Embroidered into the Rich Threads of Sussex History

Parham House

This week I am visiting Lady Emma Barnard at Parham House and Gardens. As we walk through this wonderful house, I am struck by the quality of the famous needlework in the collection. We come to the Great Chamber and are greeted by the gentle light of this spring afternoon. Lady Emma’s great-grandparents, Clive and Alicia Pearson, bought Parham in 1922 and set about restoring the house and gardens after years of neglect. The Great Chamber was remodelled in 1924 to become Alicia Pearson’s bedroom.

Lady Emma Barnard beside the Great Bed at Parham House and Gardens

At the heart of the room is the Great Bed. Emma explains: “My great-grandfather, Clive Pearson, purchased the bed from Wroxton Abbey in Oxfordshire and brought it to Parham. It is partly Tudor and probably from the court of Henry VIII.”

The exquisite headboard, backcloth, canopy and bedspread are delicately embroidered with interwoven monograms and fleurs-de-lys within an overall design of flower and leaf tendrils. It is thought that they date from about 1585 and are of French or Italian workmanship. The two sets of curtains, pelmets and valances are also rare. They date from around 1620 and are worked with flame stitch embroidery.

Emma quickly draws my attention to an extraordinary mid-17th-century embroidered panel depicting ‘The Finding of Moses’. She remarks enthusiastically, “My husband, James, and I love this piece. It was a great favourite of Great-aunt Veronica’s too.” Veronica Tritton lived at Parham before Emma and her family.

The scene depicted on this needlework panel is from the Old Testament story in Exodus, chapter 2, in which Pharaoh orders all the newborn Israelite boys to be killed. Moses is hidden by his mother in a cradle amongst the bulrushes of the Nile. Pharaoh’s daughter discovers Moses and brings him up as her son. The story of Moses is one of obedience, leadership and salvation. Lady Emma points to the three women in the scene and exclaims, “Look how surprised they are to find him; they’ve two sets of eyebrows! It’s so finely worked, thirty stitches to the inch, and the details are amazing. Look at the sun with a face, the caterpillar, grasshopper, leopard and even a kingfisher with a fish in its beak. The more you look at it, the more fantastic it is. But those eyebrows, so surprised.” This family favourite is signed with the embroidered initials ‘ML’ and dated ‘1644’.

‘The Finding of Moses’, an embroidered christening cushion dated 1644

The embroidery of ‘The Finding of Moses’ at Parham has traditionally been considered to be a christening cushion. The textile specialist and conservator Dr Mary M. Brooks has suggested that this particular scene might reasonably be interpreted as reflecting concerns about political loyalties, issues surrounding royal succession and personal concerns, such as the safe upbringing of male heirs at this time.

These interpretations and the date of the panel, 1644, have a significance for Parham and its history. On 6th January 1644 Arundel Castle was surrendered to Sir William Waller, leader of the Parliamentarians, during the English Civil War. Amongst the prominent ‘hostages’ from the besieged castle, demanded by Waller as part of the treaty of surrender, was Sir Edward Bishopp, 2nd Baronet and owner of Parham. Sir Edward had fought at Winchester, Portsmouth and Arundel for the Royalist cause. He was taken to the Tower of London and heavily fined by the House of Commons.

Returning to the kitchen, we sit drinking tea in this timeless place, looking out over the park and gardens. I am reminded how important objects can be in bringing the common narrative of our island nation’s history to life.

Lady Emma and her family bring such life to Parham through their delight in this place, its history, collections and their desire to share it with others. We are blessed that Parham has such passionate, dedicated and generous custodians.

Parham House and its collections provide a window to our past and our future. Whether you are visiting for the first time or returning, Parham never fails to captivate and delight anew.

Parham House and Gardens are open until the end of September on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, Sundays and this May Bank Holiday Monday, at 2pm and 12pm respectively, closing at 5pm. For more information go to www.parhaminsussex.co.uk or telephone 01903 742021.

Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 20th May 2015 in the West Sussex Gazette.

