“ Petworth, West Sussex, GU28 0AE „
Last April we had a beautiful sunny month which encouraged me to get out and visit places. On Good Friday (22 April 2011) I visited Petworth House for the first time.
Petworth House is located in Petworth, West Sussex. It took me roughly 80 minutes to get there by car. The car park was not very big and the footpath up to the entrance of house was dusty and terrible.
Walking a short distance I arrived at reception where a National Trust staff checked my membership card and gave me a simple guide to Petworth House. Then I walked for about 10 minutes to reach the house. Because the views along the footpath were very beautiful it didn't seem such a long walk.
Petworth House principally consists of two buildings. The larger one was used by the owners of the house, whilst the smaller one was used for their servants and for catering and storage. Before I started my tour I stopped at the coffee shop, which was in the Servants' Hall. I was pleased with the food choices and quality when compared to my last experience in the Standen National Trust restaurant. After my break I made a quick visit to the adjacent gift shop.
The Ownership of Petworth House:
Guided by a National Trust staff member I entered the lobby, where I gained some idea about the history of Petworth House. The house has been owned by the Earl of Northumberland and his successors since 1341. You can see Petworth House has had a strong relationship with British royalty and been deeply involved in the history of the United Kingdom. Henry VIII visited the house in 1526, and Elizabeth visited in 1563 and again in 1583. Leaving the lobby I walked into a chapel.
The Chapel was built in the 14th century and is one of the oldest surviving parts of the house. The panelling is a Baroque style and thought to date from the time of the 6th Duke of Somerset (in the late 17th century). To me the most impressive part of the room were the windows that show the coats of arms of the Percy heirs from the Norman Conquest to the seventeenth century. Moving on from the medieval chapel I entered the North Gallery.
The North Gallery:
The North Gallery was built between 1754 and 1825 to house the family's paintings and sculpture collections. My first impression was of a huge public gallery rather than a private collection. It was not possible to see all of the exhibits when on a day trip so I focused my attention on viewing the Turner paintings. Turner was a regular visitor to the house. There are 20 of his paintings and 13 of them are in the North Gallery. One other memorable exhibit was the earliest English terrestrial globe in existence. It was made by Emery Molyneux and is dated 1592. Next to the Gallery it is Red Room.
The Red Room:
The Red Room was used as a retiring room for ladies of Petworth House. It was painted red during the 3rd Earl of Egremont's alterations, but over time went through various changes of colours scheme. However today the room is returned to the 3rd Earl's red scheme, which you can see in one of the Turner paintings entitled the Red Room. It was really interesting to compare Turner's painting with the room as it is today. From the Red Room I moved on to the Carved Room.
The Carved Room:
The Carved Room is a large, bright square room. On the east wall I saw 4 Turner paintings. One National Trust staff kindly told me where to stand to appreciate these great paintings. Above one of Turner's paintings I saw a portrait of Henry VIII which is similar to one I saw in the Mary Rose Museum in Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. The windows in the room were in a very low level. It is said the 3rd Earl had the windows lowered so he could sit in the middle of the room to appreciate Turner paintings as well as enjoy the views in the garden. In a corner there was a large beautiful Chinese vase made in the Kang Xi Qing Dynasty. As a Chinese visitor it was wonderful to see such an exquisite piece. Next to the Carved Room it is the Little Dining Room.
The Little Dining Room:
The Little Dining Room has had many different uses over time. Today it remains much as it was in the time of the 6th Duke of Somerset. Here I saw many pieces of beautiful porcelain.
The Marble Hall:
The Marble Hall was the principal entrance to the house and is described as 'The Hall of State' in the 6th Duke of Somerset's accounts. The main feature of the room is a magnificent carved marble fireplace and in one corner you can see an 18th century inlaid mahogany organ made by John England. The Marble Hall is an airy spacious room. It provides a good vantage point from which to admire the beautiful parkland and vast ornamental lake designed by Capability Brown.
The Beauty Room:
Compared to other rooms in the house the Beauty Room was small, but to me much more interesting. The room was devised by the 6th Duke of Somerset as a tribute to Queen Anne and the ladies of her court. The room is decorated with portraits of them. The interesting thing is you can't see them wearing any jewellery. This is because Queen Anne didn't wear jewellery as she was in a permanent state of mourning due to the sad loss of all her children.
