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I can see for miles and miles
Uppark (West Sussex)
Member Name: bollinger28
Uppark (West Sussex)
Date: 23/03/13, updated on 05/01/14 (223 review reads)
Advantages: Elevated setting with stunning views on a clear day. Delightful tea rooms.
Disadvantages: Limited opening periods. Expensive to visit for what it is.
Uppark is a 17th-century house in South Harting, which is near Petersfield in West Sussex. The house is in the most stunning of locations as its set high on the South Downs, and you literally can see for miles and miles on a clear day. And it was a magnificently clear day when we visited Uppark in August last year; it was one the last sunny days of last year's rather poor summer, so I was extremely lucky to pick such a good day for my first visit. Despite living within 10 miles of this superb jewel of a house for the last 20 odd years, I'm ashamed to say that this was my very first visit to it.
My parents have recently joined the National Trust, so they are currently "getting their money's worth" by visiting all the properties that are near to them. Uppark is about an hour from their home, but very close to mine, so they asked if I'd like to join them on their visit. My mother had also managed to snaffle a free ticket for me from somewhere too, so that was the icing on the cake. Uppark is a red brick, two-storey house with stone dressings. It stands four-square with dormer windows in a hipped roof. As stately homes go, Uppark is on the tiny side. However don't let its smallness put you off a visit, as this truly is a stunning gem of a house.
~~~ A BIT OF HISTORY ~~~
Uppark was built for the first Earl of Tankerville, Lord Grey in around 1690. Lord Grey was a bit of an adventurer and was involved in Monmouth's Rebellion against James II. He obviously mended his ways as he ended his days as Lord Privy Seal under William III.
Uppark was sold in 1747 to Sir Matthew and Lady Sarah Fetherstonhaugh who extensively remodeled and redecorated the house with many of the items you can see there today. Sir Matthew was heir to a vast fortune from a distant relative and he compounded his wealth by marrying into the wealthy Huguenot family of Lethieulliers. He and his new wife Sarah set off on a two-year Continental tour in order to buy furniture and paintings to fill their new country seat. Between 1750 - 1760 they redecorated most of the principal rooms and then furnished them with a splendid collection of furniture, carpets and works of art.
Their only son, Sir Harry Fetherstonhaugh inherited the estate in 1774 and he continued with the renovations. He commissioned one of his friends Humphry Repton to landscape the gardens, and he also added a dairy and the pillared portico you still enter today on the north front of the house. Despite sharing his parent's good taste in architecture and furnishings, in all other respects, Sir Harry seems to have been somewhat of a rake in his youth. He was a passionate lover of hunting and horse-racing. He entertained lavishly between 1780 - 1810 and his close friend the Prince Regent was a frequent guest at the house where much revelry and gambling no doubt took place.
Sir Harry had more than a glad eye for the ladies. He brought a teenage Emma Hart to Uppark in 1780 and made her his mistress. She is alleged to have danced naked on the dining room table at Uppark for the amusement of Sir Harry and his gentlemen friends. Unfortunately for her, she became pregnant, and was thrown out of Uppark and rather swiftly banished to Cheshire to give birth (and then passed on to another gentleman after she'd given birth, possibly to a stillborn child). Poor lady! She did manage to become Lady Hamilton, and then Lord Nelson's mistress.
Sir Harry evidently became somewhat of a recluse in his middle years, probably recovering from his mis-spent youth! However, he scandalised polite society in 1828, by marrying a dairy maid. He was 70 years old at the time and married his 21 year old diary maid Mary Ann Bullock. Mary Ann did rather well out the arrangement - having spent 20 years looking after Sir Harry, when he died at the age of 90 in 1846, she inherited the entire estate. Mary Ann and her sister Frances looked after the estate between then until 1895, but left everything largely unaltered for half a century.
