Contemporary Objects add to the Rich Tapestry of Parham House

Kate Malone’s crystalline-glazed stoneware Waddesdon Sprigged Big Mother Pumpkin, 2016, at Parham.

Parham House is one of the most beautiful stately homes in England. This fine Elizabethan house was saved and carefully restored by the Hon. Clive Pearson and his wife Alicia during the 1920s and ʼ30s. The collections give voice to their passion for the house and collecting.

The Great Hall at Parham is a remarkable space at the heart of the house. It bridges the ancient and contemporary with its lightly limed pale oak panelling.

The immensely long curtains hang like becalmed sails. As they hinge back against the window recesses the space is filled with light which playfully draws our eye to the familiar array of fine portraits and furniture and then to a series of visitors, objects arranged in a series of vignettes – compositions of the very finest contemporary decorative art. Colin Reid’s kiln cast, polished optical glass Colour Saturation; Open Eye works in concert with the texture and hue of the panelling and the blues in the flanking tapestries with a lyrical quality.

Colin Reid’s kiln cast polished optical glass Colour Saturation; Open Eye, 2021, at Parham

These objects represent a collaboration between the international art dealer and gallery owner Adrian Sassoon and Parham House. It was initially born out of a desire to create a virtual exhibition to share new works during lockdown which resulted in a series of beautifully conceived short films by Freddie Leyden. But with the house just reopened many of these objects have returned to delight connoisseurs and visitors to Parham.

English Country House Taste is textural and eclectic always reflecting the taste and interests of a family and often the patchwork quilt of a family’s stories and interests over generations. It is unpretentious, layered and evolving. These contemporary objects are fleetingly adding to the rich tapestry of the house and its collections.

In the third of the films the celebrated ceramicist Kate Malone is clearly moved to see her work away from the studio and in the context of Parham. She reflects on the embroideries and Parham’s collections and how they speak to her “…there’s so many loving hours in everything that’s here. The makers of these things, it’s as if they’re speaking through their craft – it’s very emotional actually.”
Kate explains “My objective is touching you in the heart not in the mind. When I’m making my work nothing else matters you lose track of time, you just want that feeling where you’re at one with the material.”

Her magnificent crystalline-glazed stoneware Sprigged Big Mother Pumpkin seems to be in conversation with Oliver Messel’s painted ceiling, the tapestries and objects in the long gallery. It allows the visitor to see this remarkable interior anew.

Parham is an optimistic place which provides a window onto our past and our future, an historical narrative from the first to the second great Elizabethan Age. It speaks to us of our own place in the extraordinary procession of human history. Whether you are visiting for the first time or returning Parham never fails to captivate and delight. To find out more about the house and exhibition and to book your tickets visit www.parhaminsussex.co.uk, and www.adriansassoon.com.

Stewardship and Renewal in the Gardens at Parham

Lady Emma and James Barnard in the greenhouse at Parham

This week I am returning to Parham to meet Lady Emma and her husband James Barnard as they embark on a major restoration of their celebrated walled gardens at Parham.

The history of the garden has only been recorded since the 1920s when Lady Emma’s great-grandparents came to Parham.

James is keen to show me a series of old framed sketches and plans for the clematis in the gardens drawn by Lady Emma’s great aunt, Mrs Tritton, during her time at Parham. He remarks “Amongst my most striking memories of my first encounter with the gardens at Parham were the clematis.” He continues enthusiastically “Gardens have to change and evolve to have life. We are so glad that Andrew Humphris has joined us as Head Gardener with his wife Jo. Collaborating with them and the garden team on this restoration is very exciting.”

We find Andrew working in the borders and I ask him how it is going. He replies “Well, we’ve had the rain, it will all take off as soon as the sun comes.”
Lady Emma says “The gardens here have been worked for hundreds of years. Our only ‘rule’ has been to work with and not against this ancient place sensitively accepting and preserving its spirit.” Andrew agrees “We’re enhancing what is a fantastic place already.”

I remark that we are a processional people – that we have an ability to confidently embrace change and the new but always with one eye fixed on the past. Lady Emma responds “It’s so nice that long process with a generosity of spirit, like the changing seasons. I love the changing seasons in the garden, there is always something to look forward to whether it’s the spring tulips or the seed heads in winter.”

Parham’s Head Gardener, Andrew Humphris, and his team working on the restoration of the gardens

To me this bodes well. Parham has always given voice to our nation’s quintessential celebration and passion for gardening. All gardens, like nature and the seasons, have a cycle to them and evolve. There is a real sense of renewal, a gardening renaissance at Parham as the restoration gets underway.
At the heart of the generous and outward facing spirit which pervades all that Parham does are Lady Emma and her husband James who, together with their sons, bring such life and vitality to this timeless place. The family’s long-term, generous stewardship blesses us all.

The 18th century garden walls, the paths and borders still enfold you against the backdrop of the house and Sussex Downs. We are all in need of a fresh horizon and a generous place to gather us as we begin to meet and walk in conversation with friends and loved ones. Parham, with its new, delicious Naked Food Company café, is the perfect place for a day’s holiday! Visit www.parhaminsussex.co.uk to book your visit to the gardens.

