Sussex Life April 2017 Poetry + solution
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Solution for the ‘A House of Magic’ piece by Tony Ward in the Sussex Life April issue
Where is it? A House of Magic
The Abbey’s loss, the Palmers’ gain,
The Land, King Henry’s gift.
The House awaits his daughter’s reign,
the infant-laid foundation stone.
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Four hundred years a home.
Much-loved but with a sorry face,
new owners to the fore,
the heartfelt charge, the lifetime task,
repair, conserve, restore.
But rôles to play in times of war.
Boney’s threat … Yeomanry in the Gallery,
Adolf’s threat … children at risk, evacuees,
troops in training, huts in the Park.
Changed yet unchanging. A duty of care,
treasures within, treasures without.
Flame-stitch, embroideries, matchless and rare.
Herons in treetops, beetles and deer,
Wendy House, glasshouse, a maze and a lake,
In house and in garden, flowers all year.
Shared in Trust, welcomed … the half-crown guests,
the players, the film-makers,
Shakespeare on stage, Shakespeare on screen.
Treasures to guess, treasures to find.
Family fun, cuttings and crafts,
Harvest Fairs and Halloween hosts.
A house of magic, casting its spell.
A house of beauty, a house at peace.
Solution – Parham House and Gardens, Pulborough, West Sussex.
Explanation of embedded clues
The poem title is taken from the final sentence of Simon Jenkins’s entry on Parham in his book, England’s Thousand Best Houses - ‘It is a house of magic’. Jenkins awarded Parham 5 stars, gaining it a place in his Top Twenty alongside the likes of Windsor Castle, Chatsworth House and Blenheim Palace.
“The Abbey’s loss” was that of the Abbey of Westminster, after the Dissolution of the Monasteries. In 1540 King Henry VIII granted the estate, the manor of Parham, to Robert Palmer. Robert was a London mercer, ‘a dealer in textile fabrics, especially silks and other costly materials’ (The Concise Oxford Dictionary). The Worshipful Company of Mercers is the Premier Livery Company of the City of London, whose origins date back to the 13th Century. Robert Palmer was a wealthy man with Royal connections. His occupation was particularly appropriate for Parham, which now houses ‘the finest collection of historic needlework outside London’ (Jenkins), more of this later.
However, Palmer did not get around to building a house on his land until 1577, thirty-seven years later, and well into the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. It was the tradition then that the laying of the foundation stone of a new house, particularly such a grand house, should be performed by the youngest member of the family. This was thought to bring good luck upon the household, thus the line, “the infant-laid foundation stone”. The task fell to Robert’s two-year-old grandson, Thomas - one suspects with a bit of help from Dad or Grandad!
Around twenty years later Thomas Palmer moved out. The house was bought by the Bysshopp family (later Zouche) from nearby Henfield, whose descendants lived there until the estate was sold to the Pearson’s of Cowdray in 1922. The line, “Four hundred years a home”, is in fact a simplification. Parham House is still very much a home, four hundred and forty years after the laying of that foundation stone.
When the Hon. Clive and Alicia Pearson bought the estate in 1922, they found the house “Much-loved but with a sorry face”. They set about repairing, renovating and conserving the building itself during the inter-war years. Continued by them after the interruption of World War 2 and subsequently by their daughter, Veronica Tritton, this was indeed “the lifetime task”- more than 60 years of meticulous research and sensitive restoration. The house was returned to its mostly Elizabethan and Jacobean roots. The same “duty of care” was applied to the gardens, particularly the Walled Garden. The Pearson’s close friend and celebrated landscape architect, Lanning Roper, brought a fresh vision to the task. This has continued to the present day. ‘The marriage between the garden and the house is very important’ (Tom Brown, Head Gardener).
“Restoration” also has a second meaning at Parham. This was about acquiring fine objects in-keeping with its history – paintings, furniture, needlework and antiquities - to re-create ‘a more enchanted atmosphere, a greater peace and kindliness, distilled perhaps from all the centuries it has outlived’ (The Hon. Mrs Clive Pearson). This even involved tracking down objects at auction that had once belonged in the house and buying them back. It would be all too easy to have over-egged the pudding, but as Jenkins stresses, ‘Nothing at Parham is superfluous, nothing unloved’.
