Little Thakeham, The Finest of Sussex Homes

Ashleigh Wigley seated in the oriel window at Little Thakeham

This week I am with Ashleigh Wigley the current owner and custodian of Little Thakeham which was designed Sir Edwin Lutyens in 1902. The house and gardens come to the market this week providing a once in a generation opportunity to buy one of the most architecturally important homes in Sussex.

Sir Edwin Lutyens designed a number of buildings and memorials of great importance to our nation. These included the Cenotaph in Whitehall and the Viceroy’s House in New Delhi.

Little Thakeham ©Anthony Bianco 2016
Little Thakeham ©Anthony Bianco 2016

In addition to these public commissions Lutyens designed private houses for a cohort of wealthy, progressive clients at the turn of the 19th century. Amongst these houses was Little Thakeham. Lutyens described it as the ‘best of the bunch’. It combines the architectural vocabulary and attention to detail which makes his work so important and distinctive.

I have known and been involved in Little Thakeham’s story for more than twenty-five years. The front entrance never fails to excite me. The house clearly fits into the procession of English vernacular architecture. For Lutyens tradition was a vital and living thing. And yet his dramatic, architectural, spatial sequences were admired by the modernist architects, Frank Lloyd Wright and Le Corbusier. These qualities are apparent as you process from the gate into the garden court and through the arch into the house itself.

Little Thakeham from the Gardens ©Anthony Bianco 2016
Little Thakeham from the Gardens ©Anthony Bianco 2016

Like those in the Arts and Crafts movement Lutyens was as concerned about the aesthetics of the interiors of his buildings as he was with their exteriors. His remarkable attention to detail is apparent everywhere you look.

Ashleigh Wigley is Little Thakeham’s current custodian. Her delight and care for the building and its place is immediately apparent. As we sit drinking tea and chatting in the Great Hall she remarks “It has been beyond my wildest dreams to live somewhere so beautiful – it’s a place never to take for granted.” Ashleigh acknowledges the keen eye and unwavering support of her partner, Nigel Roberts, and says “English Heritage are delighted with what we’ve done at Little Thakeham.”

There is a restrained grandeur to the house and yet it is a place designed to be a home. Ashleigh talks of the fun her two children have had growing up at Little Thakeham. A smile crosses her face as she exclaims “It’s the best place ever for hide and seek!”

The Great Hall ©Anthony Bianco 2016
The Great Hall, Little Thakeham ©Anthony Bianco 2016

Ashleigh admits how moved she was when the stone oriel window in the Great Hall was revealed after its restoration. The south-facing oriel window fills the hall with a warm light. Light was very important to Lutyens’ architectural compositions and this is apparent throughout this generous home.

An archway into the garden at Little Thakeham © Anthony Capo-Bianco 2016
An archway into the garden at Little Thakeham © Anthony Capo-Bianco 2016

An intimate inner hall has the type of plain oak doors and beautiful latches that you find in most of the rooms. They were designed to provide a simple daily pleasure. From here an arched doorway leads into the south-facing gardens. As you look back at the house you see a fine example of the asymmetrical designs for which Lutyens is famed. The vocabulary of different facades used to form complimentary compositions delights the eye and works in concert with the lie of the land. The tiles and sandstone are typical of this part of Sussex and again speak into the vernacular tradition.

As we stand in the spring sun light I comment that my experience of Little Thakeham is that it quietly works its way into your very personhood and reveals its qualities with increasing richness over time. Ashleigh responds “I agree. It gets under your skin. It’s a generous place, a house for celebrations. It allows people to grow.” She pauses to reflect and continues “Being here has been a great privilege.”

Little Thakeham has a stillness out of time. This is a once in a generation opportunity to own one of the finest and most architecturally important homes in Sussex. Little Thakeham is being marketed by Strutt & Parker London with a guide price of £5.95 million. For more information telephone 0207 629 7282, email, or visit and

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 and the Arts and Crafts Movement

A Shapland & Petter oak and copper mounted wardrobe
A Shapland & Petter oak and copper mounted wardrobe

The Arts and Crafts Movement was named after the Arts and Crafts Exhibition, founded in England in 1882. However, the origins of the movement date to the mid-1850s and are commonly attributed to William Morris and his friends, the architect, Philip Webb, and the writer, John Ruskin.

