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.

Inspired by the Landscape

Rupert Toovey at Petworth Park
Rupert Toovey at Petworth Park

Inspired by the Horsham Museum & Art Galleries latest exhibition of local landscapes I have been trying to walk off my Christmas indulgence, with my terrier Bonnie in the beauty of the Sussex countryside. And what strikes me is how influential and important human stewardship and industry has been to the appearance and beauty of our landscape.

A great favourite of ours is the circular walk at the top of Chantry Hill at the back of Storrington. From the car park you follow the footpath to the west. The views carry your eye across the undulating hills of the Angmering Park Estate to the sea at Worthing and the Isle of Wight. Leaving the main path and heading North the ground steadily rises until the view opens onto the Sussex Weald. A few hundred yards to the east between Kithurst Hill and Chantry Hill you come upon a late Bronze Age / Iron Age cross dyke. The deep ditch and steep embankment still defines its boundary and affords the most wonderful views with Storrington below. As you walk in this man made earthworks you have a real sense of the ancient and your place in the procession of history. It is farming which has created and preserved the Downland landscape which surrounds it.

At Petworth Park the qualities of the picturesque are alive in Capability Brown’s man made landscape, preserved and maintained by The National Trust.

Bonnie delighted to be on the Bronze Age cross dyke on Chantry Hill

Bonnie and I love to walk through the park and around the lake. The house and park are united in the landscape. Here you come upon a series of constructed, vignette views onto sweeping areas of grass, curving lakes and beautifully conceived woodland clumps of trees. It is as though you are walking in a series paintings.

This aesthetic was born out of the rococo in reaction to the formal straight lines and topiary of the French royal gardens designed by André Le Notre (1613-1700), which had been made popular in England in the late 17th and early 18th centuries by George London (d.1714) and Henry Wise (1653-1738). Together they had created the parterres not only at Petworth but also at Hampton Court Palace, Chatsworth and Longleat.

In early 18th century England there was a political desire, held by both the Whig government and Hanoverian King George I, to distance themselves from the excesses of the French Court at Versailles. This combined with a fascination for ‘unbounded nature’. In this climate Capability Brown’s park landscapes evolved in dialogue with his patrons. Perhaps this is why his idealised landscapes speak into the hearts and imaginations of the English and, in part, define us.

Sussex and her landscape continues to inspire successive generations of artists, writers and composers as she has over the centuries. I look forward to exploring the Sussex landscape and the continuing contribution of its contemporary stewards to the identity and heritage of the county.

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.

Royal Visit Celebrates Heritage and Community

HRH Princess Alexandra of Kent with Peter Thorogood, Roger Linton, and The Lord Lieutenant of West Sussex, Susan Pyper, opening the new King’s Garden at St Mary’s, Bramber

It is a bright early Summer afternoon as Her Royal Highness Princess Alexandra of Kent opens the new King’s Garden in the company of the Lord Lieutenant of West Sussex, Susan Pyper, Peter Thorogood, Roger Linton and the volunteers at St Mary’s House and Gardens, Bramber. Heritage, hard work and community are affirmed and celebrated.

Peter Thorogood., MBE and Roger Linton., MBE, bought the house and gardens in 1984. Their passion for this wonderful place is infectious. They have created and gathered a community of people around the house and gardens. This team of volunteers have also offered their resources, time and talents to the repair, restoration and maintenance of this important house and garden.

Peter Thorogood has just celebrated his 90th birthday. I offer my congratulations on his birthday and work at St Mary’s. He responds self-effacingly noting the “hard work of the volunteers” and the camaraderie of all who have been involved in the house and gardens. These sentiments are echoed by Roger Linton who reflects upon how he gains such “pleasure from their pleasure”.

St Mary’s House and Gardens, Bramber

Whilst we await the arrival of the Princess I join the volunteers in the tea rooms. The great affection in which they hold Peter and Roger quickly becomes apparent. They clearly value the friendships and sense of community which underpins the work of St Mary’s.

HRH Princess Alexandra is shown around the house and gardens. She pauses in the Jubilee Garden to admire the Princess Alexandra of Kent roses and the Acer palmatum shindeshojo which has been planted to mark her visit.

A Boscobel Rose in The King’s Garden

The King’s Garden also shares a royal theme and has been designed by Roger Linton to commemorate Prince Charles, later Charles II’s escape through Bramber village to Brighton and then to Shoreham from where he would sail into exile in France. It is said that Charles eluded the Parliamentarian forces at both Houghton and Bramber by disguising himself as Colonel George Gunter’s servant and leading his horse. At the heart of The King’s Garden is a sapling oak whose lineage goes back to the famous Boscobel Oak in which Charles II hid after the Battle of Worcester in 1651.

St Mary’s House and Gardens has a vital and continuing role in our community. Its story encompasses and tells the story of our county’s place in the history of our nation.