One of Uppark's main claims to fame is that HG Wells spent part of his youth growing up there. His mother, Sarah, was employed as the housekeeper between 1880 and 1893. She took the housekeeper's job to provide an income for her family, after her husband Joseph Wells broke his leg and could no longer play professional cricketer. Unfortunately she had more than a few problems getting to grips with the job and was eventually let go i.e. sacked. I suspect the job was all too much for her as her previous role at Uppark had been as a housemaid to Lady Fetherstonhaugh's sister. HG Wells writes about his years at Uppark in his autobiography. Evidently he loved the beauty of Uppark, but deeply resented the fact that so much was shared with so few. He was allowed to use the library at Uppark and used it to self-educate himself.
The additions continued into the 19th century with stables and kitchens being added as separate buildings but connected to the main house via tunnels. The house remained in the hands of the Fetherstonhaugh family until 1954 when it was presented to the National Trust. However, members of the Meade-Fetherstonhaugh family continue to live and work on the estate. In fact you only get to see a tiny portion of the house, as everything above ground level still belongs to the family and that's strictly out of bounds to the great unwashed such as you and I.
~~ FIRE, FIRE BURNING BRIGHT ~~
In 1989, Uppark was devastated by a huge fire. Evidently the fire was caused by a workman's blowtorch whilst he was in the process of repairing the lead flashings on the roof. Luckily for the estate, the fire broke out during the day and whilst the house was open. If it had happened at night, there would have been no time to save anything. As it was, staff and visitors were able to form a human chain and carry a lot of the works of art and priceless tapestries as well as much of the furniture to safety before the fire really took hold. However, by nightfall the fire was still raging with over 100 firefighters from Sussex and Hampshire at the scene.
A huge debate raged as to the future of Uppark. The building was now structurally unstable and some thought it ought to be demolished or left as a ruin (like nearby Cowdray Castle in Midhurst which was also destroyed by fire). Others were against restoring it saying that it would only ever be a "fake" stately home. However, it was eventually decided that Uppark would be renovated to its former glory - after all as far as the insurers were concerned the renovations would work out to be a cheaper insurance settlement than a full and final payout for a written-off building and its treasures.
Uppark therefore, slowly went under a £20m repair and refurbishment for a long six year period, finally reopening its doors in 1995. While much of the furnishings and treasures of Uppark had been carried to safety, there was still much that had been burnt or charred beyond recognition. However, everything was kept no matter how badly damaged as it was all a record of Uppark's history and an enormous help in putting the house back together again.
When the fire was finally out of control, most of the upper floors eventually collapsed through onto the lower floors. However, luckily for Uppark much of the upper floor debris fell cleanly onto the lower floor avoiding much of the paneling on the ground floor walls. Indeed many of the ground floor furnishings were crushed rather than burned, so some of the metalwork was later able to be cleaned and straightened. Those involved in the restoration are documented as saying that one of the main benefits of restoring Uppark to its former glory was the knowledge gained about making or restoring such charming artifacts.
One of the rooms at Uppark has been given over to a display of the fire and the restoration of the house, with a clever sculpture in the centre of the room showing the timeline of the entire incident. There is a video of the fire and the efforts of the fire brigade to get the blaze under control. There are also plenty of pictures of the fire and the smoking ruins left behind. All in all it's a very interesting exhibition and it's laid out and presented in a most informative and clever way.
~~ RISING LIKE A PHOENIX FROM THE ASHES - UPPARK TODAY ~~
So after centuries of collection, one night of devastation and six years of renovation, is the Uppark of today still worth a visit? In a word yes. Is it possible to distinguish between what is genuinely antique or a clever 20th century renovation? To this I'd say no. Current day visitors to Uppark will still be able to appreciate the décor and furnishings of yesteryear and the views from the house remain just as stunning as they ever were. Uppark truly has risen from the ashes, and you'd be hard pressed to find any evidence that some of it is not quite genuine and that if some of the pieces had a date stamp on them it would say "made in 1993" rather than "made in 1773". It's still a jewel of a house which really does give a lovely insight into 18th century English country life.
Uppark is still a beautiful 17th century mansion and it has been renovated beautifully. When you stand in front of the south of house and see the views you can fully understand why they went to all the time and trouble to rebuild and renovate it instead of letting it go to rack and ruin. It really is one of the most stunning views of that part of the south of England.
