Stanmer House
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HISTORIC HOUSES OF SUSSEX
By VISCOUNTESS WOLESELEY

No. 31 STANMER, Near Lewes

 

 

IN passing over the Downs from Rottingdean to Falmer, there is a moment when, having breasted the hill, we look across a vast stretch of unbroken Downland with the small village of Falmer below and rising ground beyond its valley, leading the eye upwards towards those high hills to the north where, if we rode across country, we should find Ditchling Beacon and the Clayton windmills. Slightly to the north-west, in a coombe sheltered by groves of tall trees, stands a stately mansion with park­like ground near it merging quickly into downland.

This is the finest view of Stanmer that I know, and as we look down admiringly at this house. so well placed, so essentially typical of one of the die 18th century homes of England, our hearts go out in hopeful well-wishing to the young owner of it, still at Eton, the representative of those Pelhams whose " buckle " emblem. gained at Poitiers, is a household word with Sussex people.

Stanmer. impressive as it is, cannot, however, boast a long connection with the forbears of the Earl of Chichester, for Laughton and Halland were the earlier homes of the Pelhams. and it was only at the commencement of the 18th century that they became possessed of the Canons' Manor of South Malling, of which Stanmer forms part. If we turn to vols. LXVIII and LXX of the Sussex Archaeological Collections, we shall read of the early grant. circa 765, of King Aldwulf, and we shall not only recognise the vills of Stanmere (Stanmer), Lindfielde and Burhlee but other names such as Henfield. lying near Scaynes Hill. and Buxshalls, near Lindfield. that are almost unchanged since those pre­Conquest days. The most curious instance of an unchanged place-name is Buxshalls. and what adds to its interest is that it is also descriptive of the place as we see it to-day, for it is called " baca's shelf spring bocqueselle." or as Miss Mary S. Holgate explains. " the road passing along a distinct shelf with a sharp drop to the spring on the west and a distinct rise to the east."

But interesting as it is to think that Stanmer forms part of a pre-Conquest grant to the Church. we are only in this article dealing with the house itself and any allusion to the Manor is incidental. Briefly therefore. I will tell you what I know of the story, which I have mostly learnt through the kindness of the Hon. Mrs. Arthur Pelham, and Mr. Frederick Jones. of East Hoathly.

As early as 1593-4 we find the Michelborne family connected with the Manor of Stanmer alias Audwick, as it is called. This old Sussex family had a house here, and the present north end contains part of what was theirs, though it seems impossible to trace the exact year when they built it. Sir Richard Michelborne, Knight, the head of the Horsted Keynes branch of the family, died seized of it in 1639. and hi descendants continued to have an interest in it until, in 1700, it passed from the two daughters of the house, Sybil (who had mar­ried John Martin and Bride, t, Michelborne, to Peter Gett.

It was bought in 1705 by Henry Pelham, of Lewes, who was the son of Sir John Pelham. of Laughton. 3rd baronet. Henry Pelham was Clerk of the Office of Polls in the Exchequer and died in 1721. He had three sons. (1) Henry and (2) John. who both died unmarried in 1725 and 1721 respectively, and (3) Thomas Pelham, who lived for some time in Constantinople and was a merchant. It was he who built the present house at Stammer, adding it on to the original home of the Michelbornes.

LAUGHTON PLACE: FROM AN OLD WATER COLOUR SKETCH


STANMER--LACQUER CABINET

The house was built of sandstone (quarried in the Weald) about 1723-4. and the surveyor who directed the building operations was Nicholas Dubois. It is. however, probable that the interior decoration, so especially charming in the ceilings and walls of the drawing-room and dining­room, was carried out at a later date, when Thomas Pelham, who was created 1st Earl of Chichester, succeeded his father. Thomas Pelham, the merchant at Stanmer.

This young man, who is seen in a white satin suit in a large picture at the end of the dining room. is supposed to have gone to Italy for part of his education and brought back some Italian pictures, including' this particular portrait of himself. which was painted in Italy. It is supposed that he may have employed Italian workmen to execute the ornamental work in some of the rooms. Both lie and the 2nd Earl were skilled in forestry. and it is through their initiative that the woods at Stanmer have been so well planted.


