Dale Park was purchased in 1780 from a number of copyholds by Sir George Thomas who enclosed the park and planted 400 acres of woodland. The house was built between 1784 and 1788 to plans by Joseph Bonomi ARA and was deemed to be one of the most comfortable in the county. It is located in a fold of the Sussex Downs and together with the undulating parkland was situated and planted to achieve views to Chichester and the sea.
Location, Area, Boundaries, Landform and Setting
No estate maps for Dale Park appear to be extant but the 1795 Gardner and Gream map of Sussex shows Dale Park, with house, stables, the Stag Lodges and walled gardens completed. The main approaches are from the north and south, with the east drive to Madehurst still to be constructed. A lodge is apparent to the west at the boundary of the formal gardens with another access that cuts across the park and grounds to the south-east.
A small print of Dale Park by J P Neale in December 1828 shows a fine, three storey mansion of seven bays with asymmetrical two storey wings and galleried south front. The lawn slopes steeply down towards a belt of woodland that continues to the west and north. The park is shown in the foreground with grazing cattle .
Undated sales particulars (Add Ms 22,312) but c1825 note the size of the estate to be 2,565 acres, the house having five bedrooms on the first floor, seven bedrooms on the second floor and five bedrooms for servants.
The Georgian Madehurst Lodge itself was a sizeable property with 7 main bedrooms and 7 secondary and servants' bedrooms.
Modern photographs just prior to demolition show the house much as it was in 1828 but with the symmetry of the south front interrupted by a three-sided bay to the south-east, extending from the east asymmetrical bay. Venetian shutters had been added to the first and second storey windows. The architecture of north front of the house remained unaltered .
The house was demolished in 1959 but has been replaced with a smaller rebuild.
There was a kitchen garden, newly erected Grapery, pleasure gardens, shrubbery and walks, rides, drives, five lodges, plantations/woods and an icehouse in the park. The mansion, park and lands in hand measured 661 acres.
The walls of the kitchen gardens have been altered over time, but the lower portion wall of the east garden which formed the boundary with the garden, was originally approximately 1.2 m in height and built in brick and flint. The same design can be seen in the boundary wall of the stables, most of which have been demolished but these still remain. It would thus appear that these walls are contemporaneous with the building of the house.
The sales particulars state that Lady Thomas, who was still living at Madehurst Lodge, ‘now aged about 65 years is entitled to Madehurst Lodge for her life, rent free'. Sales particulars (SP 317) for 1920 show that some of the outlying portions of the estate amounting to 1,472 acres and consisting of Lower Farm, Madehurst Lodge, woods, arable land, downland, the inn, 22 cottages, rich brookland and orchard at Amberley were to be sold.
Gardens and Pleasure Grounds
The pleasure grounds included a tennis lawn and other lawns, and was finely timbered. The land extended to 479 acres. Within the walled kitchen garden were herbaceous borders intersected with grass paths. The heated glasshouses were made up of two vineries, a conservatory and peach house, together with a range of working buildings for the gardeners.
The garden layout appears much the same as in photographs of the 1940s, with fine trees in the terraced slopes descending to a ha-ha. The walled kitchen gardens still remain, although the walled garden nearer to the house has now been terraced and contains a tennis court and swimming pool. The parkland beyond is farmed but the integrity of the site remains largely intact. Belts of coniferous woodland form a frame around the views to the south but it is still possible to see the water tower at Chichester and the cliffs of the Isle of Wight.
The undulating parkland was judiciously planted to achieve views to Chichester and the sea. There was ‘unusual beauty and variety' in the gardens. A survey of timber on the estate compiled for Thomas Read Kemp and finished in April 1827 notes the following trees in the parkland: 141 elms, 36 oaks under 10 ft, 30 oaks of 10 ft and upwards, 82 ash, 164 beech, 632 large beech, 6 large beech, 1 yew and 4 horse chestnuts .
The 1841 Tithe map for Madehurst shows that the estate was 1,870 acres, made up of the land around the house, the substantial double walled kitchen gardens, parkland, two farms, five lodges, cottages, a public house, and woodland. This would not have included the outlying portions of land.
A lake can be seen in the south-west corner of the gardens, approached from the house over an informal path across the lawn. Woodland walks and rides and well laid out parkland are in evidence. Less certain is the evidence of a terrace being in place. By 1875-76, when the 1st edition Ordnance Survey map was surveyed, extensive glasshouses were in place in the eastern area of kitchen garden. These have now been demolished but various remnants can be seen. The garden contained a sundial and was more wooded than previously shown on the Tithe map with walks established through the woodland. An ice house existed in the park to the south of the house, the remnants of which can still be seen today.