Restoration and Renewal at Parham

Parham’s Head Gardener, Andrew Humphris in the greenhouse

In the first of two articles I am returning to Parham visiting Lady Emma and her husband James Barnard as they embark on a major restoration of their celebrated walled gardens at Parham.

It is some 28 years since Lady Emma and James came to Parham with their young family. Their time here has been marked by renewal and long-term stewardship in this ancient, processional place.

Emma explains “My great-grandparents, Clive and Alicia Pearson, fell in love with Parham as soon as they saw it. The house was in a poor state when they bought it in 1922.”

Lady Emma and James have a similar sense of long-term stewardship and the importance of ongoing renewal so I am excited to hear about the plans for the restoration of the walled gardens as we set off to find their recently appointed Head Gardener, Andrew Humphris.

I ask Andrew how he is settling in to his new role at Parham and the ongoing restoration of the gardens, he replies “This place is just fantastic there is so much potential. Restoring and maintaining a garden has to be a collaborative thing otherwise it never works. It needs a long-term relationship with the garden and the family.” He turns to Lady Emma and James and says “I want to make it special for you – and the team.”

Parham’s gardens in the crisp spring weather

There is a generosity, humility and rootedness apparent in the way Andrew speaks about a lifetime in horticulture, accompanying and following in his father’s footsteps with his wife, Jo.

I ask Andrew how he would describe himself, a horticulturalist or a garden designer perhaps. He pauses, smiles and replies “I’m a gardener.”
Andrew begins to speak about his work “In the garden I’m thinking about what I’m doing [and] in the moment inspiration comes at unexpected times. There has to be a whole to it but the detail matters, lifting a plant to weed – a love for a plant.” He continues “It’s important to pass things on too. You have to keep momentum, constantly being critical to keep it going forward and fresh.”

I comment on how Parham is famous for its borders and Andrew says “I love border colours” reflecting wryly he continues “striving for perfection in a border though with the weather and variables – still it’s the aim.”

The garden is full of activity and a sense of renewal as the garden team is clearing borders to deal with the bind weed. Other newly planted areas like the white border provide hopeful windows onto the future of this beautiful place. It is exciting to see the restoration in process.

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 gardens and sense of history. Check out Parham’s new website www.parhaminsussex.co.uk and book your visit to the gardens.

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 www.parhaminsussex.co.uk 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.

A Very English Country House

The Amberley Blue sandstone of Parham House caught in the spring sunlight
The Amberley Blue sandstone of Parham House caught in the spring sunlight

Parham House and Gardens are amongst the most beautiful in all England. There is a confidence and ease in the gentle English taste expressed in its interiors, collections and gardens.

I approach Parham from Storrington following the long drive through undulating parkland with grazing deer. The house sits confidently in the Sussex landscape and is bathed in the cool, early spring sunlight.

Parham is a fine example of an Elizabethan H-plan house centred around the Great Hall with its tall mullioned windows. The house is predominately constructed from local sandstone known as Amberley Blue beneath the Horsham stone roof.

As I arrive Lady Emma Barnard greets me. There is an atmosphere of excited preparation as the annual opening on Easter Sunday approaches.

Lady Emma’s great-grandfather the Hon. Clive Pearson, a gifted mechanical engineer, bought the House and Estate in 1922 with his wife Alicia. Lady Emma reflects “They found Parham in sad repair and together they revived and restored the house with great sensitivity for the long-term.”

The Pearsons furnished the house with wonderful collections of fine portraits, furniture and textiles, often searching out pieces formerly from the house or relating to its history. With its limed oak panelling and large windows, there is an airy, light feeling to the Great Hall, Long Gallery and many other rooms.

They also installed electricity, plumbing and heating. Lady Emma remarks “Thanks to them it’s still a really comfortable home – in fact the boilers my great-grandfather put in in the 1920s have only just failed.”

Lady Emma Barnard and the South Front at Parham
Lady Emma Barnard and the South Front at Parham

Lady Emma is uncomplaining as she explains how it has been a chilly winter at Parham whilst the boilers and heating were replaced and restored.

There is a processional quality to the family’s life and stewardship at Parham which embraces and celebrates the past whilst looking confidently to the future.

I remark that a house and garden like Parham carry with them a weight of history and tradition which demands a particularly keen sense of duty and service from its custodians. Lady Emma replies “It is a way of life but we love this place, being here and sharing it with others.”

As I say goodbye we walk through the house and into the grounds to find the handsome South Front complimented by beds of red tulips.

Whether you are visiting for the first time or returning there is always something to discover and delight at Parham.

I am looking forward to visiting Parham after taking part in the Easter Sunday celebrations at St Mary’s, Storrington with a service of Holy Communion followed by an Easter egg hunt. The service starts at 10am and all are welcome.

Parham House opens this Easter Sunday 21st April 2018 at 2pm and the Gardens at 12pm, closing at 5pm. For more information go to www.parhaminsussex.co.uk or telephone 01903 742021.

Parham House & Garden is the perfect Easter treat. I hope to see you there!

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.