The room is also a shrine to the Duke of Wellington. There is a Wellington bust on a marble-topped table, on either side of which there are pictures of two famous battles in British history: Battle of Vittoria (1813) and Battle of Waterloo (1815). A portrait of Napoleon Bonaparte hangs just above the bust. It's a bit weird for me to see a British hero and their enemy in a display like that. In China we would display them in separate rooms or put the victor above the vanquished.
The Grand Staircase:
The Grand Staircase was created by the 6th Duke of Somerset after the original was devastated by fire in 1714. It was conceived as a palatial transition from the state apartments on the ground floor to the bedrooms upstairs. There is a dramatic panorama of mural paintings on the ceiling, which was painted by Louis Laguerre and traces the mythological story of Prometheus and Pandora. I was stunned to see such large and beautiful mural paintings.
The Square Dining Room:
The Square Dining Room is not as big as I imagined. It is mostly referred to as the 'family photograph album'. On the walls of the room are portraits featuring nine generations of family members. In the centre of the south wall there is a large dark painting that depicts the dramatic encounter between Macbeth and the three witches. In the centre of the room you can see a mahogany dining table supported by tripod pedestals. Around the table there are eight mahogany dining chairs covered in red Morocco leather.
The Somerset Room:
The Somerset Room is next door to the Square Dining Room. It was used as a place to keep food warm before it was taken into the dinning room to be eaten. The style of decoration is very simple and reflects how the room looked in the Regency period. In the centre of the room there is a table, on which an illuminated manuscript of Chaucer's Canterbury tales has been placed in a glass box. It was produced in the 1420's by a single scribe and is one of the earliest surviving texts of Chaucer's work.
The Oak Hall:
Since 1743 the Oak Hall has been used as the main entrance to the house. Now it's the exit to end my trip in the larger building of the House. Under the staircase of the hall there is a door that leads to underground tunnels, which were used by the servants to take the food from the kitchen to the House. Unfortunately it's not open to visitors.
The Historic Kitchens:
The Historic Kitchens are in the smaller building of the House. They date from the mid-eighteenth century and the layout of the kitchens is much the same today apart from some innovative gas and electrical appliances in the main kitchen. There I saw a copper batterie de cuisine of more than 1000 pieces.
I missed the daily cooking show, but a National Trust staff member kindly showed me and other visitors how the roasting range works. The roasting range dates back to the seventeenth century when the spits would have been turned manually by a kitchen boy.
All in all, it was a fabulous day out. I was delighted to explore a famous house in British history, and particularly to be able to view so many Turner paintings. Due to time limitation I didn't have the chance to walk around the park, which is very beautiful and worthy of another visit. I hope I can visit Petworth House again and spend more time.
For more tourist sites PLEASE visit my blog:
Back two weeks ago I was treated to a one night stay in a hotel near Arundel in West Sussex and while I was there with my daughter, son-in-law and my grandson we spent a very happy day at a wonderful National trust property called Petworth house and Park. This beautiful place is one of the great heritages that have inspired so many artists, writers, royalty and famous landscape gardeners to turn an old house into something that we, as a nation should be proud to have in our country. It's one of the most lovely and accessible properties I have visited to date and one that still lingers in my mind as a place I want to revisit again and again. I'll be honored to share it with you, but will try to keep the review concise to give you a taste of something that would take pages to describe in detail.
Petworth Park, Pleasure ground and House is set in a 700 acre park with the finest unspoiled landscapes in English style and home to the largest and oldest herd of fallow deer in England. The estate is run by the National Trust but is the property of the 3rd Lord Leconfield who gave the house to the National Trust in 1947 to persevere it for the people. It's in a quiet corner of the country but near to Pulborough and also fairly close to Arundel castle with it's own long history. This whole area is in the rich countryside of the rolling Sussex Downs and has a connection with royalty from the early years of the Norman Conquest. There is even a mention of the land tenure to William de Percy, 8th baron (1193-1245), though the house was built, as many have been on the ruins of earlier houses.
Although the house itself is mainly classed as an 18th century house, it's much older in parts and was very prominent in the 1600's when much work was carried out. You can see the influences of different styles in the architecture but on first sight emerging from the ancient oak trees it looks a stunning picture of a classical house, being long and formally arranged. The gardens themselves are a review in itself, but were the work of Lancelot Brown though an early work, it was designed to blend in with the landscape and resisted the temptation of the more formal arrangement.
