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.
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.
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.