Parham House and Gardens’ Annual Garden Weekend

Parham House and Garden
Gardener and patron, Peta Ashton and Lady Emma Barnard, in conversation in the Tudor herb garden at Parham House and Gardens

This week I am visiting the walled gardens in the lead up to one of the highlights of the Sussex summer calendar: Parham House and Gardens’ famous ‘Garden Weekend’. This year’s celebration of gardening at Parham will be opened on Saturday by the BBC Gardeners’ World presenter Joe Swift.

I love the stillness that gathers you in the walled gardens at Parham. It transports you, separating you from the business of life. To create a garden of this subtlety, depth and beauty requires a sensitivity to place, light, the elements and the seasons.

Tom Brown, Head Gardener at Parham, leads a team of gifted people, whose creativity allows this sublime garden to honour the past while remaining forward-looking. I am excited to be meeting Peta Ashton, a gardener and member of this team, whose individuality and talent is apparent in her work in the Parham gardens.

Lady Emma Barnard and I walk from her wonderful house to the gardens and she leaves me in the path between the long borders as she goes off to find Peta. If you have ever dared to still yourself and stand in a landscape, you will know that out of the silence your senses become heightened. You become more alive. Sounds, colours and movement reveal themselves to you. As I stand between these borders with the warmth of the sun upon my face, the wind and shadows cause the soft planting to dance. I become aware of the swathes of colour and their relationships to one another, which, together with the textures of flowers and foliage, form complex compositions. The gentle breeze plays upon the leaves. There is a rhythm and wholeness, born out of this rich canvas. Lady Emma appears with Peta, the sound of their voices and feet on the gravel paths marking their approach.

Borders at Parham House and Gardens
Peta Ashton’s sublime borders at Parham

The borders which have just captured my imagination and gathered me are the work and inspiration of Peta Ashton. I remark on my experience of this particular part of the garden. She listens thoughtfully. Her face breaks into a gentle smile beneath her broad-brimmed hat, evidently pleased by my unexpected response to her work. I ask her what has influenced the garden layout. She replies, “The gardens are laid out in the ‘Old Parham Way’ with secret and open spaces.” There is much talk today of garden rooms but it would seem that this is nothing new at Parham.

Together the three of us walk towards another of Peta’s creations, the restored herb garden, which is bordered by a tall yew hedge of dark green hue. Entering through an arch cut into the hedge, we find ourselves in a secret, sunny garden. A circular stone pond with a lead putto is framed by tall herbs. Excitedly Peta leads Emma and me around the herb garden, delighting in the names, the foliage and the characters of each individual plant. It is apparent that we are in the company of a generous and passionate plantswoman, who expresses her hopes and fears for each of them in turn.

In Tudor times, when Parham was built, herbs were used for their culinary, medicinal and strewing properties. Herbs would be strewn on the floors and surfaces of homes to deter insects and to disinfect, as well as for their fragrant qualities. In this enclosed garden, I am reminded that herbs were associated with the monastic tradition in medicine. It is these influences which are expressed in the disciplined, balanced planting. Peta explains that this would be defeated if it was too ornamental. There is a sense of working with nature and history.

The Gardens at Parham House
A view from the gardens looking towards the house and Sussex Downs

I ask Peta how she comes to imagine and create these remarkable borders and gardens. She pauses for a moment, considering her reply, and then says, “The borders come out of being in this space in silence. It is the combination of this inner criterion and influences from outside which I try to work with.” Being attentive to nature, colour, form and movement requires a particular quality of engagement and a generous discipline – a combination of relationship with our environment and an attempt to shut out the white noise of our lives and be truly present, undistracted in the given moment. It is a form of meditation, of prayer. Peta clearly understands this and it gifts her creativity and remarkable vision with depth and subtlety. She is both artist and gardener.

Calling and vocation can be expressed in infinite ways. Peta Ashton’s sense of vocation towards her work, like her gardens, is inspiring. It is bound up with her very personhood. Like so much at Parham House and Gardens, Peta’s tremendously personal expression of creativity is possible thanks to the patronage and involvement of Lady Emma.

