilliant sunshine.

Wiston’s English sparkling wines are my favourite and I’m excited as Harry and Pip Goring welcome me. Harry is keen to show me the vines. He says “We have three traditional champagne grapes here – Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier” He acknowledges the breeze and explains how important it is to the health of the vines. I ask him how important the weather is to a successful harvest. Harry replies “Bad weather around Wimbledon can be a disaster. If the covers are on all the time at Wimbledon it’s terrible for the vines as they can’t flower and fruit.”

Harry Goring’s family have farmed the estate since 1743. He remarks “It has always been a traditional family estate until now.” He is quick to point out that the Wiston vineyard is his wife, Pip’s inspiration. Pip and Harry were married in 1972. Pip explains enthusiastically “I always wanted to plant a vineyard. I grew up in Cape Town in site of the mountains and rows of vines. I knew that we could do this here in Sussex. We planted our vines in 2006. The Wiston Estate Winery is about family, celebration, and sharing.” The Goring’s are proud of the community of talented people who have joined this generous enterprise which continues to grow and evolve.

Also at the heart of Wiston’s acclaimed and award winning English sparkling wines is Dermot Sugrue who has been described as the ‘best wine maker in England’. Dermot strives for a purity of expression throughout the wine process. Wiston has produced the first English sparkling wine to win overall in the international 2019 Decanter awards – it’s the Oscars for wine.
Wiston’s wines are exuberant, crisp on the palette with fragrant notes of orchard fruits overlaid with delicious brioche and toasted hazelnut, complimented by its persistent stream of tiny bubbles.
There is a processional quality to the unfolding of this remarkable project which is continuing under the leadership of Harry and Pip’s son Richard and his wife Kirsty.

This a blessed spot. The vineyard is at one with its landscape surrounded by traditional wheat and barley crops, the sheep grazing beneath Chanctonbury Ring. This generous family gives expression to their wish to share their blessings and the importance of long-term stewardship through their work.
I ask Pip to summarise Wiston Estate Wines and she says “It’s a celebration of everything, it sings its own song – an elixir vitae – a drink of life!”

Wiston’s sublime bubbly and Wimbledon – what could be better!

Strawberries and Wiston’s irresistibly delicious bubbly – what could be better to accompany the BBC’s exemplary coverage of Wimbledon’s finals this weekend! You can pick some up from Hennings Wine in Pulborough, Petworth and Chichester, or online at www.wistonestate.com.

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.

Sussex Historian Robert Hutchinson and the Tudors

“Henry VIII – The Decline and Fall of a Tyrant”

The Sussex author and Tudor historian Robert Hutchinson has just launched the latest book in his popular series on the Tudors – ‘Henry VIII – The Decline and Fall of a Tyrant’.
I meet Robert in the village of Amberley where he has lived for some 43 years. I ask him why the timeless appeal of the Tudors still holds such a fascination for us today. He replies “The Tudors are like us, vain, greedy, social climbers – risk takers.”
The current book, ‘Henry VIII – The Decline and Fall of a Tyrant’, combines an extraordinary depth of scholarly research with a rich and accessible narrative. Robert says “The painstaking Tudor administration left behind thousands of paper documents creating a window into their age.” Each chapter provides a series of vignettes in which the players on this historical stage are portrayed with a rare three-dimensional quality so that we, the readers, are invested in the individual characters and their stories.
The book brings together the key threads of the later years of Henry VIII’s reign – his desire to secure the Tudor dynasty with an heir against the turbulent backdrop of the Reformation, his later marriages, court intrigue, threats of invasion, debt and ill health.
This processional book begins in 1539 as the Vatican moves to align Scotland, France and Spain against Henry VIII. Robert comments “Out of this crisis a grand strategy was born. Henry wanted to fight a war with France and recover the tribute owed to him, with the chance to fulfil the ancient claim of English monarchs to the French Crown. He sought to neutralise Scotland by making his son King Consort to the infant Mary Queen of Scots. After he declared himself King of Ireland Henry almost created the United Kingdom more than 250 years before the Act of Union was passed”. Most of his potential triumphs would be snatched from him through ill-fated alliances, finances and ill health.
Henry’s malevolence and brutality is central to the story casting a shadow over not only his dealings with his perceived enemies but also with those close to him. Robert reflects “Henry’s long-held principle that ‘fear begets obedience’ is reflected in the despotic quality of his reign. He had a mordant sense of humour and delighted in toying with his advisers, like a cat with a trapped mouse.” The book highlights Henry’s manipulative nature as he publicly humiliated those he sought to control at court.

Sussex author and Tudor historian Robert Hutchinson
Sussex author and Tudor historian Robert Hutchinson

Interestingly Robert examines the medical notes made at the time and questions whether Henry did actually die of syphilis. He argues that Cushing’s syndrome may be a more plausible reason for Henry’s increasing irritability, depression, anxiety, insomnia and mood swings in his later years. There can be little doubt that his obesity and ulcerated legs added to his decline.
Henry VIII died with most of his objectives, his hopes, unachieved. Despite the despotic nature of Henry’s reign this gifted writer brings us to a point of sympathy for this most famous King as we are led through the terrible sufferings of his last years.
I have barely been able to put the book down since I started it. Robert Hutchinson’s ‘Henry VIII – The Decline and Fall of a Tyrant’ is a must read!

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.