The Bank Holiday at Borde Hill

The vibrant Mid-Summer Border at Borde Hill Garden
The vibrant Mid-Summer Border at Borde Hill Garden

This week I am returning to Borde Hill Garden near Haywards Heath to enjoy the vibrant summer borders and the 20th Anniversary Sculpture Exhibition. I am met by Andrewjohn Stephenson Clarke whose great grandfather purchased the house in 1893 and created the now Grade II* listed gardens and important plant collections.

Andrewjohn says “Borde Hill has always been an experimental garden to try new plants. The first of these were brought back by plant hunters in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.”

This spirit of adventure is alive and well under the stewardship of Andrewjohn and his wife Eleni. This is apparent in the Round Dell garden. Its contemporary design has at its centre a thin, tapering path defined by low concrete walls which leads you through the rich foliage and planting. Amongst these are a number of exciting new specimens found by contemporary plan hunters, including varieties of Schefflera, and unusual evergreens like Daphniphyllum macropodum.

I love the strong summer colours at Borde Hill. The Mid-Summer Border, just off the South lawn, delights with its vibrant coloured perennials, grasses and shrubs.
The garden reveals itself as a series of rooms. The sculptures compliment the planting and vistas allowing us to see the garden in new ways.

Devon based artist Zoe Singleton’s sculpture ‘The Turning Tide’ carved from Kilkenny Fossil Stone at Borde Hill
Devon based artist Zoe Singleton’s sculpture ‘The Turning Tide’ carved from Kilkenny Fossil Stone at Borde Hill

My eye is taken by a sculpture by the Devon based artist, Zoe Singleton who works predominately in stone natural to the British Isles. It is titled ‘The Turning Tide’ and is carved from Kilkenny Fossil Stone. It sits dramatically on its Larch plinth against the backdrop of Borde Hill’s 200 acres of parkland and woodland. The rhythm and movement of the shoal of fish seems to be echoed in the landscape.

Writing about her work Zoe has said ‘My work is frequently described as “poetic and lyrical”, garden sculpture being inspired by my love of gardening as well as the dramatic coastline of the South West and the rugged geology of Dartmoor which has a continued presence in my work.’ Her words resonate with Borde Hill Garden.

The lives of Andrewjohn and Eleni Stephenson Clarke are bound to this place and the garden in a very personal way. Their forward looking stewardship ensures that the past is valued and preserved but that the garden is constantly evolving and changing in a very contemporary way.

Why not enjoy the art and this beautiful garden in the company of family and friends this coming August Bank Holiday weekend. There is plenty for children to enjoy including an adventure playground. The 20th Anniversary Sculpture Exhibition runs until the 30th September. For more information on opening times and forthcoming events go to or telephone 01444 450326.

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.

Postcards from Sussex


A Sussex postcard titled ‘Steam Roller in Difficulties, Littlehampton, Jan 8, 1914’
A Sussex postcard titled ‘Steam Roller in Difficulties, Littlehampton, Jan 8, 1914’

As you know I love to send and receive postcards at this time of year and this week I am in the company of Toovey’s Director, Nicholas Toovey, who is celebrating another sell out Postcard and Paper Collectables auction. Nicholas says “The stamps, cigarette cards, letters and autographs were all buoyant but it was the postcards that stood out. It’s these collectors’ specialisms which are today’s boom markets.”

He continues “This amazing photographic postcard titled ‘Steam Roller in Difficulties, Littlehampton, Jan 8, 1914’ could have easily been titled ‘And you thought you were having a bad day!’ The scene was described contemporaneously in the Worthing Gazette as ‘a rather startling incident at the junction of Howard-road and Howard-place…the task of lifting the roller out of the hole and placing it on a firm surface again was by no means an easy one, and the operations were the centre of much interest for the greater part of the morning. It was half past two o’clock in the afternoon when the work was completed.’ The postcard sold for £260. It once again highlights that the market for Sussex postcards at Toovey’s salerooms is really buoyant!”

A Sussex postcard titled ‘Accident to Motor Mail Van, Brighton, Aug 25, 1909’
A Sussex postcard titled ‘Accident to Motor Mail Van, Brighton, Aug 25, 1909’

Nicholas draws my attention to another calamity depicted on a postcard, titled ‘Accident to Motor Mail Van, Brighton, Aug 25, 1909’ which realised £95. He says “It shows the mishap that befell the ‘A 8757’ in Preston Road.”
I comment how I loved the early motor racing scene and the people promenading in an album of some 120 Brighton and Hove photographic postcards. Nicholas explains that the album fetched one of the highest prices of the sale when his gavel fell at £1300. He says “The postcards showed many less typical scenes of the seaside town, including scenes of social history and unusual street views.”