Sheltered by the warm hues of the old brick garden walls covered in lichen, these gardens have a remarkable ability to gather and engage people. Families find a gentle place to wander in conversation, their time in the garden informed by the beauty around them. Keen horticulturists will pause to explore the subtleties and effects of the planting and compositions before them. Whatever your approach, though, you cannot fail to wander in this beautiful place without being moved by it.

I am looking forward to the Parham House and Gardens’ ‘Garden Weekend’ this Saturday and Sunday, 12th and 13th July 2014, 10.30am to 5.00pm. For more information go to www.parhaminsussex.co.uk or telephone 01903 742021. Tickets include the wonderful gardens and entry to the house and its superb collections. There are Parham plants for sale too – wonderful stock – so don’t forget to treat yourselves!

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 9th July 2014 in the West Sussex Gazette.

The Art of the Garden at Parham House

Cascading summer flowers in the Great Hall at Parham
Cascading summer flowers in the Great Hall at Parham

The park and gardens at Parham reflect a timeless English love of landscape and horticulture. They contain many rare specimens, ranging from lichens to ancient oaks, which work in concert with the surrounding downland landscape. In the walled garden, the swathes of summer flowers, box-hedged ornamental vegetables and espalier fruit trees are complemented by an array of medieval and Tudor culinary and medicinal herbs.

Lady Emma and James Barnard
Lady Emma and her husband, James Barnard, delighting in the cutting beds in Parham’s walled gardens

Regular readers of this column will know that Clive and Alicia Pearson bought Parham in 1922 and set about restoring the house and gardens after years of neglect. Mrs Pearson loved to fill the house with fresh-cut summer flowers, arranged in what she called the “Parham way”. Lady Emma Barnard, the current custodian of Parham House and gardens, acknowledges her great-grandmother’s influence on the walled garden today. “Alicia’s love of blocks of colour and fluid forms is reflected in the naturalistic effect of the planting in the garden,” she says. “My great-grandmother wrote instructions on the flower arrangements for the house, especially in relation to colours, so that they would complement the collections of the rooms in which they were placed. We still follow her notes today!”

Mrs Pearson’s tastes reflected those of her generation. She embraced the modern whilst keeping a firm eye on the past. The famous florist and designer Constance Spry also drew from nature. She inspired a generation with her naturalistic taste before and after the Second World War – perhaps she was inspired by the special “Parham way”. As you journey around Lady Emma’s delightful home, you notice that each room has a flower arrangement which draws your eye to the treasures before you and the play of light upon them. My eye is caught by the cascading array of summer flowers shown here against the cool hue of the limed oak panelling in the Great Hall. The flowers bring the colours of the flanking tapestries to life in an unexpected, beautiful way.

Parham’s gardens are particularly fine this year. The swathes of summer flowers seem to dance in the gentle breeze. They frame the paths as you approach the orchard and the vegetable and herb beds with their clipped box hedge borders.

Oil on canvas by Harold Clayton
Oil on canvas by Harold Clayton, discovered in Sussex by Rupert

Lady Emma and her husband, James, are keen to show me the cutting beds where all the flowers for the house are grown. In amongst the brightly coloured blocks of flowers Emma declares, “We are always keen to take the naturalistic into the house – cow-parsley and even bolted rocket can be very good in arrangements.”

The work of British artist Harold Clayton (1896-1979) was shaped by his love of the garden and his attention to detail. Like the taste expressed in the special “Parham way”, Clayton took the Dutch still life of the 17th century and made it modern. This taste is much sought after today. I discovered the oil painting by him shown here some years ago. Today it would realise £6000-8000 at auction, testament to the enduring popularity of the English country house and garden aesthetic expressed so beautifully and timelessly at Parham.

Parham’s 20th Annual Garden Weekend is this coming weekend, Saturday 13th and Sunday 14th July 2013, between 10.30am and 5.00pm each day. It is a must for all of us who love gardens but don’t forget to check out the beautiful flower arrangements in the house! For more information go to www.parhaminsussex.co.uk or telephone 01903 742021.

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 10th July 2013 in the West Sussex Gazette.