You enter Uppark via a long graveled pathway towards to north of the property. From this angle, the house looks pretty unprepossessing. Yes the entrance is porticoed and has some impressive stone pillars, but it gives no hint of the magnificence of the views from inside. You then pass through a long dark corridor which is pretty dank and dismal. However, just as you are begin to wonder quite what you paid your entrance fee for, the corridor opens up into one of the main salons, and it's such a light airy room, with such stunning vistas you begin to understand quite why this house was so worth saving. You also suddenly understand where the name of the house came from..."Uppark" - a "park"...high "up" on the South Downs.
The rooms on the ground floor are all suitably grand, with plenty of period furniture and paintings. I'm not going to walk you though every room as that would be tedious, so I'll just mention my highlights. The Dining Room has a stunning circular stained glass window to one wall, but it's the dining table that really catches your eye as this was where Lady Hamilton née Emma Hart was alleged to have danced naked for Sir Harry and his gentlemen friends. I imagine she felt the need to literally "dance for her dinner" as she needed to entertain and enthral in order to keep her precarious position as Sir Harry's mistress intact (or tempt one of his "friends" should Sir Harry tire of her charms). Next up we have the white and gold festooned Salon with its delicate Regency furniture. The ceiling and the chandelier are both intricate and stunning, until one realises that neither of them are the originals and were recreated entirely post 1990. However it has to be said they have done a marvellous job of replicating them. My favourite room of the house has to be the Tapestry Bedroom which is dominated by a stunning mahogany four poster bed festooned with burgundy drapes. The walls behind the bed are hung with dark tapestries. One could imagine the 70 year old Sir Harry wooing his 21 year old dairy maid in this room - she'd have been so impressed with the richness and opulence of her surroundings I'm quite sure it would have made having to "lie down" with a man 50 years her senior that much more bearable!
Uppark is famed for its 18th-century dolls' house which still houses its original contents. Personally it didn't hold much interest for me, but you can get really quite close up should you wish and see all the tiny details on the dolls and furnishings inside. Obviously you cannot handle the items or touch the house, as there is a thin glass panel protecting it, but you can certainly peer inside and see. I found the exhibition on the 1989 fire much more interesting and that room is definitely well worth a visit.
Whilst I enjoy wandering around a stately home as much as the next person, I always find life below stairs that much more interesting. At Uppark they have left the servants' quarters as they were in Victorian days when H.G. Wells' mother was the housekeeper, so everything is laid out circa 1875. Both my Grandparents were in service so a tour below stairs is very interesting to me and Uppark gives a good indication of what life below stairs would have been like for them. Whilst my grandparents were in service in the 1920's and 30's rather than in the 1870's, life below stairs was still strictly hierarchical and everyone still had their place. My Grandmother went into service as a kitchen maid when she was just 14, and began "walking out" with one of the footmen. That footman (my Grandfather!) eventually went on to become butler to Duke of Norfolk at Arundel Castle.
The kitchen at Uppark is a cold and gloomy room - no magnificent views for the servants allowed. All the servant's quarters and rooms are in the basement with long damp stone tunnels linking them - they must have been freezing cold, slippery underfoot and rather spooky for the poor staff. Such a contrast to the elegant and delicate saloons upstairs! The kitchen is dominated by a huge scrubbed wooden table and a dresser groaning under the weight of various old fashioned pots, pans and copper jelly moulds. A metal set of scales graces the centre of the table with old fashioned weights scattered around. As you'd expect in the kitchen of a house of this size, there is a huge black range to one wall, and one can imagine the hours spent trying to get it clean....no Mr Muscle in those days :o(
The Housekeeper's Room has been done out as it would have been when HG Wells' mother was in charge. There is the cupboard containing all household linens and a strong room so that all the silver could be kept under lock and key and away from any thieving staff or delivery tradesmen. There is also a desk where the housekeeper would keep the household accounts in a huge ledger...evidently the undoing of the soon-to-be-sacked Mrs Wells, as she evidently had great troubles keeping the books balanced :o( I did enjoy my wander around the servant's quarters at Uppark, but I did think that the similar exhibition at nearby Stansted House was a little better done and slightly more informative. However, the staff at Uppark are very good should you wish to learn more. The house is staffed by an army of volunteers who all seemed to be extremely knowledgeable on the house and its treasures. They are happy to answer any questions you might have as you wander around. Just before we entered the house, we listened to a short talk on the highlights we were about to see, and that was very good. The gentleman who gave the talk very obviously knew the history of the house inside out and back to front, and it was a great taster of what was to come, with plenty of humour and a hint towards intrigue and scandal (mainly involving Sir Harry and good-time girl Emma Hart and his later shenanigans with the dairy maid!)