In verse 3 the gentle rhythm of the first two verses is broken by threats of war. Parham’s tranquillity was twice interrupted - “rôles to play in times of war”. “Boney’s threat …” was of course the feared invasion of the South Coast at the time of the Napoleonic Wars. The Parham Troop of Yeomanry was drilled in the Long Gallery. One hundred and sixty foot in length, the Gallery stretches the full length of the south front. The Gallery’s customary use for entertaining and recreation had to be suspended while this took place.
“Adolf’s threat …” was perhaps not so geographically close, at least at first, but at the outbreak of World War 2, the fear that London would be a prime target for Hitler’s bombing raids, putting “children at risk”, led to their mass evacuation to the countryside. For three years Parham became home to 30 evacuee children from Peckham. It appears that The Hon. Clive Pearson was happy to assume the role of a surrogate Dad. He built them a playhouse and turned over a section of the walled garden to individual vegetable plots for them. The children competed to grow the best crops. It was both in the wartime spirit of ‘Dig for Victory’ and a clever way of getting them to ‘eat up their greens’!
In 1942 though, “troops in training, huts in the Park”. The children were relocated to Storrington and officers and soldiers of three Canadian Infantry Divisions moved in. Half of the house was requisitioned for billeting the officers and their men were housed in Nissen Huts in the Park. The Family remained in the other half of the house and were also able to provide a refuge for those employees, relations and friends who would otherwise have been without a safe place to stay.
The house survived the war relatively unscathed, “changed yet unchanging”. As Lady Emma Barnard explained, her great grandparents had struck lucky with their Canadian ‘guests’, the infantry were in fact engineers, ‘they could mend everything that they broke!”. Lady Emma, like her forebears, is also very much aware of “A duty of care”. She describes living at Parham as ‘both an honour and a burden”, but a burden which she willingly accepts. She sees her responsibility as handing on Parham to the next generation still ‘in its own skin’, and in preferably a better state than when she inherited.
So, what are these “treasures within, treasures without” (the subjects of verses 4 and 5) to be passed on?
Within the house, besides the fine paintings, furniture and antiquities, Parham’s main claim to fame is the breath-taking collection of historic needlework, in breadth, depth and state of preservation. As Jenkins puts it, both the Great Chamber and the West Room are ‘ablaze with flame-stitch, some of the earliest known in England’ (Early 17th-century). In the Great Chamber, the canopy, headboard, backcloth and bedspread of the Great Bed are even earlier (1585). Elsewhere there is an important collection of rare Stuart ‘stump-work’ - needlework pictures in relief. There is also needlework from across the world, including Hungarian wall-hangings and a Mexican shawl.
Surrounding the house, are the award-winning gardens. The land was originally cultivated by its original 14th-century owners, the monks from the monastery at Westminster, and so pre-dates the Elizabethan house by some margin. It is not known whether the monks won any prizes though, apart from the satisfaction of being (necessarily) self-sufficient.
There is a four-acre Walled Garden, Pleasure Grounds and a 300-acre Deer Park. The present estate runs to about 875 acres, down from 3,733 acres at its peak. The features picked out in the poem are the 1920s Wendy House and glasshouse in the Walled Garden and the Maze and Lake in the Pleasure Grounds. The maze was built in 1991, ‘The Year of the Maze’, a countrywide celebration of these intriguing garden features. Parham’s maze is named after Lady Emma’s great aunt, namely, ‘Veronica’s Maze’. Tying the house and garden together, the maze’s design is in fact based on the 16th-century embroidered bedspread on The Great Bed.
Besides winning the 1990 HHA/Christie’s Garden of the Year Award, much of the estate is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and so there are necessary restrictions as to where visitors can wander. Some of the fauna which led to the SSSI designation are also mentioned in verse 5.