Vintage Advertising Postcard for Harris's Sausages
Vintage Advertising Postcard for Harris’s Sausages

I cannot believe that a postcard with the slogan ‘Chief of the Clan MacSausage’ could possibly be connected with Sussex. Nicholas smiles and explains “It’s a colour postcard advertising Harris’s Sausages but on the reverse it has an overprint for Harris’s Sausage Restaurant in West Street, Brighton. He was the self-styled ‘Sausage King’. A colourful character – he was often seen wearing a top hat and evening dress around the London markets. His sons were named ‘Number One’, ‘Number Two’ and ‘Number Three’ which gives a measure of the man.” The postcard sold for £40.

These postcards provide a remarkable visual insight into our social history and it is easy to see why they attract such a strong following.

Nicholas is still inviting entries for Toovey’s next sale of Paper Collectables, featuring postcards, stamps, cigarette cards, autographs, photographs and ephemera which will be held on Tuesday 8th October.

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.

Important Eric Gill Carvings to be Auctioned in Sussex


An important group of seven carvings from the studio of the famous Ditchling-based artist Eric Gill A.R.A. (1882-1940) are to be auctioned at Toovey’s on Friday 13th September as part of their specialist sale of Arts & Crafts Furniture and Works of Art, commencing at 2.30pm.

I first came across this extraordinary collection of carvings from the workshop of the famous Ditchling-based artist Eric Gill at Woodbarton back in 2016. The house, built in 1920 in the heart of Ditchling Common, East Sussex, was designed by Gill for his associate, the poet and artist Desmond Chute (1895-1962). Chute only lived at Woodbarton for a few years before leaving for Rapallo in Italy, where he would be ordained as a Roman Catholic priest in 1927. The house, though, continued to provide a home to artists associated with the Ditchling arts and crafts community of the Guild of St. Joseph and St. Dominic until very recently. It seems likely that the carvings at Woodbarton were not drawn from the Ditchling workshop’s commercial output.

Eric Gill was born in Steyning, West Sussex. In his formative years, he lived in both Brighton and Chichester. In 1900, he moved to London to train as an architect with the firm W.D. Caröe. He became ever more disaffected with this path, however, and took evening classes in stonemasonry at the Westminster Technical Institute and calligraphy at the Central School of Arts and Crafts. By 1903, Eric Gill had given up his architectural training to become a calligrapher, letter-cutter and monumental mason.

A carved and painted stone holy water stoup by Eric Gill

In 1907, Gill found himself drawn back to Ditchling. After the First World War, he founded the Roman Catholic Guild of St. Joseph and St. Dominic with Desmond Chute and the printer, writer and poet Hilary Pepler (1878-1951). This group of artists lived in community with their wives, children, associates and apprentices, upholding the principles of the medieval artisan artist.

Gill’s assistants at the Ditchling workshop included Joseph Cribb, John Skelton, Desmond Chute and a number of other apprentices. In ‘Eric Gill, The Inscriptions’ David Peace includes a preface by Eric’s brother, Evan Gill, written in 1964. Evan explains that it is not possible, or desirable, to attempt a segregation of work by Eric Gill and his assistants. In support of this Evan quotes Desmond Chute: ‘Everything made there was wholly inspired and entirely due to him [Eric Gill]. This does not necessarily mean that all works came wholly from his hand … he made ample use of the collaboration of fellow stone cutters, esteeming this a mutual benefit. Nor did he hesitate to set his name to work thus produced – metaphorically in most cases, for he did not hold with signed work.’ Many of the works ascribed to Eric Gill, like the pieces here, will have been wholly, or in part, workshop pieces. Thanks to their workshop, this Sussex village became a centre for the Arts and Crafts movement.

Eric Gill brought his artistic and architectural skills to bear when he designed Woodbarton. The carved and painted stone stoup was set into the hallway’s wall. It would have contained holy water for members of the Guild and visitors to bless themselves. It will be offered with a pre-sale estimate of £6,000-8,000 (plus BP*).

Carved Hopton Wood limestone devotional panel, “Considerate lilia agri…’, by Eric Gill

Amongst the finest of the carvings in this collection is the stone panel carved with meditative inscriptions, which was set into a bedroom wall in the house. This beautifully conceived devotional panel, carved in Hopton Wood limestone, is incised in Latin and English ‘Considerate lilia agri – Consider the lilies of the field’, which relates to a passage in St. Matthew’s Gospel.

In the sitting room, the fireplace was framed by a stone carving with a central cross. The stone was originally carved for the Roman Catholic Westminster Cathedral, as a frieze for one of Gill’s Stations of the Cross. It was broken in transit, so Gill used it as part of the chimneypiece at Woodbarton. It is estimated at £6,000-£10,000 (plus BP*).

Despite the controversy surrounding Gill’s personal life, these exceptional carvings, now removed from Woodbarton, form part of an important story in the history of both the Arts and Crafts movement and Modern British art in Sussex.

I would like to thank Jenny KilBride Roberts MBE DL and others for their generous input in cataloguing the carvings.

BP* – Buyer’s Premium 29.4% including VAT @ 20% (24.5% plus VAT) of the hammer price

“You never know when you’ll make your next big discovery…”

Toovey’s Specialist Mark Stonard

I am in conversation with Toovey’s specialist Mark Stonard as he remarks “You never know when you’ll make your next big discovery in the auction world but it happens more often than you would think.” Mark explains how a couple recently arrived at Toovey’s reception for a free-presale valuation. He says “They were carrying a cardboard box no bigger than a shoe box. They had no idea whether the items in the box were valuable. It was filled with treasures and amongst them was the most remarkable collection of early coins.”

