Recently I took a trip to visit Petworth House and Park which is situated at the edge of Petworth, West Sussex. It is a stately mansion nestled in the South Downs, housing the finest art collection in the care of the National Trust. This is a great place to visit for anyone who is interested in Architecture, Interiors, Art, Walking or Landscapes.
The grounds of the house incorporate walks through 700 acres of parkland sculpted by Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown (1). It is one of the finest surviving and unspoilt examples of his work. It gives the impression of being completely natural but is actually man-made and was transformed in the 1750’s and early 1760’s. Before Brown redesigned the grounds the house did not have good views and was thought by many to be situated badly. There are two ponds and the original road to the house was moved. The walks around the grounds feel natural and relaxing with lots of wildlife around and plants left mostly to do as they please. There are fallow deer roaming free further away from the house which are the largest herd in England. Throughout the gardens are features such as the Rotunda and boathouse which are a delightful surprise for visitors to discover as they wander.
ARCHITECTURAL FOOTNOTE: (1) An English 18th Century Landscape Architect
Every room in Petworth House has artwork in it and together make up the largest art collection in the care of the National Trust. Artists in the collection included Van Dyck’s family portraits, Reynold’s depiction of Macbeth, Louis Laguerre’s murals surrounding the walls and ceilings of the Grand Staircase and Turner’s Sussex views to name just a few. Petworth’s extraordinary art collection also contains several examples of artists interpreting Shakespeare’s works. In the North Gallery, not only are there paintings and statues but also a unique handwritten copy of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales which I remember reading and enjoying when I was younger.
Petworth House is a late 17th century Grade I listed country house, rebuilt in 1688 by Charles Seymour, and altered in the 1870’s to the design of architect Anthony Salvin. The house itself has been a family home for over 800 years and was originally intended for occasional use only. It was in the late 1500’s that it became a permanent home to the Percy’s when they were put under house arrest by Elizabeth I for their alliance to Mary, Queen of Scots. Part of the house is still lived in today by the current Lord and Lady Egremont. The interior has many different styles including a Marble Hall and a wooden Carved Room. I particularly enjoyed the Carved Room as the carvings were so intricate and really stood out as something different to anything I had seen before. Each room has its own character, history and style, which makes a walk through the house exciting and full of discoveries and stories. Something that I found out whilst wandering the house is that Queen Anne was in a constant state of mourning due to her poor health and the loss of her seventeen children so she never wore necklaces.
Aside from the main house at Petworth you can also visit the Servant’s quarters and historic kitchens. Built in the mid-18th century, the servants quarters are almost the same as they were in the Victorian times. In 1829 the kitchens served nearly 30,000 guests. The main kitchen is home to 1,000 copper pots and pans as well as other traditional equipment, some of which you can touch as well as traditional costumes for people to try on, which of course had to be done! Within this building are volunteers dressed up as some of the different servants and are happy to tell stories of situations that occurred or answer any questions you have, making the whole place feel very authentic.
Not only are the House and grounds a fantastic place to visit but you can access the town straight from Petworth House, via the historic kitchens. I did this and discovered a local food market and some delightful antique shops and quirky houses.
I thoroughly enjoyed my visit and would recommend a visit to Petworth House and Park to everyone. It encompasses so many different interests meaning it has something for everyone to enjoy.