The Covers are off at Parham

Parham House
Parham House Opens for the 2013 Season

I am always delighted to return to Parham House, which reopens this Easter Sunday. For me, Parham is one of the most beautiful homes in all England. I admire this special and hopeful place and its current custodian, Lady Emma Barnard, who lives here with her husband James, a successful London Barrister, and their two boys.

Attention has been diverted from the recent fire and all is shipshape for the Easter opening. “I love it when the visitor season and first opening approaches,” Lady Emma declares. “It’s always exciting as the house’s treasures emerge from their winter covers – but there’s always so much to do.” This delight in sharing the joys of Parham is something Lady Emma has in common with her great-grandparents, Clive and Alicia Pearson. They opened Parham to the public from 1948, not out of need but out of a genuine desire to share their home with others, a tradition which was continued by Emma’s great-aunt, Veronica Tritton.

Clive Pearson came from one of the great entrepreneurial families of the turn of the 20th Century. He worked with his father and brother in the family civil engineering firm. Each generation has a collecting and aesthetic bias and for the Pearsons it was an admiration for the older English manor house, in sympathy with the antiquarianism of the 18th Century, rather than the reinterpretation and imitation of styles of the Victorians.

It should be unsurprising that, once discovered, Clive and Alicia Pearson fell in love with Parham. Undeterred by the poor state of the house, they purchased it together with the estate for £200,000, a large sum of money in 1922. During the 1920s and ‘30s they carefully restored this fine Elizabethan house, installing electricity, plumbing and heating.

There can be no question about the care they took to return Parham to its Elizabethan grandeur. The Pearsons furnished it with the wonderful collections of fine portraits, furniture and textiles, often searching out pieces formerly from the house or relating to its history. And yet, with its limed oak panelling and large windows, there is an airy, light feeling to the Great Hall, Long Gallery and many other rooms, which seems almost modern to our contemporary eye. Canadian forces were billeted there during the Second World War as the Battle of Britain was fought overhead. The family stayed on at the house throughout the war and a great rapport built up between them and the troops.

In the grounds to the south of the house, beyond the ha-ha, is St Peter’s Church. The family’s pew still has its own fireplace and, who knows, perhaps they’ll be lighting it this Easter if this chilly spring continues. The Georgian interior reflects the light and openness of the house. There is an atmosphere of stillness and prayer, layered up over centuries. The Easter Sunday Holy Communion starts at 10am and will be led this year by Revd. David Farrant. The church remains open all day. So you might decide to attend the service or perhaps just take time to be, to rest and to reflect as part of your visit to Parham.

Lady Emma Barnard
Lady Emma Barnard in the Great Hall

Lady Emma’s family are only the third family to live at Parham since 1577. A house and garden like Parham carry with them a weight of history and tradition; it demands a particularly keen sense of duty and service from its custodians. Lady Emma applies her own undoubted professional skills to the task. She is keenly supported by her husband and the directors of the charitable trust which has the responsibility to preserve this wonderful place for generations to come. But it is Emma’s love for Parham and her family which breathes real life into the house and gardens. “It’s wonderful for the boys to grow up in this place – we’re so lucky to live here,” she says. I think that it is actually Parham which is lucky. This really is a home, alive and welcoming. Parham is at once timeless and contemporary, intimate and grand and is matched by the generous enthusiasm and passion of Lady Emma.

This optimistic place provides a window onto our past and our future, an historical narrative from the first to the second 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 anew.

The covers are off! Parham House and Gardens open on Easter Sunday 31st March 2013 at 2pm and 12pm respectively, closing at 5pm. For more information go to www.parhaminsussex.co.uk or telephone 01903 742021.

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 27th March 2013 in the West Sussex Gazette.