A brief History.
The estate was granted to the Percy family in 1151 and stayed in their line for many centuries, passing from father to son. With the dynasty came great honours and the Earldom of Northumberland in 1377 but also to death and later dishonour. For centuries the family were inveigled in the doings of royalty and the name of Percy crops up in other places as well as this estate. The manor was added to and extended by the 8th 9th and 10th earls of Northumberland in the late 16th and early 17th centuries.
The 10th earl's granddaughter, Elizabeth, the Percy family heiress, married Charles Seymour (6th Earl of Somerset) in 1682 and he used her money to rebuild Petworth, leaning heavily to the French influences of the era. Daniel Marot, a French Huguenot, employed by William 111, probably redesigned the present house. The 10th earl who was a patron of the arts and a personal friend of Van Dyck started the wonderful collection of paintings and statuary that are still part of the largest collection of national trust Art in one place, with rooms full of paintings, etching, books and murals.
The 'Golden Age' of the collections started with the friendship and patronage of the 3rd Earl of Egremont, George O'Brien Wyndham with William Turner who was then very much a draftsman painter and still to develop his more relaxed style with the wonderful shades of light and mist that he is best known for. The 3rd Earl was also an agriculturist, a philanthropist and a keen racehorse owner. He commissioned several works around the estate and built on the legacy left to him by the work of 'Capability' Brown who made the impressive lake, which is still a focal part of the park.
The Grounds and the park.
There are two entrances into the park; one is the town entrance through the Church Lodge. We entered by road and left the car in the car park passing through reception where we paid and got our tickets before starting on what is lovingly called 'The Welly Walk' where you are invited to don your wellies and enjoy a walk in the Pleasure grounds. This is a long oval-shaped walk that takes in some unspoiled areas of wood with a pathway that's suitable for wheelchair access. Jack was particularly taken with the map, which he followed, being the head explorer with his nanny following in his wake while mum and dad had a slow stroll, arm in arm.
We headed straight for the Ionic Rotunda that is set on a hill and is a feature of the grounds with lovely views across the open parkland to one side and the hills to the other. After exploring we proceeded onwards to windy corner via the chestnut trees, which were just about to burst their spiny pods to reveal the inner conkers. I explained them to Jack who wanted to find the granddaddy of all, but we went on with a pocketful. In a placid corner sheltered from the wind were banks of flowers still out and some amazing cyclamens growing without restrictions. This is in keeping with the very laid-back style of the grounds and house and I only saw a few 'Please don't touch' signs in the whole place.
Many stately homes now have child-friendly areas and Petworth has carved wooden seats, play areas with toadstools, a blackened kettle over an open fire that looked just as if it had been left minutes before. There is a boundary wall to the grounds to keep the deer in (or the people out), it's deer rutting season and they do come right up to the house itself. I don't think I'd want to meet one in the grounds.
After scrambling through bushes and admiring ancient oak trees we came to the Doric temple on the Orange lawn just in sight of the house. We played with a Frisbee for a while to let off some more steam before entering the house and the long tour through what I knew would be wonderful for the adults, but maybe tiring for Jack. We didn't enter the large park as there really wasn't enough time, but I'd love to go back and see the manmade lake, framed by a boathouse and a statue of one of the late earl's favourite dogs. I must mention that we could go anywhere we wanted and this had the affect of children behaving very well.
The Kitchens, shop, restaurant and toilets.
This is outside the main house and connected by a secret passage that was unfortunately shut that day. But we had a light meal, made up to any order and not too expensive considering the national trust is normally expensive. I had a butter free roll with ham, salad and fiery chutney. We could have had a meal for about seven pounds but time was pressing on. After using the clean toilets we went into the house, marveling at the huge columns at the entrance.
Starting on the ground floor we left our belongings in the cloakroom to save carrying them around. Photography is allowed and several people were using ordinary cameras. This was astonishing given the age of the exhibits. Another thing I found amazing was the ability to stand right next to a painting, statue or other exhibit and even touch one if we wanted to. I haven't come across this before and again it caused people to behave much more restrained than I would have expected. At the entrance Jack was given a child's map and things to find in the various rooms we entered, also a small drawing pad and pencils. He decided to do a drawing in every room and bless him, he did it. (Completely outdoing his Nan who could only gape open-mouthed at the treasures everywhere.)
