In West Sussex, Parham House is an Elizabethan building with the third biggest Long Gallery in England, an original Elizabethan fireplace in the Great Hall and 128 rooms. Lady Emma Barnard, who was born into the Guinness family, lives there part-time with her husband James who is a barrister and their family. She maintains that even now that her heart ‘skips a beat when [she] drives in the gate’.
Parham first belonged to the Abbey of Westminster but trouble began when Henry VIII infamously demanded the suppression of the monasteries in 1536. By 1540 he had dissolved over 800 religious establishments, and Parham was taken over by a London mercer named Robert Palmer. Later, in 1577 the foundation stone was laid by the family’s youngest member - Robert’s two-year-old grandson Thomas, as this was thought to be lucky practice. It then fell into the ownership of Sir Thomas Bishopp in 1601, an MP at the time who later became a knight and then a baron. His family lived there for 300 years until the Viscount of Cowdray’s son Clive Pearson bought it in 1922. We have the Pearsons to thank for the condition of the house today, as they found it in to be in a terrible state of disrepair but ordered intensive repairs work that lasted well into the 1930s.
When the Second World War hit, Clive and Alicia Pearson took in 30 children evacuated from London and later soldiers from the Canadian Infantry Division. Thomas’ lucky foundation stone seemed to have come in handy, as despite many Dog Fights above the Downs, the house survived wartime almost completely unharmed. George Miller, an evacuee who lived at Parham during the war, can recall how lucky they were to have the ballroom as their dining room and the many acres of garden in which to play. He also remembers speaking to a German soldier on the Downs, when his Messerschmitt 110 crashed some 500 yards from them.
Queen Elizabeth I once visited Parham for dinner in the late 1500s, as she was godmother to Robert Palmer’s daughter. In the vast Great Hall don’t miss her favourite painting; a portrait of Robert Dudley (recognisable by his grey bushy beard) and the decoratively painted vines on the ceiling. Other famous faces inside are Edward VI, Lord Burghley (of Burghley House in Lincolnshire).
Whilst in the Hall, you can see the original Elizabethan fireplace that is accompanied by two storey windows with views of the rolling down. There is also an interesting exhibition which explains how the different generations of the Pearson family contributed to the home, so you can see exactly how it has changed over the decades.
Upstairs in the Great Chamber, Alicia Pearson has kept a Tudor canopy bed frame, with flame-coloured embroidered curtains dating back to the 1620s. Lady Emma also picked out her favourite embroidery on a christening cushion decorated with the scene of Moses being found in the rushes. She explains that the lady in the scene that found him ‘is so surprised she has two sets of eyebrows,’ pointing out that her grandmother ‘loved the quirky’.
There are four acres of walled gardens including a herbaceous border, a glasshouse, vegetable garden, and a 1920s Wendy House. Further in, the gardens include an orchard with damson, plum, pear and quince trees whilst the rose gardens are full of cream and pink flowers. In the 18th century, the Pleasure Garden was landscaped, complete with spring snowdrops, daffodils and primroses and a maze from 1991.