Updating a Tradition: Lisa Katzenstein

Detail of tall cone vases in 'Flowers' design by Lisa Katzenstein
Detail of tall cone vases in 'Flowers' design by Lisa Katzenstein

Ceramics continually fall under the radar as an art form. In this country ceramics struggle to shrug off the perception of it being a utilitarian craft, whilst in Europe you have whole museums dedicated to the subject. Lisa Katzenstein is a Hastings-based ceramicist who, through her art, would like to change people’s awareness of the medium. Nicholas Toovey tells us more

'Landscape' design rectangular vase by Lisa Katzenstein
'Landscape' design rectangular vase by Lisa Katzenstein
Group of leaning vases hand-painted with wild plants by Lisa Katzenstein
Group of leaning vases by Lisa Katzenstein
'Melon' design wave bowl by Lisa Katzenstein
'Melon' design wave bowl by Lisa Katzenstein
'Melons' design large square vase from the 'Grow Your Own' series by Lisa Katzenstein
'Melons' design large square vase by Lisa Katzenstein
'Honesty' and 'Physalis' design tall twist vases by Lisa Katzenstein
'Honesty' and 'Physalis' design tall twist vases by Lisa Katzenstein

Lisa was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico. At the age of 4 she moved with her family to Italy, moving again to London when she was 10. She continued to live in London and eventually shared a one bed room flat with her husband and renting a separate studio. In 2007, Lisa and her partner decided to stop spending money to live uncomfortably and moved to Hastings, halving their outgoings and trebling their space. Lisa’s mother-in-law lived in the town so they both knew the area very well. Today she would not live anywhere else, as the move took them to somewhere that they now love. She acknowledges Hastings may have had a bad reputation, but personally cannot understand the reasons behind it. In her eyes the town is not too chichi like other neighbouring towns and is a wonderful place in itself, it also is host to a thriving artistic community. Does Sussex inspire her? Definitely, it may not be immediately translated in her work but she loves the contrasts between East and West Sussex and the nearby west Kent. From the Denge sound mirrors near Dungeness and the wilder parts of the pretty marshes in East Sussex to the ‘park-like’ appearance of West Sussex. Rye, Winchelsea and Hastings have their history, she says, but it is portrayed differently to the Cotswolds which has a Disney Land appearance. Whilst these places are more an inspiration, it is perhaps the proud scruffiness of nature and wild flowers in our counties that transfers onto her work in ceramics.

Lisa studied a BA in ceramics at Central School of Art, London, followed by an MA in ceramics at the Royal College of Art. She is a professional member of the Craft Potters Association and on the Sussex Guild, she is also listed on the Craft Councils listed makers list. When she was leaving college very few of her fellow students could make a living from ceramics, with the public attitude being very much ‘Why pay that much for a vase?’. Fortunately today, people have a better understanding and appreciation for a one-off piece of art. As a nation our perception of ceramics as an art form is slowly changing, but a dedicated museum to ceramics, especially 20th Century works, still seems a long way off.

Lisa describes her work as traditional, her pieces are slip-cast or press moulded white earthenware adorned by hand-painted ‘tin-glaze’ decoration prior to firing. This technique was developed in Europe to imitate the imported and fashionable Chinese porcelain. It would be referred to as Majolica, Maiolica, Delft or Faience depending on where it was produced. She also says that her work is a half-half mix of design (as it is functional) and art (as it is individually painted). The traditional element also refers to the fact that not only is the work functional but she chooses flowers and nature as her subject. However her work is not stuck in the 18th or 19th Century, Lisa reinvents the oeuvre for a modern audience, the flowers are not painted in a botanical way, they are contextual.  Her bright, colourful and cheery palette enables her work to be eye-catching and still fit within interiors of today. Her latest series of work concentrates around the renewed interest in ‘grow your own’, decorated with vegetables and fruit.

Lisa will be showing her work on the 9th and 10th June at the fabulous ‘Sussex Guild Show’ at Parham House near Storrington, and at ‘Art in Clay’ at Hatfield House in Hertfordshire on the 6th, 7th and 8th July. Her work can also be seen at Horsham Museum & Art Gallery between the 1st June and 7th July in a group exhibition with 49 other artists in the preview exhibition of Toovey’s Contemporary Art Auction where all the works on show will be offered for sale at their Spring Gardens Salerooms on the 21st July.

For more www.lisakatzenstein.co.uk

Nicholas’ article was originally published in Sussex Life magazine in June 2012.