STANMER IN 1815

The above is only an outline of the story. but what we mainly have to bear in mind is that Laughton Place and Halland, those two attractive homes that have, alas, fallen into decay, took a prominent part in the existence of the early Pelhams. and that mane of the treasures. such as pictures, that have now found a resting place at Stanmer were very intimately connected with those forbears who lived in the neighbourhood of the Brovle and East Hoathly and did such distinguished service to their country. I allude. in especial. to the Duke of Newcastle and his brother, Henry Pelham. for there are many portraits at Stanmer that recall them to mind. They were, as you know. first cousins of the Henry and Thomas. above alluded to, who were the first of the family to settle at Stanmer.

Coming from Lewes along' that main road that passes right through Downland. let us turn in at the gate between the two lodges that guard it on either side. The drive ascends gently up the coombe. which makes a sort of open park­like green approach between sloping, heavily wooded Downs that have been cleverly planted with beech, whilst oaks and thorns are grouped on the lower ground.

Suddenly. you see the grey, typical Georgian house on the left. It is square. solid-looking and dignified, but in no sense beautiful. Beyond it lies the small church and the cottages of the employees. so that all belonging to the place appears to be within a handstretch.

You enter a wide stone-floored. pleasant­shaped hall on this east front, the walls of which are hung with family portraits. A door immediately opposite leads to the inner staircase hall where there are mere pictures of ancestors. and so, as we make the circuit of the rooms, we are continually passing in review centuries of Sussex history. for either we are locking at Sir Thomas Pelham. of Laughton. born as early as 1539, or we move on to Halland days when a likeness of  Lord Lincoln recalls that a bedchamber there was called after him. Then again, we see Thomas Pelham. 1st Earl. who planted the trees with such discretion and foresight. His picture is by Sir Joshua Reynolds.

 

STANMER--THE DINING ROOM

There is a pretty view from these east windows of the little church which stands within the Park. When I saw it, a brilliant coloured Ampalopsis gave colour to the walls.

From the hall we pass into the library on the right, a cheerful room with a friendly feeling about its red-toned walls and restful green carpet. There is a portrait here of the first Countess of Chichester, who died in 1813, painted by Sir Joshua. The marble overmantel has a carved figure of a shepherdess whose graceful. reclining form shows up well against the brown background of this medallion. All the decora­tions of the room are after the style of Adams and have much " egg and tongue " design, which is lightened by touches of gold. This, together with the gold tooling on the backs of the many books, gives that bright effect that we recall at Compton Place. Eastbourne.

Over the far door. leading to another book­room, is written in letters of gold: - Get Wisdom: Get Understanding ' and in the next room, " Wise Men lay up Knowledge,'' which carries on the same train of thought. The overmantel here is particularly delicate in design, and little heraldic touches, such as the " Buckle " and  the " Pelican." are introduced against a pale blue background. Interspersed with these are carnations, the petals of which are tipped with rose colour.

The further book-room is a very light one, having a modern window on the north side. The walls are laden with handsome books. brilliantly tooled, and even the doors have imitation morocco bound backs to carry on the bright gold effect that " petits fers " give, when well carried out.

A round and highly polished Spanish mahogany table stands in the room, the grain of the wood resembling a design of feathers, so care­fully has it been pieced together.

After re-crossing the hall we enter the Panelled Room." the walls of which are grey in tone with touches of white, and the painted wall panels, being tall and narrow in shape. make a perfect background for the pastel portraits of the rosy-cheeked little daughters of the 1st Earl of Chichester. who are mostly dressed in pale blue. Their mother was Anne, the daughter of Frederick Frankland, whose portrait we saw in the library.

 


There are in this room three charming water­colour sketches of Laughton Tower and Halland. before the latter became a ruin, and, too. an interesting larger one of Stanmer painted by Stewart Warren Lee, in 1815. A great function is taking place in front of the house, and if there were a key to it we should be able to recognise mane distinguished Sussex people besides the 3rd Earl of Chichester and George Shiffner. Esq., who are mounted and in uniform. Amongst the other pictures are a good likeness of George III's Queen and a Sir Joshua of Thomas. 2nd Earl of Chichester.


 

The frieze round this room is painted white and in pattern resembles feathers that stand erect. Over the chimney-piece is one of several Chippendale mirrors that we find throughout the house. They are all tall. narrow, very Eastern looking in design, with Birds of Paradise introduced into the carving. These and some of the exquisite pieces of old French furniture came, in all probability. through Lady Holdernesse. an 18th century Dutch heiress. who left her possessions to her grand-daughter. Lady Mary Osborne. the wife of the 2nd Earl.