I'm not going to list them all as it would spoil the surprise should you visit for yourself. Every room is crammed with carved panels, paintings, sculptures and much, much more. It's a cultural paradise but I appreciate that not everyone will be as bowled over as I was by the treasures on show.
The main collection is in the North gallery which spreads across the entire wing and houses a plethora of paintings by the following artists just to name a few; -
Constable, Turner (19 in all), Blake (a rare find), Reynolds, Van Dyke, Titian, Grinling Gibbons (mainly carvings). There are some very rare sculptures and the oldest globe in the country and possibly the world, dating back to the 1500's. It's not behind glass or framed, but I wouldn't touch it, as it's so fragile. In another room is a handwritten copy of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales and is a beautiful piece of history. The lettering is superb and the capital letters a flourish of vines and gold leaf. This is kept under glass but you can get close up to it.
The Carved Room.
A spectacular room with carvings by Grinling Gibbons, four Turner's and a large painting of Henry V111. The room is like a long corridor and looks out over the deer park.
The Marble hall.
Another stunning room that is at the foot of the great hall with its sweeping staircase, this is truly opulent and so visually lovely I had to sit down to gaze upwards to take it in. Jack sat quietly by my feet attempting to get the curve of the stairs in his picture. There are portraits of some of the family and it's interesting to see the familiar face of the Percy family, they all look so alike. The stairs feature murals by Louis Laguerre (1718-1720) and I can only guess the height as the size of four men. The colours are bright and royal purples vie with red and gold everywhere. It's a stark contrast then to see the few painting by the poet Blake, whose work is on show in the North room.
The Square Dining Room.
This was open for the day, a rare occasssion as it has many pictures of the present family and some large photos that look like paintings. It's beautifully done, but a bit tongue-in-cheek. There are some rare books here as well as vases and other collections. The table is laid as for dinner and it's a part of the Christmas festivities to see the table laid in Christmas style.
The Red Room.
Opulent and exotic, with some very rare Dutch paintings, some so small you can hardly see them.
The Somerset Room.
This is where you can see Chaucer's tales and my daughter spent ages looking at it. Jack said it was 'fussy', he preferred the paintings, helping me to identify the Turners.
Worth a brief mention as it's the oldest part of the house and virtually untouched. You can sit in the ancient pews or on the side benches and gaze at the jeweled windows. Jack sat and attempted a side window and made a valiant attempt for a six-year-old. The Percy faces peer down from their stained glass windows reminding us of the passage of time. I found it cold and a little spooky, even a touch austere after the lovely paintings.
As you can see, I've only scratched the surface, there is so much to put in that I'd be writing a book. I'd say that this is as close as you can get to grandeur and see the close-up of paintings, even down to the brushstrokes.
The servant's quarters and the kitchens are a joy, with gleaming copper kettles and saucepans. They even leave caps of the cooks to try on. The whole place is a hand's on experience.
Family ticket £27.30
This is an overall guide, it's a good idea to check with the website for times of entry as they vary so much. Generally the park is open all year but the house is only open from March to November.
Excellent throughout with wheelchair access to most rooms. Wheelchairs can also be loaned on the day. There is Braille information sheets, induction loops, and chairs to sit on in most rooms for people like me who tire easily.
Every care is taken to offer food for vegans, vegetarians, and the hygiene is impressive. Considering what you get for your money this is inexpensive, especially if you have NT membership.
There are many different features of the house and gardens I've left out. There is also a lot of events throughout the year with talks on all kinds of things and either light refreshments or a full meal. You can even try your hand at different crafts or buy all your Christmas presents at the massive Christmas fair.
I hope you have had time to read my review. This is a wonderful place and I can't do it full justice. I read another review and wanted to add to it. There really is something for everyone here and I hope you visit one day.
Suggested site www.nationaltrust.org.uk/petworth.
Thanks for reading.
©Lisa Fuller November 2011.
Petworth House and Park is a great example of why the National Trust is so fantastic as it has preserved an amazing house and garden for us all to enjoy.
