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The first known mansion on the site was 'Sheperdes', built between 1540-61 by Michael Martin. In 1582 Thomas Martin sold it to Thomas Isted, and thereafter it passed to John Baker in 1608 and Edward English in 1652. English and his wife extended the estate and then sold it in 1684 to William Peake. His sister inherited it in 1685 and it was then sold in 1697, to Thomas Fuller (d.1720), a local industrialist, staying within the family until 1847.

The Fuller family's wealth was built on the Wealden iron industry. By 1703 their estates in Sussex generated £1,200 in rents and they had investments and iron furnaces at Collins Forge on the Burwash/Brightling border and Heathfield, the principal product being guns. Thomas Fuller extended the Brightling estate to 95ha and commenced a scheme of improvement, rebuilding the house c1699. In 1703 he gave the property to his nephew John Fuller (1680-1745) who that year married Elizabeth Rose, a Jamaican heiress who brought a considerable fortune to the family along with estates in the West Indies of over 1215ha. Fuller renamed the house Rosehill in her honour. At this stage the grounds were relatively compact despite Fuller's acquisition of an additional 59ha.

On John Fuller's death in 1745, the property was inherited by his son, John Fuller II (c 1705-55), who inheriting further estates from a cousin in 1752, spent a considerable fortune between 1745-55 on the Brightling estate. During this period he rebuilt the house, adding the west and the office wings. He extended his land ownership, purchasing 372ha until the estate reached 526ha, and laid out a deer park around the remodelled house, the park being bounded on its east, south and west sides by a tributary of the River Darwell. He diverted the public road leading directly past the north front of the house and acquired a long lease of land on Brightling Hill, as sheep grazing. He started planting up the park with clumps of trees and built a Chinese Temple and a keep in the grounds.

John Fuller II died without an heir in 1755 and the estate passed to his brother Rose Fuller (1708-77), who ran the family estates in Jamaica. By this time in addition to the overseas income, the rents from Sussex property came to £2,226 p.a. Rose Fuller did little to the estate before his death in 1777, the property then being inherited by his nephew known as 'Honest Jack', and more recently as 'Mad Jack'.

John Fuller III (1757-1833), was a friend and patron of JMW Turner and of the architect, Sir Robert Smirke (1780-1867) as well as other artists, architects and authors. Active as an MP and founder member of the Royal Institution, he inherited a considerable fortune, although the iron foundry industry had largely ceased, and set about developing the estate. In 1806 he commissioned Humphry Repton (1752-1818) to advise on the layout of the park. Repton presented his recommendations in the form of a Red Book in which he discusses a plan previously put forward by a 'Mr Brown' for improvements to the site. Lancelot Brown's son, also Lancelot, had married Frances Fuller, 'Mad Jack's aunt (sister of Rose Fuller), who he met in Lausanne in 1784, the year after his father's death, but there is no other evidence to confirm Lancelot Brown senior's involvement in the park.

Repton's main criticism of Rosehill was the siting of the house in such an exposed position, and he advised it be re-built in the Gothic style, elsewhere in the park or, failing this, that its surroundings be modified to provide a greater degree of shelter. Most of Repton's suggested improvements were not implemented, apart from some tree clumps on the southern boundary of the Avenue, between the house and kitchen garden and the erection of a temple to highlight the knoll (Tithe Map, 1838). Fuller continued his own scheme of improvements; commissioning Smirke to extend the main house c 1800 and to build a number of follies on the estate. An enclosing park wall was built at a cost of some £10,000. To celebrate his work, he commissioned Turner to do four watercolours of views in and around Rosehill. By the end of his life the estate had grown to 1530ha.

His cousin Augustus Fuller inherited the estate in 1834. During his tenure Augustus Fuller added a further 20ha to the estate. The name of the estate was changed to Brightling Park in 1879 when purchased from the Fuller family by Percy Tew. The estate remained in the Tew family until 1953, when it passed to Mr Tew's daughter-in-law, Rosemary Grissell. (Mr Tew's son had been killed in the war and his daughter-in-law married Michael Grissell). Death duties enforced the sale of part of the estate and partial demolition of the house in 1955. The parkland, extending to 482 acres (1992), remains in private ownership.

Site timeline

1806: The park is redesigned under the direction of Humphry Repton.

1955: Death duties enforced the sale of part of the estate and partial demolition of the house.

People associated with this site

Designer: Lancelot Brown (born 1716 died 06/02/1783)

Benefactor: John G. McCarthy (born 1900 died 1990)

Designer: Humphry Repton (born 21/04/1752 died 24/03/1818)

Architect: Sir Robert Smirke (born 01/10/1780 died 18/04/1867)



tree clump

Feature created: After 1806

Most of Repton's suggested improvements were not implemented, apart from some tree clumps on the southern boundary of the Avenue.

kitchen garden