The vision, dedication, hard work and generosity of Peter Thorogood and Roger Linton has permanently written their names into the story and history of this grand old house and her gardens.

These generous custodians have always wanted to share St Mary’s with others and it is their intention that 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, are open to the public for the 2017 season. 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.

St Mary’s House Welcomes Visitors over the Centuries

As you walk up the garden path through the beautifully clipped topiary St Mary’s House reveals herself

As you walk up the garden path through the beautifully clipped topiary St Mary’s House reveals herself. The close set vertical timbers and contrasting white panels reflect the light with a particular quality.

St Mary’s captured the imaginations of her current custodians and patrons, Peter Thorogood and Roger Linton, who bought the house and gardens in 1984. They have worked tirelessly and invested constantly in the house and gardens which were in some disrepair when they took them on. It has always been their express wish to open them to the public.

Peter Thorogood and Roger Linton at work in the Library of St Mary’s House, Bramber

Their different gifts have blessed St Mary’s. Peter brought his experience at the British Council and his talents as a writer and researcher to the task of preserving St Mary’s. Roger, with a background in design seeded at the Royal College of Art, brought his skills as a conservator and set about restoring the property and designing the gardens. Peter’s love of music and theatre are given expression in the program of concerts and theatre which are also at the heart of St Mary’s life.

The house we see today incorporates the surviving wing from the late 15th century when William of Waynflete, the Bishop of Winchester, built a new Chapel House around a galleried courtyard. The house is a good example of the use of close set vertical timbers known as close studding which became widespread in Sussex at that time. The house would have originally welcomed pilgrims.

The Painted Room with trompe l’oeil panels which are believed to date from Tudor times

Although there is a grandeur to this wonderful old house it is very much a home informed by the passions and interests of Peter Thorogood and Roger Linton. The collections and furniture speak of their lives, families and interests. I discover them at work in the Library. They tell me about the continuing challenges of restoring and preserving this important landmark in the history of Sussex. We walk along the landing as they speak passionately about the history of the house. I am always delighted by the Painted Room with its trompe l’oeil panels. Peter explains that they are thought to date from Tudor times. The panels have beautifully painted landscapes and sea-battle vignettes.

Over the years they have inspired a team of volunteers and friends to join them. Peter and Roger have a deep sense of dedication to this place and their vision to share St Mary’s with all of us. The care of St Mary’s has become a way of life for them and they deserve our thanks.

Whether you are visiting for the first time or returning to an old friend, as I often do, St Mary’s has a particular gift of taking us out of the busyness of our own lives and allowing us to see ourselves in that broad procession of human history of which Sussex has so often been at the centre. St Mary’s House and Gardens are open to the public for the 2017 season. For further details of opening times, concerts and events visit www.stmarysbramber.co.uk.

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.

The Future of Sussex Defined by the Past

Capability Brown’s very English landscape at Petworth

Capability Brown’s very English landscape at PetworthAs a New Year begins it gifts us with a moment to reflect on the rich identity of our county and the role heritage and the arts have in re-telling the common stories which we all share and which bind us together.

Over the millennia when the English, a diverse race, have needed to define themselves they have returned to their monarchy, their landscape, their history and their church, as well as the qualities of service to others, tolerance and fairness. 2016 seemed to epitomise these themes and qualities.

The Rt. Revd. Bishop of Horsham, Mark Sowerby, joined me at the Steyning Festival for a church service to celebrate HM Queen Elizabeth II’s 90th birthday. The celebrations included a concert

We celebrated HM Queen Elizabeth II’s 90th birthday with church services and festivals.

The Bernardi Music Group fund raising for Sussex hospices in the music room at Goodwood House

Our hospices were celebrated and supported by a fund-raising concert given by the Bernardi Music Group at Goodwood House. New and traditional music celebrated the Sussex landscape.

In reaction to the industrial revolution and war from the late 19th and 20th centuries onwards there was a desire to articulate the ancient hope of the English expressed in and through their landscape. A hope bound up with a romanticized view of a rural idyll, lost or under threat.

The West Grinstead & District Ploughing & Agricultural Society Annual Ploughing Match and Country Show

The West Grinstead & District Ploughing & Agricultural Society was founded in 1871 and its Annual Ploughing Match and Country Show still seeks to honour countryside traditions and learn from the past whilst looking confidently to the future of farming in Sussex.

The 300th anniversary of the birth of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown (1716-1783), the famous landscape designer, allowed us to focus on the beauty of our Sussex landscape with exhibitions at The Horsham Museum, curated by Jeremy Knight, and by Tom Dommett, the National Trust’s Regional Archaeologist, at Petworth House and Park.

It has never been more important for us to be confident of who we are – to remember our shared story. It is this generous and outward facing identity which will bless us and our county with hope and opportunity in 2017.

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.