The gardens are very pretty with plenty of flowering shrubs and herbaceous boarders. However, they have left the south side of the house as one huge expanse of lawn which works really well as it leaves the magnificent views unimpeded. You can imagine the lords and ladies of yesteryear, or even the Prince Regent himself, before he became George IV, enjoying a spot of croquet or afternoon tea and feeling like they were on top of the south of England. After all they had hundreds of workers on hand to cart all the things they'd need for their life of leisure up the steep hills surrounding the house's entrance!
Special mention must go the tearooms and the gift shop at Uppark, both of which are excellent. I normally dislike gift shops intensely finding them full of overpriced tat that you neither need nor want. However, the gift shop at Uppark is lovely and was full of lots of tempting and imaginative gift ideas and pretty greetings cards. It's a shame that you cannot visit the gift shop without doing a tour of the house, as it's the sort of shop that would work just as well as a stand-alone entity. The same goes for the tearooms, which were well run, clean and nicely laid out. There were a tempting range of lunches and other snacks on offer, and we had a most delicious afternoon tea on the lawn to the east of the house. The sun shone, the scones were fresh, the jam was by Tiptree and the views were splendid - what more could you ask for in an English country garden? Again you need to visit the house to gain entry to the tearooms. They might do well to consider making the tearooms and gift shop available to all at Uppark like they do at Stansted Park, but then again it could be a deliberate ploy to keep all-comers out and make Uppark that much more special.
~~ RECOMMENDATION? ~~
I enjoyed my afternoon at Uppark, and it did make me wonder why it had taken me nearly twenty years of living in the area to get round to visiting it. I was lucky enough to have a free entrance ticket, which was the icing on the cake...or jam on my scone in this case. However, it has to be said that I do think that Uppark has a rather expensive entry fee for what you actually get to see. You are only allowed to view the rooms on the ground floor of the house and the servant's quarters downstairs. The entire second floor of the building still belongs to the family and that is out of bounds to the paying public. With only 50ish percent of the house on display I do think nearly £9 is quite a lot of money to pay for entry. The gardens are nice, but they're certainly nothing out of the ordinary and not the sort of gardens that would win any horticultural prizes. Yes the views are superb, but they were there first and they certainly weren't created by the National Trust or the Fetherstonhaugh family! When all is said and done, I do feel they're charging over the odds for what there is to see. Stansted House is cheaper to visit and there is a LOT more to see and do there.
However, please don't let the pricey entry fees put you off a visit here, as it truly is a gem of a house, and the restoration work is superb. You can spend a most interesting afternoon here and come away with a good impression of life above stairs in the 18th century, coupled with life below stairs in the mid 19th century. And that view is to die for...you literally can see for miles and miles.....
~~ FURTHER INFORMATION ~~
Uppark is located five miles south east of Petersfield (Hampshire) and 1½ miles south of South Harting (West Sussex) on the B2146. The nearest railway station is in Petersfield. Car parking at Uppark is free and plentiful, which is always a nice bonus in this day and age.
Tel: 01730 825415
Please note that Uppark is not open all year round so it's best to check with the National Trust first. As a very rough guide the house opens from mid March until early November. Opening hours are from 11.30am to 4.30pm.
Admission to Uppark 2013
Family Ticket £21.00
Wheelchair access is good, with ramped access to the ground floor and a specially adapted toilet near the car park. The shop and tearoom are also easily accessible, but there are some steep slopes and steps in the gardens.
Summary: An elevated 17th-century house in West Sussex with stunning views and period furniture
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