Food, Days Out and Travel stories from Brighton, London and the Rest of the World


Days Out in Sussex - Petworth House with rare and ancient treasures

With a collection of treasures that include 20 Turners, 20 Van Dycks, a 16th-century globe, Chaucer's Canterbury Tales and a 2,500-year-old marble head of Aphrodite to name a few of their show stoppers, Petworth House has a staggering number of rare and ancient treasures to admire.

The grounds are pretty impressive too with a thousand-year-old oak, several 400 - 600-year-old sweet chestnuts and one of the oldest lime trees in the country. Entirely enclosed by a high wall, the 700 acre park contains fallow deer, geese and birds of prey, follies, ponds and was landscaped by the famous Lancelot 'Capability' Brown in the years 1751 - 63.

The Ha Ha by Capability Brown, Petworth House, photo by Modern Bric a Brac
Stone Ha Ha

The main house has had various additions and improvements over its long history, with the most extensive work taking place in the later 17th century. Built of local freestone ashlar, the ornamental details were completed in Portland stone.

Portland stone ornament, Petworth House, photo by Modern Bric a Brac

Inside centuries of collecting, most notably by the eighteenth century Earls of Egremont became so extensive that a new gallery was built to showcase a large part of it at the beginning of the nineteenth century.

The legacy of all this accumulating has resulted in quite a mind-boggling collection of sculpture, art and artefacts displayed in a relatively small number of rooms.

The other great discovery about the House are the wonderful staff / volunteers on hand to offer more information about the art on display. The downside was the lighting of the pictures, whether it was from natural light or electric, I found it difficult to clearly see many of the pictures.

The Servants Quarters

Our first stop after parking (£4) and paying (£14 each) was to head to the servants quarters for a little light refreshment before deciding where to go next. This took us past the Ionic rotunda on a hill and along a path of grand old trees, parkland and mature shrubs beside the outer wall of the park.

Petworth House grounds, photo by Modern Bric a Brac

The servant's quarters, Petworth House, photo by Modern Bric a Brac
The servant's quarters

Once home to 40 live-in staff, the servants quarters were contained in a very large building adjacent to the main House. There was the dairy room, meat store, main kitchen with a collection of 1,000 copper pots and pans, Housekeeper's room and at the very end of a very long corridor, a modern day tea room. Rather large in scale, the end wall was covered with rows upon rows of antlers and in between stood an enormous statue framed by an alcove.

Copper pots and pans, Petworth House, photo by Modern Bric a Brac
Copper pots and pans in Petworth House kitchen

Patcham House, North Gallery

Our next stop was to join one of the introductory talks that go on throughout the day, to give us a flavour of what to expect in the House. A few items were pointed out, such as the rare handwritten copy of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales circa 1420-30 on vellum as well as, possibly the earliest English-made globe in existence. Coloured lines around it showed the voyages of exploration that Sir Francis Drake and others had taken and it is thought to have been given as a gift by Sir Walter Raleigh.

The talk was brief and we were left to discover the North Gallery for ourselves where pictures and sculptures greet you from every angle. From floor to ceiling pictures were hung on the walls alongside numerous antique classical marble sculptures.

Sculptures and pictures in the North Gallery, Petworth House, photo by Modern Bric a Brac
North Gallery

Reynolds in the North Gallery, Petworth House, photo by Modern Bric a Brac
Miss Elizabeth Darby by Sir Joshua Reynolds

Next door we were told to look out for the marble head of Aphrodite, the goddess of love, their 2,500-year-old sculpture attributed to Praxiteles the much-imitated Athenian sculptor. Our guide didn't mention the rather small portrait of Thomas Cromwell (of recent Wolf Hall fame), or the statue of Emperor Nero as a child. Identified as one of only three likenesses in existence, the rest having been destroyed by the mob following the Emperor's suicide. Such is the number of rare items that it's easy to miss something extraordinary.

The Carved Room

The room further on called the Carved Room contained a row of Turner's, at what seemed like a funny height, later I found out that they had been hung deliberately low so as to be at the right height to look at when seated at dinner.

One of his paintings in this room is of Brighton from the sea circa 1829 and shows the Brighton Chain Pier built a few years before, which was used as a mooring for cross-channel ferries. Part-funded by the third Earl of Egremont, the owner of Petworth House and patron of Turner it is not surprising that he chose to paint this seascape. Apparently the Royal Pavilion is depicted in the middle distance.

Turner, Petworth House, photo by Modern Bric a Brac
Brighton Chain Pier by Turner

The Park

We didn't have time to walk around the grounds but we ventured far enough to enjoy the view across the upper pond and see the sculpture, copied from an antique statue of the Dog of Alcibiades. It was commissioned after the 3rd Earl of Egremont lost his favourite hound from drowning. The Earl had the Sculptor Carew make a memorial at the edge of the lake to "a true & trusty friend".

Petworth House, photo by Modern Bric a Brac
Upper pond

Petworth House, photo by Modern Bric a Brac
Statue of the dog of Alcibiades by Carew at Petworth House
Head of Aphrodite, Petworth House, photo by Modern Bric a Brac
Head of Aphrodite

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