As previously noted, in 1841 the outside staff included two gardeners, one of which was Andrew Dick who was still there in 1851, together with three garden labourers.
In 1840, Mrs John Smith was employing a Mr Dunk to work to designs of Mr Austen dated September 1840 to embellish the terrace at Dale Park . The elevation and ground plan of the terrace show that it was to be 354ft 6in long and 24ft wide, with steps leading to the lower lawn level. Three different suggestions are provided for ornamenting the steps to the lawn. The elevation of the steps to the west end of the terrace shows an elaborate bench for seating, and the terrace and steps to be ornamented with sleeping stone lions and cast iron Derby vases in the classical style. It is difficult to establish whether or not the terrace was constructed, as although there appears to be a terrace on the 1841 Tithe map, the 25 in 1st edition OS map is less helpful, showing banking but no definite evidence of the extensive workings proposed for the terrace.
In 1936 the Head Gardener was Mr Page, who lived at Stag Lodge with his wife and daughter. He was in charge of a large staff. The house was supplied with vegetables and fruit every day from the kitchen gardens and checked and entered in a book. A donkey was used for many tasks. One range of glasshouses consisted of two peach houses, a fig house, two vineries, a second being a carnation house, orchid house and forcing house. These were visited by Queen Mary when George V was convalescent in Aldwick. The swimming pool had been converted from the original use as a tank from which water was pumped to the glasshouses.
Abundant flowers were supplied to the house and taken there each morning. Mr Page was an expert in arranging them and Lady Fletcher was impressed by his skills. As finances grew tighter, chrysanthemums were grown commercially in the glasshouses and sold at Covent Garden .
Modern photographs of Dale Park, prior demolition show the garden to the south to be mainly laid to lawn, with well-established shrubs and trees. An aerial photograph shows some evidence of a terrace but it is hard to decipher. The north front demonstrates the dereliction of the house, with small trees growing out of the roof of the portico and the balustrade along the front at ground level.
Today the western walled garden has been converted entirely to recreational and garden use for the family, whilst the grounds to the south of the house remain unadorned and laid to lawn, allowing full advantage to be taken of the long distance views. The walled garden has been terraced to form a long herbaceous border, a tennis court and swimming pool with attractive planting along the west and east walls. The larger of the two walled gardens remains a testament to the kitchen gardens as they were with remains of a pineapple pit, lead cistern and Victorian garden cloches, with walls showing where the glasshouses and garden buildings originally stood.
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Robert and Jane Green
Dale Park forms one of a series of large estates between Chichester and Arundel amongst which are Halnaker, Goodwood, Eartham, and Slindon. Its setting takes full advantage of a break in the South Downs and allows the house, on a steeply sloping north/south site, fine views to the south-west.
The early history of Dale Park is connected to the Manor of Hyburden in Boxgrove as it is thought that the Manor extended into Madehurst. The estate of nearly 400 acres was purchased piece by piece, parish by parish in 1780 by Sir George Thomas Bt. (c1748-1815), MP for Arundel, who enclosed the park and planted extensive woodlands.
In 1781 Sir George had built and was living on the estate at a secondary house, Madehurst Lodge, when he married his second wife, Sophia Montagu, who was the daughter of Reverend John Montagu, Fellow of All Souls. Sir George remained at Madehurst Lodge until at least 1789 while the new house was being built from 1784 to the plans of Joseph Bonomi ARA. Conventional dates for the building of the house are 1784-88, but a painting by Samuel H Grimm in 1791 shows it to be by no means finished.
The new house was said to be one of the most commodious in the county and the J P Neale print shows a gracious and well proportioned house with a colonnaded south front. Following Sir George's death. by 1823 his widow, Sophia, was again living at Madehurst Lodge and their eldest son, Sir William Lewis George Thomas (1777-1850), was residing at Dale Park. The estate was then sold to Thomas Read Kemp, Esq, (builder of Kemptown) in 1824 who was MP for Arundel for one year. It could have been a speculative purchase, particularly as the wealth of timber on the estate was a valuable resource to him in his development plans for Brighthelmstone.
By 1825 John Smith, MP, (1767-1842) had purchased Dale Park. John Smith was married three times and came from a wealthy family who owned the London bank of Smith Payne and Smith. Unfortunately for him and for the good name of the family, he met an untimely end. Having been very unwell but on the way to recovery, his wife, Anne, who was nearly blind gave him a large dose of laundanum in error. Despite the household's best efforts, he died shortly afterwards and such were the rumours that John Abel Smith, his eldest son, was forced to publish a memorandum to set out the truth of the matter.
