Autumn in Sussex

José Weiss’ oil painting of the River Arun and Amberley chalk pits at dusk
José Weiss’ oil painting of the River Arun and Amberley chalk pits at dusk

As autumn approaches we look to the changes in the season, perhaps a last and precious glimpse of summer before the leaves fall. The morning dew has been lying heavily on the fields and the geese call to each other in their V-shaped formations as they fly on their winter migration. I am always excited by the fruits of the hedgerows, especially the blackberries and elderberries. In orchards across Sussex apples and quince are gathered and there is a sharper quality to the breeze on an incoming tide.

There is a wonderful sense of journeying and returning in the seasons of year – a time to reflect. T.S. Elliott had strong associations with Sussex. Writing from a perspective of Christian faith he observed the seasons in his poem ‘Little Gidding’:

Oliver Clare’s Still Life of Quince, Grapes and Berries, in Naturalistic Setting
Oliver Clare’s Still Life of Quince, Grapes and Berries, in Naturalistic Setting

‘We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, unremembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.’

The Downs are beginning to change from their warmer summer hues to the cooler greens so beautifully depicted in José Weiss’ oil painting of Amberley chalk pits, viewed from the river Arun at dusk. José Weiss was born in Paris in 1859. He holidayed and painted at Amberley where he met Agnes Ratton. They were married and made their home at Houghton. Weiss would become famous for his Sussex views, particularly from along the river Arun.

The abundance of the autumn hedgerow has inspired successive generations of artists.

The painter Oliver Clare’s technique even captures dewdrops on the texture of the fruit. The naturalistic setting gives this jewel like still life context, connecting it with nature.

A pair of Royal Worcester bone china two handled urns and covers, painted by M. Morris, after 1950 with still life studies of fruit
A pair of Royal Worcester bone china two handled urns and covers, painted by M. Morris, after 1950 with still life studies of fruit

The translucence of the glaze adds life to ceramic artist M. Morris’ still life painted on the pair of Royal Worcester bone china urns and covers. Here peaches accompany the blackberries of the hedgerows.

The seasons continue to inspire us as they did writers and artists in the early and mid – 20th century. We delight in the joy of gathering blackberries and apples for a pie. Walks along ancient lanes and footpaths in the Weald, on the Downs and by the sea connect us with the Sussex landscape.

This delight is reflected in collectors’ interest to acquire art and objects which speak into our experience of this marvellous country. Prices for pieces of this quality range from hundreds of pounds into the low thousands at auction.

Whether you are foraging for art or the blessings of the approaching autumn season allow yourself time to reflect in the landscape.

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, Hospitality over Centuries

St Mary’s House, Bramber
St Mary’s House, Bramber

Over the centuries people have journeyed along ancient Sussex lanes in the shadow of the Downs. These Pilgrim routes brought people to the important bridge at Bramber and to St Mary’s House and Gardens which still welcomes visitors today.

In Saxon and medieval times Steyning was an important port. The Adur estuary was much wider than it is today. In the late 11th century William de Braose had built the castle at Bramber to protect the estuary and town.

Rupert Toovey and the pilgrim’s bridge at St Ives, Cambridgeshire
Rupert Toovey and the pilgrim’s bridge at St Ives, Cambridgeshire

A great stone bridge, now lost, crossed the Adur. It was built with a chapel upon it. The Priory at Sele had responsibility for its upkeep and repair. The bridge at St Ives in Cambridgeshire was built in the 1420s. With its bridge chapel it allows us to glimpse what the bridge at Bramber may have looked like. The bridge at Bramber would have brought pilgrims to St Mary’s House. In those days this Hospitalier house would have provided rest and accommodation to travellers. The rooms were arranged around an enclosed courtyard. Visitors today can still see the east wing with its rare interiors, painted panels and collections. The house is a good example of the use of jettying. Technically and aesthetically it marked a significant development in vernacular architecture. The use of close set vertical timbers is known as close studding. This decorative type of construction became widespread in Sussex in the 15th century.

The Rose Garden at St Mary’s, Bramber
The Rose Garden at St Mary’s, Bramber

Thanks to the generosity of Peter Thorogood, who bought St Mary’s House in 1984, and Roger Linton, the house and gardens still offer great hospitality. They have spent more than 30 years conserving this remarkable house and creating a series of gardens.

From the time of the Roman Emperor, Constantine, roses have been associated with the veneration of Jesus Christ’s mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary, after whom St Mary’s house is named. The rose garden at the house is at its best right now. The gardens, designed by Roger Linton and restored by an army of volunteers, gift us with space in the busyness of our modern lives, a generous punctuation mark – time to imagine and to be.

Peter Thorogood and Roger Linton are deserving of our thanks. 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 are open to the public throughout the summer season on Sunday afternoons and Bank Holiday Mondays. For further details go to 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.

Art & Hospitality at the Swan Inn Fittleworth

The Swan Inn Fittleworth
The Swan Inn at Fittleworth

I recently found myself in Fittleworth in the company of artists, connoisseurs and residents delivering a lecture in celebration of art and artists in Sussex. Preparing the talk I returned to the Swan Inn which has welcomed famous artists, composers and authors over the centuries.

Art and the welcoming bar
Art and the welcoming bar

The visitor’s book includes such illustrious names such as J.M.W. Turner and John Constable who both painted the mill at Fittleworth. Leading composers are recorded too. Amongst them is Edward Elgar who wrote many of his most remarkable works whilst living at Brinkwells near Fittleworth, including his Cello Concerto in E minor. Rudyard Kipling also visited the Swan Inn.

Today the inn still provides hospitality and welcome under the generous custodianship of Deborah and Anthony Wyman and their son, Charlie. They bring a life time of experience to the task. As we sit in the bar, surrounded by work by Rex Vicat Cole and others, I am reminded that many Victorian and early twentieth century artists were welcomed at the Swan Inn, donating work for their board and lodging. The paintings were originally hung in the dining room, framed by the wood panelled walls. I can remember the warm and gathering scene vividly. They were taken down for a time by previous owners of the inn. But Deborah and Anthony have lovingly re-hung them to the joy of Fittleworth residents and art lovers alike. I remark how lovely it is to see these paintings afresh in their new setting. Anthony is clearly delighted and speaks enthusiastically about the Swan Inn’s place at the heart of the community. He clearly loves this place and continues to invest in the inn and the local community. Anthony tells me excitedly about the new bedrooms and events room which are just being finished.

The Swan Inn’s famous art re-hung
The Swan Inn’s famous art re-hung

From Norman times, and before, Fittleworth has provided hospitality and welcome. Since the 14th century the Swan Inn has been the heart of this welcoming Sussex village – a tradition it continues to this day.

Christmas party bookings are still being taken and the Swan Inn, with its excellent cellar and food, is a great place to dine at any time of year. For art lovers there is the added pleasure of paintings by many leading Victorian and early twentieth century artists. You can be sure of a warm welcome. Our thanks should go to Deborah and Anthony Wyman and their son, Charlie for preserving such an important part of our Sussex social history, and for celebrating Sussex as a centre for artists over the centuries. To make a booking, or to find out more about the Swan Inn, Lower Street, Fittleworth, West Sussex, RH20 1EN, telephone 01798 865429 or visit www.swaninnhotel.com.

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 2nd December 2015 in the West Sussex Gazette.