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Petworth House

Yesterday I visited Petworth House the home of the Percy family in West Sussex. I was motivated by a conversation I had with Alice Mansfield who had watched a TV programme on Petworth House called Britain’s Lost Masterpieces.

Petworth House contains some eminent art works notably an unknown cardinal attributed to the school of Titian.

It was art expert’s contention (Dr Bendor Grosvenor) that Titian himself painted the picture as would be revealed by restoration.

Here is link to the programme – BRITAIN’S LOST MASTERPIECES

The great attraction of the British country house – as with Petworth – is that at its best you get three for the price of one; the house, its contents and the grounds.

Petworth House has beautiful grounds laid out by Capability Brown, a superb art collection and the house itself.

It was given by the crown in 1150 to the Percy ducal family – they were the Earls of Northumberland. Several of them, notably the 10th earl (1602-1668), were notable collectors of art numbering Anthony Van Dyck and Titian, two of the greatest portraitists of all time.

The third earl of Egremont (1751-1837), who featured prominently in the programme, was quite a character.

He had 15 mistresses, all resident in Petworth House and 43 illegitimate children.

One of his mistresses Elizabeth Iliffe (sic) bore him 7 children, then they married – subsequently she divorced him for his localised philandering – and she had her only legitimate child by him.

She was a brilliant farmer developing potato cultivation and also inventor, fashioning a culling agricultural tool.

Her life is celebrated in an exhibition at the House.

She is certainly a heroine but I was also pleased that the third Earl, who was patron to J.M.M. Turner and encouraged Gainsborough, was not cast as a villain either in the programme or the exhibition. He also devised a scheme for repatriating  labour to Canada.

I arrived at Ford Station, the open prison is nearby, and from there a taxi took me through the lovely countryside of the South Downs to Petworth.

It’s very much now a National Trust property.

Jim Lees Milne must be lauded for saving so many county homes after the war whose owners found the upkeep financially beyond them.

This became the National Trust and it’s now a thriving operation. The art collection of Petworth was saved for the nation in lieu of taxes, the first time such such a concession had been made.

So it is Jim Lees Milne and the tax inspector we must thank when viewing the collection.

My membership of the National Trust allowed me free admission.

A short walk through the grounds took me to the main house. I joined the tour whose guide, a florid faced man in his mid 70s, was the sort you would find at the bar in the local village pub, the main stay of the darts team and the clever clogs in the pub quiz team. He was accompanied by a posh bossy boots, the type of woman whose company I detest.

There was obviously much interest in the Titian cardinal after the programme.

I looked at the picture and started to read the blurb when bossy boots commanded me to move on.

The next room, a carved wood gallery, had a picture of Henry VIII attributed to the school of Holbein the Younger.

Our guide was convinced that the brush work detail was so masterly that Holbein himself was the painter.

After the tour it was time  to walk the grounds.

A short walk took me to a lake where I peacefully ate my sandwiches and listened to Test Match Special.

Somerset Maugham once said that as we have so few fine summer days in the UK, it’s only fair that ours are  lovelier than anyone else’s.

Thus was such a day: warm with a hint of breeze so you could walk comfortably without breaking into a sweat.

There was still time for a ice cream and visit to the art shop before collection by the very same taxi driver back to Ford station.

There was one final incident worthy of sharing.

Ford station is a bleak place with no cafe or pub close to it as if to conform with the prison environment nearby.

Arriving early for my train, I sat down on a platform bench. After a minute I was joined by a  young blonde lady dressed in a pink miniskirt with an expensive handbag. Much tanned trim thigh was on view.

She smiled sweetly and obligingly as I created a space for her to sit next to me on the bench. What was she doing on Ford platform?

Then it occurred to me that she was visiting an inmate. Daffers would have sussed her in seconds.


About Nancy Bright-Thompson

A widely-respected travel editor, Nancy is a past president of the Guild of Travel Writers (GTW). She and her husband Phil now run a horse sanctuary in East Sussex. More Posts