St Mary’s House and Gardens have been generously gifted to the newly formed St Mary’s House Trust by its long term custodians Peter Thorogood., MBE and Roger Linton., MBE.
Peter Thorogood explains “It was always our ambition to bring the house and gardens together – an impossible task – but by constantly re-investing the profits we have been able to reach our ultimate goal of leaving St Mary’s for the benefit of the community.”
“It was on the ‘at risk register’ when I bought St Mary’s in 1984 – a Grade I listed building, it was a great responsibility.”
Peter and Roger were part of a generation seeking to re-articulate our sense of nationhood and hope after the Second World War. Their respective journeys seem to have prepared them for the enormous task of preserving such a famous house and creating its beautiful gardens.
Peter reflects “Our devotion to the cause of heritage is the result of our very English upbringings. We understand the importance of our nation’s values and culture.”
Roger agrees and says “My parents bought a medieval timber framed farmhouse in Suffolk. It was in some disrepair. There was a sapling growing up through the parlour floor, but we weren’t discouraged and it was good experience for St Mary’s House.”
Roger trained at the Royal College of Art in London and was a contemporary of the artist David Hockney and the fashion designer Zandra Rhodes. He would restore numerous houses and gardens over the years. A gifted restorer and designer Roger was able to sensitively repair the house in the early days and his garden designs at St Mary’s are beautiful.
Peter explains “I brought the rest of the arts: music, lectures, poetry, talks and concerts.”
Peter applied his experience at the British Council as well as his gifts as a writer, composer and researcher to the task of preserving St Mary’s. His love of music and theatre are given expression in the program of concerts and performances which are at the heart of St Mary’s life.
Peter is delighted that visitors come from across the United Kingdom and Europe. He explains “I am passionate about English literature and taught from Beowulf to Virginia Woolf internationally with the British Council.” Peter is himself a respected author.
Closer to home the extraordinary community of gifted volunteers and Friends of St Mary’s have joined with Peter and Roger in their work.
I comment that there is a real quality of calling and vocation apparent in their life and work at St Mary’s. Peter’s face breaks into a smile and he replies “Yes, calling and vocation in looking after the house, this place, its history and the people St Mary’s gathers. It’s always been for the benefit of others, the public, as well as ourselves.”
These generous custodians are deserving of our thanks. They have always wanted to share St Mary’s with others and thanks to their hard work and generosity 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, opens to the public for the 2019 season on Thursday 2nd May. 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.