The movement was deeply informed by the romantic socialism of John Ruskin and William Morris. John Ruskin’s writings inspired the principles of the movement. He observed and gave voice to the dehumanising qualities of industrialised work, and the effects it had on workers and society. As an alternative he advocated a return to an age of ‘free’ craftsmen. The movement stood for traditional craftsmanship and simple forms, often embellished with interpretations of romantic, naturalistic and medieval decoration, including the Gothic.

A Liberty & Co Tudric timepiece, designed by Archibald Knox
A Liberty & Co Tudric timepiece, designed by Archibald Knox

The influential Arts and Crafts designer and writer, C.R. Ashbee, wrote that ‘the proper place for the Arts and Crafts is in the country’. There were significant Arts & Crafts communities across the country. In Sussex the Guild of St Joseph and St Dominic, based at Ditchling gave expression to this. In the early 20th century it represented an experiment of artists living and working together in community under the leadership of its founders: Eric Gill, Hilary Pepler and Desmond Chute.

William Morris named one of his most famous designs the Sussex chair, whilst Phillip Webb designed Standen, near East Grinstead, one of this country’s outstanding Art and Crafts homes. The architect Edwin Lutyens was also active in Sussex at Little Thakeham, Great Dixter in the gardens and elsewhere.

Music and drama played a significant part in the movement. For example the composer, Ralph Vaughan Williams, gathered many of his most famous tunes from the fields around Horsham whilst John Ireland lived and worked at Shipley. They both shared the Arts and Crafts’ love of the countryside and folk traditions.

The Little Thakeham House Sale in 2000 established Toovey’s reputation amongst specialist collectors’ in the field of Arts and Crafts. The exceptional contents of Little Thakeham were in keeping with the stylistic quality of this important Edwin Lutyens house.

Building on this reputation Toovey’s will be holding a specialist auction of Arts and Crafts Furniture and Works of Art on Tuesday 8th September 2015. Entries for the sale are still being invited.

Among the leading exponents of the Arts and Crafts taste was Liberty & Co. The designer, Archibald Knox, joined Liberty & Co in 1899. Knox was the creative force behind Liberty’s Celtic Cymric and Tudric designs which were made in silver and pewter. The Arts and Crafts’ qualities of traditional craftsmanship and simple form are given expression in the Liberty & Co Tudric pewter clock, illustrated here, with its band of stylized leaves and enamelled cabochon numerals. Its domestic scale is also particularly pleasing being just twenty centimetres high. It carries a presale estimate of £1000-£1500.

A Ramsden & Carr silver caddy spoon
A Ramsden & Carr silver caddy spoon

Also entered for the auction is this jewel like caddy spoon dating from 1907. Estimated at £700-£1000, it is born out of the partnership of two exceptional designers and silversmiths, Omar Ramsden and Alwyn Charles Ellison Carr. Together they built a team of gifted craftsmen. The Celtic terminal and turquoise cabochon show the influence of the Arts and Crafts Movement.

Phillip Webb advocated a ‘truth to the materials’ and the oak wardrobe by Shapland & Petter with its restrained, stylized foliate copper panels has a clarity of line and proportion which speaks to this aspiration. It is expected to sell for between £1500 and £2000.

The deadline for entries for Toovey’s specialist auction of Arts and Crafts Furniture and Works of Art, to be held on Tuesday 8th September 2015, is fast approaching. If you are considering the sale of Arts and Crafts furniture and objects Toovey’s specialist, William Rowsell, will be delighted to offer free presale valuations and advice. Telephone Toovey’s on 01903 891955 to arrange an appointment.

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 22nd July 2015 in the West Sussex Gazette.