Cowdray Park (Coudreye): A Tudor and Stuart Palace – now in ruins. Another ‘jolly.’
By now you’ll be used to me and my little ‘jollies,’ visiting lovely houses and gardens and sharing my experiences and my photos with you.
Today I thought I’d share a past visit with you.
A visit to a wonderful ruined Manor House in 2007: Cowdray House.
I came across the photos at the weekend and had forgotten all about the visit and how much I enjoyed it until I saw them again.
We visited on a lovely sunny day in August 2007 and enjoyed a leisurely stroll round, using a head-set to guide us as we explored the ruins.
Here’s a little history to put you in the picture.
Cowdray House is in Midhurst, Sussex, and is the most beautiful ruin. It is set in 16,500 acres of West Sussex countryside. There is a golf course, holiday cottages and much more on the site today, but back in 2007 it had only just been opened to visitors when we visited.
The house has been in existence in one form or another since the Middle Ages. The village of Midhurst pre-dates 1066 when it developed as a Saxon Village.
In 1158 the estates of Midhurst and Easebourne, which had been owned by Savoric Fitz Cana from Normandy, are split upon his death between his son, Savaric II, who keeps Ford, near Arundel, where his father had made his home, and his other son Geldwin who inherited Midhurst, and it is here Geldwin builds a fortified manor house on St Ann’s Hill.
In 1197 the estates are reunited under Geldwin’s son, Frank, who returns to Ford. This is the family home until 1284. The Hill only being occupied infrequently. By this time the family call themselves de Bohun and later Bohun, and in 1284 Sir John Bohun moves from Ford to his new home, Coudreye, on the site of Cowdray ruins.
There are various marriages and royal visits to Coudreye and in 1488 Sir David Owen (great-uncle of Henry VIII) marries the de Bohun heiress and after her death in about 1496 acquires Coudreye.
Sometime during 1520 and 1529 Owen gradually demolishes Coudrey and begins building Cowdray (hope you are still with me).
There seems to be some funny business to do with the illegal sale of Cowdray to Sir William Fitzwilliam for £2,000 by Owen’s son, Henry, in about 1529, though Sir David Owen continues to live there.
In 1533 Sir William is licensed by Henry VIII to empark and crenelate Cowdray.
IN 1537 Sir William is ennobled as Earl of Southampton and in 1538 Henry VIII visits for a few days in August, and William’s half-brother and heir, Anthony Browne, receives Battle abbey.
I gather they know how to impress and influence the monarchy to their advantage.
A dispossessed monk (there was some shenanigans to do with the Dissolution of Easebourne Priory) curses the family ‘by fire and by water.’
Hold that thought….
Lady Margaret Pole, the Countess of Salisbury is imprisoned at Cowdray from November 1538-September 1539.
1540 sees Sir William created Lord Privy Seal – he’d already been Lord High Admiral 1536-1540.
In 1542 Sir Anthony Browne inherits Cowdray. And in July 1545 The Mary Rose sinks and Henry VIII visits Cowdray in the August. He’s been several times by now.
In 1548 Browne’s son (also Anthony) inherits. and in 1554 Sir Anthony Browne is ennobled as 1st Viscount Montague upon the marriage of Queen Mary to Phillip of Spain.
There’s a pattern developing here; royal visit, rewards…but it can’t last.
The 1st Viscount finds himself under house arrest at Cowdray in 1588 (Defeat of the Spanish Armada) because he is a Catholic. In 1592 the 2nd Viscount inherits not long after a visit from Queen Elizabeth 1st.
1595 Montague issues his Book of Orders and Rules for the direction of his household. And in 1605 – Gunpowder Plot – the 2nd Viscount is imprisoned briefly for complicity.
Guy Fawkes came from Midhurst and he was employed at Cowdray in his youth – makes you think!
In 1611 he is imprisoned once more for refusing to take the Oath of Allegiance to King James 1st and is fined £6,000.
1629 sees a 3rd Viscount inherit and in the 1630’s Robert May is employed as Chef at Cowdray.
1643-60 During and after the Civil War, two-thirds of the Cowdray estates are sequestered and all plate etc. seized. The house is Garrisoned by Parliamentary forces but escapes demolition.
1682 the 4th Viscount inherits and orders an inventory of furniture.
More deaths and inheritances take place throughout the rest of the century. Capability Brown is employed to ‘modernise’ the gardens in 1770.
Once more fire semi-destroys Cowdray (September 24th 1793), and the 8th Viscount drowns on the Rhine in Switzerland (early October) and the title passes to a descendant of the 2nd Viscount, who dies childless and the Viscountcy becomes extinct.
1794-1840 and the estates are inherited by the 8th Viscount’s sister, who married Colonel Poyntz who out lives her and dies in 1840. The family lives in the former Keeper’s Lodge in Cowdray. Two sons are drowned off Bognor in 1815 and the estates pass to three daughters who cannot agree upon the division.
That curse seems to be coming true.
1843 sees the estates sold to the 6th Earl of Egmont for £300,000.
In 1874 the 7th Earl inherits. Keeper’s Lodge is rebuilt and becomes the present Cowdray Park (1878). 8th Earl inherits in 1897 and the estates are sold in 1908 to Sir Weetman Dickinson Pearson who in 1917 becomes Viscount Cowdray.
1913-19 Sir William St. John Hope is asked to report on the ruins of Cowdray, Easebourne Priory and St. Ann’s Hill. Some restoration work is undertaken.
Various Viscounts inherit and in 1995 the 4th Viscount Cowdray inherits and in 1996 Cowdray Heritage Trust is created and from 2006-7 major conservation work is undertaken.
From March 2007 Cowdray has been open to visitors. We visited soon after, in August.
It was such an interesting place to visit. There was a lady (guide) sitting inside the ruins who told us about some Graffiti we’d spotted, which had been left by various occupants of the property which I found too difficult to photograph as it had faded so much.
There is a lovely little restaurant just before you enter the site of the ruins and there are lots of interesting things on sale, such as pottery, and other items usually available at such places. It was clean and all brand new. The staff were friendly and helpful. We watched a typically English cricket match just outside the main ruins at one point.
It was a lovely day out. Later we walked around the village of Midhurst which is delightful. The buildings are fascinating – do look up if you visit.
The church is so pretty and there is a lovely lake at one end of the village which we sat beside whilst drinking a glass of wine (or two) as we watched birds on the water.
In addition to Guy Fawkes, other famous occupants of Midhurst village included H.G. Wells. Also, pop singer Billy Piper, Actor Trevor Eve and his wife Sharon Maughan. I took a photo of the blue plaque outside H.G. Wells’ home, but cannot find it.
The Cowdray Heritage Trust is Heritage Lottery Funded.
As ever all photos are (c) Jane Risdon 2007 All Rights Reserved.
I really hope you enjoyed reading about my visit to Cowdray Park and if you get the chance do visit the ruins and the village.
The present Lady Cowdray recently renovated the Tower and there is an art studio, Lady Cowdray Renaissance Art Studio, situated in there (2016) and art courses are held. The artist in residence is David Cranswick and he can be contacted at email@example.com for information and bookings.
You can get details of opening times at Cowdray and information about their Holiday lets and more, by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org or phoning the estate office at +44 (0)1730 812423
Cowdray, Easebourne, Midhurst, West Sussex GU29 OAQ England.
Let me know what you think. I’m always interested in your feed-back. Thanks for your visit.