A Charles I Newark besieged shilling dated 1645
A Charles I Newark besieged shilling dated 1645

Mark shows me a Charles I Newark besieged shilling from the collection dated 1645 with an old ink-written collector’s ticket. Mark says “Siege money was minted during the Civil War in Newark-on-Trent in the third and longest siege between 1645 and 1646. Much of it was made from cut up Church plate and other valuables to answer the besieged Royalist’s need for money. On some of the coins you can see the original decoration from the objects they were cut from though this coin shows no evidence of this. All the time you’ve got a mint producing coins it’s a symbol of state – so for Charles I and his supporters this coin was a political statement too.”

I ask Mark how much a coin like this is worth and he replies “It’s just been sold in Toovey’s specialist coin auction for £1600.”

An Edward the Confessor (1042-1066) hammered penny from the Steyning Mint
An Edward the Confessor (1042-1066) hammered penny from the Steyning Mint

I am excited to find an Edward the Confessor (1042-1066) hammered penny from the Steyning Mint which has just realised £400. Mark comments “This coin is amongst the earliest from this collection. Look at the obverse with its facing bust of the king.” There was a mint at Steyning from the end of King Canute’s (1016-1035) reign, which was possibly the successor to the mints of Burpham and Cissbury.

An Elizabeth I milled issue shilling
An Elizabeth I milled issue shilling

I have always found Elizabeth I an inspiring historical figure. Mark points out an Elizabeth I milled issue shilling that has just sold for £1800. The depiction of Elizabeth I on the obverse is extraordinary.

He explains “Milled coins were minted for the first time in 1561 in the reign of Elizabeth I. They were the first coins to be produced employing a mechanical screw-press powered by a horse. Their production was initially overseen by a Frenchman, Eloye Mestrelle. But coins were still being produced more quickly by hand so the production of milled coins was short-lived.”

I ask Mark which markets are booming at auction and he responds “The specialist collectors’ fields like coins, jewellery and medals without a doubt.”
If you would like to discover if your coins and collectables are forgotten treasure contact Mark Stonard by telephoning 01903 891955.

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.

A Postcard from Parham

The Georgian Saloon at Parham
The Georgian Saloon at Parham

What could be nicer than a holiday in Sussex with the backdrop of the South Downs!

We reached this conclusion whilst sipping Wiston bubbly in our garden and so this week we are revisiting Parham House & Gardens on our holidays in the company of its current custodian Lady Emma Barnard.

Lady Emma’s great-grandmother the Hon. Mrs Clive Pearson wrote “There are many old and historic houses now opening their doors…but none, I believe, holds safe within its walls a more enchanted atmosphere, a greater peace and kindliness, distilled perhaps from all the centuries it has outlived.”

In my view the English Country House is one of our nation’s greatest contributions to human civilization. Their assemblance of paintings and objects have a particular beauty born of the passions of successive generations of their families and, importantly, English Country House taste is also comfortable. Parham’s beauty is so essentially English.

As we enter the Great Parlour we stand beside a 17th century chair covered with exquisite gros and needlepoint and a Charles II walnut table with a vase of flowers arranged in the ‘Parham way’. Behind Lady Emma hangs a 17th century portrait which is thought to depict the French King Henry IV’s daughter, Christine of Savoy, Princess of Piedmont (1606-1663).

Lady Emma Barnard in the Great Parlour at Parham
Lady Emma Barnard in the Great Parlour at Parham

Lady Emma says “There is a sense of layering if you live in a place like this, with the imprint of people who’ve gone before you. I find it very moving and enormously humbling when I think about all the people who’ve closed a door or walked through the house before me – houses are made from people.”
We enter the Saloon, which was remodelled as an elegant Georgian drawing room by Cecil Bisshopp, 8th Baronet, 12th Lord Zouche in about 1790.

The sense of the processional, generational quality in our lives in part defines the English. Lady Emma has a deep understanding that our blessings are given to us to be shared. She comments “At the heart of Parham is a desire to educate and delight, to use the words of my great-grandmother.” The qualities of inhabiting and rootedness which Lady Emma and her family give expression to has people at its centre. Their generous patronage provides a canvas upon which others paint their lives.

I ask Lady Emma what it is like to live at Parham. She replies unhesitatingly “It’s emotional. We’ve brought up our family here, but above all it’s a vocation, a calling.”

Parham gives expression to a beauty beyond its gardens and ancient facades. It blesses the visitor as it has always done over the centuries.
Whether you are visiting for the first time or returning to an old friend, as I often do, Parham never fails to delight with its architecture, collections, gardens and sense of history, and is the perfect August Bank holiday destination! For more information go to or telephone 01903 742021.

As I pen this postcard to you from Parham it remains for me to say wish you were here!

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.