The house is a huge 17th century mansion chocked full of art work that wouldn't look out of place in the National Gallery (Turner, Van Dyck etc etc). The public rooms are very grand, and I must admit, I find it quite difficult to imagine people living there, although they are still interesting to look around.
My favourite rooms are the servants rooms and the kitchens - in these rooms somehow there is much more feeling of how life actually was lived than in the formal rooms.
What makes Petworth Park so special for me is the absolutely stunning grounds. There are two parts of the grounds - the pleasure gardens, which immediately surround the house and the park itself which is the much larger area which surrounds the house and the pleasure gardens.
If you are looking for lots of formal gardens to enjoy, then these gardens aren't for you (there is a small area of formal roses etc very close to the house but that is all). Instead what you have is sweeping vistas of parkland designed by Capability Brown, with points of interest dotted about (a folly, gothic temple etc etc). There is also a beautiful lake immediately in front of the house, which gives an amazing reflection of the house.
Another lovely feature of the park is that there are two herds of deer that live there. A really lovely chance to walk and see deer in their natural habitat. Depending on their mood you can get pretty close, but obviously you need to keep your dogs close by if you do this.
Entrance to the house is I think expensive, almost £10, and unless you really like your antiques and art it may not be worth it. However, you can see the pleasure gardens for around £4 which gives you access to the servants quarters and the tea rooms too, so is a much better deal. Alternatively you can enter the park (where the deer are) for the price of the car park ticket (just a couple of quid) so if you are close by and fancy an afternoon walk, this is the place for you.
Firstly a thank you to Dooyoo for actually topping this category with a lovely view of Petworth House!......
......Now struck me as a timely point at which to write this particular review, as this year Petworth House - along with many other E.H. and N.T. properties - opens its doors for a new season on 1st April.
Petworth House is one of those places, no further than a thirty minute drive from where I have lived all my life, that had never been visited. On Sunday, 23rd October, my wife and I finally put that to rights.
Petworth "House" is in fact a rather narrow definition of this particular attraction. Yes, the building itself is one of the so-called "Treasure Houses of England" but there is far more to do at this National Trust site than to admire the large house and art gallery therein contained.
Yes, a large house it is! Not the most inspiring, architecturally, of large houses either, set grandly on top of a small hill it is highly visible from miles away. A great big four square stone coloured three storey pile of a place. An important "Manor House" it towers over the ancient and pretty town of Petworth from which it gains its' name.
We approached Petworth House by car from the east on the A283, but from whichever direction you come (Petworth forms a main cross roads of ancient routes) the House and car park are very clearly sign-posted. The car park itself is situated off of the A29, just to the north of the house, it appears rather small when you first drive in, this is not actually the case. The parking area has been extraordinarily well integrated in the woods. For me this is always a good starting point, I think of Chatsworth or Blenheim where whole views and vistas are spoilt by hundreds of parked cars - entirely alien to the surroundings.
On foot you can enter the house through a gate next to the church in the town, or (a longer walk!) from the Estate gate to the west of the Park.
On a wet day, or even if recent rain has fallen, I would advise the wearing of boots, there is a lot of walking here and even the car park itself is not "hard surfaced" and would become rather slippery and muddy. On the edge of the car park is a wooden chalet, again integrating well with the woody surroundings. This is the Visitor Reception building, behind which you will find an excellent, modern and spotlessly clean brick built toilet block.
The reception staff we found to be extraordinarily helpful, friendly and knowledgeable, both about Petworth House and the National Trust in general. But then I guess so they should be, Petworth is, in several respects, THE flagship national trust site!
From the visitor reception you have a 700 metre walk along a smoothly surfaced, if undulating, path to the house entrance. The area that you are walking through to arrive at the house from the car park is known as the "Pleasure Ground". This is accessible for wheelchair users, as is the house and various services (toilets, café etc) in the Servant's Quarters opposite the visitor entrance to the main house.
The Pleasure Ground is an area of formal landscaped gardens to the north of the house containing many stunning trees and shrubs. On that beautiful autumn Sunday afternoon the colours here were breathtaking reds and golds. In the spring, according to the guide book, this area of woodland garden is a riot of daffodils, bluebells and wild flowers. The original design and layout dates from the 18th Century, as do the two buildings here, the Ionic Rotunda and Doric Temple. The Rotunda is a folly, built in the style of a Greek Ionic Temple. It marks the highest point on the Estate, overlooking not only the Pleasure Ground to the east but also the huge expanse of Petworth Park to the west.