The heronry is one of the largest in Sussex, two rare beetles (for entomologists: Ampedus cardinalis and Procraerus tibialis) have made Parham their home, but perhaps the earliest residents are the fallow deer. A herd has been in the Park, originally a hunting ground, since 1628. In historical terms though they are relative newcomers, fallow deer were first introduced into Sussex in the late 11th-century. With an SSSI, both flora and fauna are often of interest. This is the case with Parham. Being a former hunting ground there are numerous ancient trees, including oaks as old as the Tudors, from which hang epiphytic lichen. The lichen flora is of particular interest to botanists, ‘among the 165 recorded species is Thelopsis rubella, here in its only known locality east of the New Forest’ (SSSI Citation).
“In house and in garden, flowers all year”, acknowledges Lady Emma’s great-grandmother, Alicia Pearson’s, insistence that there should be flowers from the garden in every room and all the year round, ‘Parham-style’. The tradition continues.
The penultimate verse is about Parham House and Gardens today. After the Second World War, the Pearson’s took the ‘hearts in mouth’ step of opening to the public. The date was fixed for 17 July 1948. The first visitors were to be welcomed as “half-crown guests” (one and sixpence for children). They had no idea whether anyone would be interested, but of course it was a success, and has been ever since. They were pioneers. That first day they were delighted to receive just 61 visitors, but nowadays of course visitor numbers are measured in their thousands not tens! The average HHA (Historic House Association) property now records over 66,000 visitors each year, and more than £1 billion is spent in the economy as a result of visits to HHA houses alone, two-thirds of it off-site in the local economies surrounding HHA houses (HHA 2016 – Facts and Figures). Although Clive and Alicia Pearson would doubtless have been delighted how things have turned out, their wish was simply to share something of their own delight in the house and gardens with others. Parham was placed into a Charitable Trust in perpetuity.
The rest of the verse highlights some of the activities and events in which the house has recently been involved. The Shakespeare events included Open Air Theatre and being chosen by Shakespeare’s Globe to be part of the “Shakespeare Lives 2016” celebrations. Parham was the set for a 10-minute film on Twelfth Night, one of 37 such films playing on screens along a 2.5 mile stretch of the River Thames.
“Treasures to guess, treasures to find” is a reference to episodes of Masterpiece (ITV), Flog it! (BBC1), and Bargain Hunt (BBC1). “Family fun (Easter), cuttings (Sarah Raven’s gardening courses), crafts (Sussex Guild Craft Show), Harvest Fairs and Halloween hosts (Halloween Family Fun)” all refer to regular events. Details of upcoming events can be found on Parham’s official website.
“A house of magic”, the poem title, and the first phrase of the final verse, refers to more than just another of Parham’s events, Midsummer Magic. As recounted at the start of this piece, for Simon Jenkins, it summed up the essence, the appeal, of the place. It is still “casting its spell”. Timeless.
It is certainly “a house of beauty”, and in a frantic world, “a house at peace”. But perhaps, most tellingly, as Lady Emma put it, ‘It is good for the soul”.
Acknowledgement of sources
• Simon Jenkins, England’s Thousand Best Houses, Allen Lane, 2003 (pp. 777-779).
• Peter Brandon, The Discovery of Sussex, Phillimore, 2010 (p. 138).
• David Arscott, The Little Book of Sussex, The History Press, 2011 (p. 113).
• www.parhaminsussex.co.uk (Parham House Official website).
• aahorsham.co.uk/content/parhamhouse (Article from All About Horsham Magazine, 3 August 2016, in which Lady Emma Barnard tells of some aspects of Parham’s history and what life is like for the family to be living in the House nowadays, visitors and all).
• Relevant websites found by searches for ‘Parham House and Gardens’, ‘Parham House Garden Award’, ‘The Mercers Company’, ‘SSSI Citation – Parham Park’, ‘Historic Houses Association’.
• Parham House and Gardens welcome visitors. The House and Grounds are open from Easter Sunday to the end of October. See the Official website (as above) for opening times and prices and for details of upcoming special events.
Tony Ward’s book, Unravelling Sussex, contains all his Sussex Life puzzle poems and more - it is published by The History Press, RRP £12.99.