To my mind, the most interesting as well as puzzling picture is that of a lady in a ruff. hold­ing in her hand a turtle-dove and with her feet resting on a tortoise. Two keys, attached by a rose-coloured ribbon, hang at her side, and the whole small figure is made effective by the rich green velvety background. The name of this picture is " The Virtuous Woman," and the good qualities which this unknown lady is deemed to possess are described in the Latin lines inscribed upon the frame. I give the translation beneath each of the lines: " UXOR AMET, SILEAT, SERVET, NEC UBIQ (UEI VAGETUR" ("Let a wife love, be silent, keep (things) safe. and not gad about "); " Hoc TESTUDO, DOCET, CLAVES, LABRA IUNTAQ (UE) TURTUR. HAEC TALISFUIT " (" This the tortoise teaches: keys and closed lips. the turtle­dove. Such was this  woman "). As you are aware the tortoise and the turtle-dove were both attributes of Aphrodite.

Near this picture is one of many tall Georgian windows, and through it we gain a view of the south garden with a peen of the Downs beyond, made especially charming when the tall beeches on the rising ground towards the west are turning golden.

The next room is the drawing-room. a fine one with delicate mouldings and again some gilding. A note of happy colour-effect is a small harp-shaped 18th century clock on the white marble mantelpiece, and near to this a straw-inlay French cabinet. in which the sun rays seem reflected. There is a curious picture at the end of this room of Lady Mary Montagu, who married George. Earl of Cardigan. He was created Duke of Montagu, in 1766. This striking looking woman. clad in a white dress with  gold trimming holds in her hand the miniature of a red-coated man. and a mask lies on the table beside her.

 

We then pass on to the dining-room. which is lone and has pillars at the far end, the decora­tion of '' egg and tongue ' design having the Pelham "Buckle" cleverly introduced in its midst. Above the mantelpiece is Kneller's portrait of John. 1st Duke of Marlborough. taken when he was in his prime and showing more character in the face than we usually see in the portraits of this good-looking man. The other faces that look down upon us from these white walls, lightened with gold touches, are those of Thomas Pelham. 1st Duke, of Newcastle, his brother Henry and Thomas, Lord Pelham, of Laughton: whilst Grace Holles Lady Pelham (1700) is strikingly modern-looking in face and 11w red frock. too. seems to belong to recent times. Then the portrait of the 1st Earl of Chichester (already alluded to) is within the recess formed by the pillars, and on one side of him, in a Turkish costume, is his mother Anetta Bridges, who married Thomas Pelham of Stanmer. She belonged to a Gloucestershire family. I believe. and was married in Constantinople. On his other side is his sister Henrietta Pelham, who married, in 1753. George Nevill, 15th Baron Abvergavenny.

But more family portraits are to be found in the staircase hall. for not only are there large pictures of the daughters of John, 1st Duke of Marlborough, all of which came from either Halland or Bishopston, but there is one of a rather dull and plain-looking lady who is the daughter of Oliver Cromwell. She was, as you know, Mary, Lady Fauconberg (1636-1712), and this picture came through the Frederick Frankland connection which also brought the Bible of Oliver Cromwell to Stanmer, as well as a portrait of his mother, which hangs in the library.

CHIPPENDALE MIRROR IN THE PANELLED ROOM

The main staircase ascends from this inner hall and is wide and easy of ascent, the uprights of the banisters resting in pairs upon each step. From here, we see that paved garden court. flanked by two wings of the house, at the end of which a colonnade of pillars shows well against the dark green of the cedar trees that are planted on the rising ground to the west. Some magnolias show their shiny leaves against a low wall at the far end. and the stone fountain in the midst of this formal garden makes a pretty picture.

When we reach the upper floor, there are yet more treasures to delight us, each one, if we knew it. bringing its own tale to this store of family history. Chippendale mirrors, carved four-post beds and delicately painted water­colour sketches, the work one would suppose of a French hand. these are among the number. A lovely lacquer cabinet on the landing is perhaps what rouses most a spirit of envy. for. perfect in its proportions and in the delicacy of the golden pictures that are represented on every part of it, each little drawer possesses a brass pendant drop-handle, showing that exquisite finish and execution that comes from an Eastern land.

From Sussex County Magazine Volume 4 1930 - Page 349

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Updated October 28, 2005