In total there are 700 acres of park land attached to Petworth House. Landscaped by "Capability" Brown between 1751 and 1765, this was a huge project by any standards, even going to the extent of moving the main (now A272) road away from the house. Once the landscaping was finished a 14 mile long estate wall, encircling the entire park, was built. This took over 23 years to build.
Along with the landscaping, which included the digging of two beautiful lakes, went a huge planting programme, naturally supervised by Brown, the great man himself! Thanks to the hurricane of 1987 and a violent storm two years later, both of which hit Petworth very badly, it is thought that none of the trees that you see today were planted by Capability Brown.
So, what exactly is there here to see now? The park is undeniably beautiful, mostly thanks to the master of landscaping, but also due to the tree planting that has continued to this day. The younger trees survived the devastating storms.
We have driven past Petworth on many occasions on the A272 which runs alongside the estate wall. Often we have spotted deer grazing on the grassy slopes visible from the road. What I did not know was that within Petworth Park is to be found the largest herd of fallow deer in the country. Everywhere that you look across the sweeping vistas of the park you will see large groups of these beautiful animals grazing. In fact, for my wife and I, being able to spend so much time close to the deer, this was the highlight of our visit. It would be unfair to lead you to believe that they are tame enough to approach, but being thoroughly used to people walking through their park, they are not inclined to run away and hide either!
Well, well, yet again Richada has let the cat out of the bag, here, come to see a Treasure House of England and he has already stated that the deer in the park were the hilight of the day!
Yes they were, please bear with me whilst I explain why, for my wife and I at least, the house itself, beyond the Grand Staircase failed to find any great favour.
Regrettably, we are not great art connoisseurs. We enjoy a good picture as much as the next man, trouble is that here, in Petworth House, you are literally swamped with over 300 "Old Master" paintings, not to mention 100 pieces of (rather more interesting!) sculptures.
Our taste is more for country houses with furniture and an ambience of family history, where art is for decoration rather than purely for acquisition. We like to enjoy a social history lesson from our visits, and here at Petworth House unfortunately, that was largely missing.
There is a family history attached to the estate going back to the twelfth century, stemming from the Percy family right down to the current occupants Max Wyndham Second Lord Egremont and his wife Lady Caroline. When he died in 1952, Charles Third Lord Leconfield was the last owner of the estate. His nephew John Wyndham was faced with crippling death duties upon the inheritance of Petworth. The House and Park had been signed over to the National Trust in 1947, but that still left some 700 pictures in total, many of which were priceless masterpieces. The authorities of the day settled on a valuation of just over £500,000 for the most valuable part of the collection. This outraged the art world who knew, even at that time, that this collection was worth well in excess of £1M. Wyndham was disappointed but had the burden of inheritance tax taken from his shoulders. The Park, House and Estate had passed into the ownership of the nation, albeit under the management of the National Trust.
In 2006, that is very much where things stand at Petworth. The family remain in residence - more than spacious accommodation in the upper two storeys - and also managing the agricultural and building maintenance side of the estate on a daily basis.
What then, as briefly as possible, does the £8.00 admission ticket let you see? In short, a unique art collection, of the very finest painters works, collected during the course of several centuries. Many of these works, particularly the Turners, were actually painted right here at Petworth. Others were commissioned from up and coming artists of their time who went on to become household names.
If I wanted to, I would be unable to list the fine art on display here, of the dozen or so "State Rooms" open to the public, I am going to describe the three areas that most interested me here. If you wish to know more, and are more enamoured with Old Masters than I, then there is plenty of information available right here on the net.
My eclectic choice of "The Best of Petworth" is; the Grand Staircase, the Chapel and the Carved Room.
On the tour the first of these is the Carved Room. By the time that you arrive here you will have seen walls and walls hung top to bottom (literally!) with paintings, at last here is something else to feast your eyes upon! Well yes, there are yet more paintings of course, superb ones at that, my favourites in the whole house, but it is the highly imaginative way in which they are displayed that makes this room such a pleasure.
