The historic new-build

At first sight Uppark House appears to be the perfect Georgian country mansion set in an open, elevated position commanding superb views across the South Downs.  But all is not as it seems.  The original house was built in the 1690’s and was remodelled in the early 1800’s.  It then stood for 175 years before a fire rampaged through the house in 1989 which destroyed most of the interior.  The house was painstakingly restored and reopened to the public in 1995 as the property seen today, which is basically a new-build of an early 19th century house.  Fortunately most of the downstairs furniture and objects were saved from the fire which started in the roof, and this items such as carpets, wall coverings and textiles which were not saved have been recreated.   Given this, the property keeps the lighting particularly low and interestingly, does not allow photography in the main part of the building, even without flash.

To be honest there is not a great deal to see at Uppark, the garden is very small and not terribly inspiring and the few ground floor rooms that are open are largely unremarkable, generally over filled with furniture.  Small laminated leaflets are available in each room to give the visitor some basic information and a ‘fun fact’ about key objects and some snippets of information about the previous owners, but there is no real attempt to draw out any particular theme or history, as is often the case with other NT properties. 

One area of interest is the basement which houses the wine/beer cellar, the housekeepers rooms, butlers pantry and a large scullery. 

Scullery

The original kitchens were not housed in the main part of the house and produce from these was transported along underground tunnels.  These tunnels are said to have inspired the author H G Wells when he wrote The Time Machine.  A claim to fame is that Wells’ mother, Sarah was the housekeeper at Uppark between 1880 and 1893.  Another interesting thing about the tunnels is that in one is stored what is probably the longest single section ladder in the world.

The longest ladder in the world

It is a shame that Uppark doesn’t really promote itself more vigorously, it was a well known party house in the early 19th century frequented by the Prince George (later King George IV who was a close friend of Harry Fetherstonhaugh, MP for Portsmouth and often described as a ‘witless playboy’. With provenance like this there is so much scope for imaginative and exciting displays and visitor experience programme.  Sadly, this is a  missed opportunity, not aided by the stewards on duty on the day of my visit who were to a man a miserable and unfriendly bunch.

20th Century Gothic

It’s been several years since I last visited Nymans Gardens, so I didn’t really know what to expect when I visited recently.  The weather wasn’t great, which was a shame for the middle of August, but although overcast, the rain did manage to hold off while I was there. 

The basic layout of the gardens hasn’t changed, but what had changed was the amount of activities there were available for children.  Nymans has lots of lovely wide open space which is ideal for children to run about in, and it was heartening to see that the team at Nymans has recognised that fact and come up with various garden activities including activity trails and games such as giant Jenga, skittles and croquet.  All this child friendly activity doesn’t detract from the formal garden areas where the interest is more adult orientated.  The Rose Garden had almost finished, with just a few blooms left, while the long border was looking suitably spectacular full of late summer flowers such as phlox, rudbeckia (Black-eyed Susan), dahlias and sunflowers.

Wild meadow planting at Nymans Gardens

What had changed since my last visit was the house itself.  A charming country house dating back to the Regency period, the house was remodelled first by Ludvig Messel to reflect his Germanic roots, and later by his son and daughter-in-law Leonard and Maud.  Sadly, on the night of Leonard’s 75th birthday a fire broke out destroying much of the house, with only a small part being saved.  About half of the original property still stands a ruins giving the property a romantic, gothic feel . With only 4 or 5 rooms available to visitors, there was still plenty to see and helpful room guides were pleased to chat about the past occupants and to show interested visitors a selection of albums showing the house as it was before the fire which destroyed most of it and Messel family. The upstairs has now been turned in to a gallery space showing the work of a Polish artist, Mariusz Kaldowski  depicting views around the garden and estate.

The main room have been dressed out as the house would have been in the early-mid 20th century when the Messel family were in occupation.  One of the ‘funest’ things is the stage curtain surround that has been placed around the television set.  The Messel family were very keen on theatre. 

TV ‘Theatre’ (with another scary lady portrait above)

There are several portraits of quite scary looking females which sort of reminded me of Rebecca in the eponymous Daphne Du Maurier.  

One of several ‘scary’ looking female portraits wearing period costume

I was impressed with the small collection of blue and white china displayed in a side room, and had to laugh when, as I was leaving, a man entering remarked that I looked like I had escaped from the room – I was wearing a blue and white striped dress! 

Blue and White china display

Currently the property is trying to raise money to create a special garden in the ruins of the house left behind after the fire.  Some work has been carried out to make them safer, but general public access is not permitted.  The picture here shows the charred remains of the library of rare and specialist botanical books collected by Leonard Messel.  A fitting place to site a brand new garden.

Burned library at Nymans

I enjoyed my visit to Nymans, the property has undergone some changes which make a real difference to the visitor “experience” and the staff and volunteers I came across were all very friendly and knowledgeable. It’s a lovely place and I would thoroughly recommend it.