The carved room acquires its name from the wood panelling, floor to ceiling, most of which is stunningly carved above eye level. The origins of this room lay in 1690 with the famous Grinling Gibbons, master carver. One hundred years later the room was doubled in size by the removal of a partition wall in the centre. Everything in this room draws the eye, from the superb portrait of Henry VIII (a Holbein copy) over the fireplace, to a set of four J.M.W. Turner paintings. For me, as a Brightonion, here of particular interest was Turner's painting of the Chain Pier, predecessor to the current Brighton Pier.
The magic of this whole room though, comes from the way in which the paintings are integrated into the walls, using the carvings themselves as frames. Never, anywhere, have I seen art so attractively and unusually presented.
My next highlight is the oldest part of the existing building, the Chapel. This originates from the fourteenth century, although has been much altered since. It is situated at a lower level than the rest of the house, approached by a flight of seven stairs and is therefore the only part of the house open to visitors not accessible to wheelchair users.
As you enter the Chapel, above your head is the family pew, on a gallery over which hangs extraordinary wooden carved and painted "festoon curtains". On the opposite wall are stained glass windows dating from 1600 showing the Coat of Arms of the Percy family. This is not a richly, over-decorated chapel. The simple, but beautiful, vaulted, late seventeenth century plaster ceiling and plain wood box pews somehow mark this out as a place of genuine worship, rather than an area with which to impress visitors to the house.
What cannot fail to impress visitors however is the magnificent Grand Staircase. Arguably worth the admission charge to see on its own, this is the very grandest of grand staircases and is in a way rather a surprise in this particular house. In fact the staircase itself is nothing out of the ordinary, large of proportion yes, with an attractive balustrade, topped with impressive brass standard lamps on its corners. It is the large space, the stairwell surrounding it that is so magnificent.
So impressive do the national Trust think this area that that they featured it on the cover of their highly detailed (at £5.00 so it should be!) Petworth House guide book. The murals here, which cover not only the large walls, huge expanse of ceiling and even underside of the staircase itself, were painted by Louis Laguerre. He completed this colossal task in 1720, a year before he died. Interestingly for the two years that this task took, he was simultaneously carrying out the painting of the Grand Saloon at Blenheim Palace, over 100 miles away - an equally grand project at that!
To my eyes at least, these paintings are just incredible. It is not the pictures themselves that draw my eye, but the superbly rendered architectural details surrounding them. You have an overwhelming desire to actually touch the walls to reassure yourself that they are indeed flat and that the huge pillars, heraldic crests, plinths and stonework have indeed all been painted on. The effects of light and shadow that Laguerre rendered on these walls, marks him out as a true master in my eyes at least.
Leaving the house, via the door where we came in, opposite, on the other side of the courtyard are to be found the Servants Quarters. Linked to the main house by a wing (not open to the public) the house kitchens are on view here, what you now see is a mid-Victorian kitchen along with its associated pantries and meat stores. Also housed in this building is the café, where good quality, but we thought rather expensive, food is served. On the day we had a bowl of soup each, with a small roll of bread - no drinks and that set us back £7.00.
Close to the café is the national Trust Shop. Here we were shocked at the price of the items on sale, certainly English Heritage offer most of the same merchandise for considerably less. Even small post cards at 50p each struck me as rather expensive.
Yes, there is much to see at Petworth House, especially if your pleasure is fine art. If, like me, it is not, then your admission charge is probably still well spent. It is worth remembering though that admission to the 700 acre deer park, highlight of our visit is free, something that I note the National Trust is not advertising in their hand book!
We actually had our admission charge to Petworth re-funded on the way out, as we had been sufficiently impressed to take out a years' subscription to the National Trust as we left. Depending on your likely enjoyment of our "days out" reviews, that may or may not be good news over the course of the coming "season"!
Petworth House and Park
Infoline 01798 342207
Opening times vary according to times of the year and I would advise you to consult the National Trust website for details of this.
Admission Charges for this year (2006) are:
Admission to Pleasure Ground (landscape garden) only:
£3.00 / £1.50 (Children)
Guide book - (a very good one) £5.00
Magnificent country house and park with an internationally important art collection. Set in a 'Capability' Brown landscaped deer park. The Trust's largest art collection rivals most London galleries. Numerous works by Turner; Petworth itself was immortalised in his paintings. Fascinating servants' quarters with a 'state of the art' Victorian kitchen. Intricate wooden carvings by Grinling Gibbons in the Carved Room.