John Abel Smith (1802-1871) married Anne, nee Clark-Jervoise, the widow of R W Grey. He was MP for Midhurst in 1830 and Chichester from 1831 to 1859 and then again from 1863 to 1868. He and his family lived at Dale Park until it was sold to the Marquis of Abercorn in 1848. As well as Dale Park the sale included the estates of Tortington and Eastergate. Census returns in 1841 show that 20 of John Smith's family and staff were absent but in 1851 there was a full household. The Marquis had ten children, 6 daughters and 4 sons and the required number of staff to support such a household. In 1841 the outside staff included two gardeners, one of which was Andrew Dick who was still there in 1851, together with three garden labourers. There were 36 farm labourers in 1841 together with two gamekeepers.
By 1860 the Marquis had sold Dale Park to John Jack who changed his name to John Charles Fletcher and the family remained there for three generations. The church in Madehurst was restored in 1864, financed largely by Mr Fletcher, who was its patron and who paid for its new chancel. John Charles Fletcher died on 9 March 1875 and his son, Charles John Fletcher, JP, 18th Hussars, inherited and continued to live at Dale Park until at least 1914. Charles Fletcher married Helen Knox and had six children the eldest of whom, Charles Arthur (1871-1907) died of cirrhosis of the liver in London aged 36 (Add Mss 15,278). Their second son, Alan Francis, born in 1876, inherited the estate circa 1915. He was a Major, later Lieutenant- Colonel in the 17th Lancers who was lucky enough to survive World War I. As was the case with all the families who lived at Dale Park, the family had a London home at 10 Grosvenor Place.
On 13 March 1931, Jimmy Dean of Slindon noted in his diary that there was a fire at Dale Park but the damage seemed only to be to part of the house and some outbuildings .
An account of Dale Park in 1936 noted that the estate owned the whole of Madehurst together with land further afield which Col. Fletcher sold when finances became a problem. There was an active social life at the house, with an annual ball being held, together with Christmas parties with a huge decorated tree. There was a cricket field in front of the house, presumably in the park, with a marquee as the pavilion. Colonel Fletcher had a private gallop for his thoroughbreds and the Head Groom lived at Batho's cottage. He kept five gamekeepers so there was evidently plenty of shooting. A poultry farm and dairy supplied the house and no doubt the produce was sold elsewhere too.
Prior to electricity, gas was made for the house in the Gas House which was later converted and extended into a cottage called the Pink House. In 1936, the Fletchers were still in residence but in the same year the estate was sold to the Earl of Hardwicke who subsequently sold the agricultural land and woods in 1942 to Edward Green and the house to Col Ebenezer Pike. The estate and house came back into single ownership circa 1958 in the ownership of the Green family's company, J H & F W Green Ltd. It was then that the house was demolished and replaced by a new much smaller building. Although it was listed and believed by the Ministry of Housing and Local Government to be of great architectural importance and in good repair (as confirmed by the photographs), the county and district councils did not object to the proposal to demolish . The estate remains in the same ownership today.
The majority of those who lived at Dale Park held public office, either as Members of Parliament or Justices of the Peace.
The Family of Sir George Thomas
Sir George's father, Sir William (died 1777) lived at Yapton Place and Ratton, as did his namesake and grandfather, George Thomas, Governor of Pennsylvania and Captain-General of the Leewood Islands (1753-1766) who was created baronet on 3 September 1766 and died in 1774.
The family's fortune was established by the first Sir George in the Leeward Islands and with it came the wealth to purchase Yapton Place in 1749 and Ratton . Sir George the younger displeased his grandfather and father, by making an unsuitable marriage with a Mlle Salle from Geneva. This resulted in his being disinherited, retaining only the baronetcy . However, through his mother's marriage settlement, he kept estates in Antigua .
In 1799 further difficulties arose. Sir George was serving as a Colonel in the Sussex Fencible Cavalry (also known as the Light Dragoons). In 1794 he was ordered by the Government to raise men for the regiment at no cost, but was given an allowance of 25 guineas (£26.25) per man to purchase horses for the new soldiers. Col. Sir George and Lieut. Col. Christopher Teasdale were both charged by Major J C Worthington of the same regiment with retaining the profit from the sum allowed. The two men were court martialled at Edinburgh Castle from 22 March 1799 - 3 April 1799, and were honourably acquitted on the basis that Sir George had not ordered the remaining sum of £533 for 82 horses to be paid into his account and that the price of horses varied around the country. It was ordered that this sum should be paid to the Government apart from 10s per horse which was to be paid to Lieut. Faulder, the officer employed by Col. Sir George to buy the horses, to compensate him for travelling expenses.
At the end of the official printed verdict, Sir George wrote from London on 29 April 1799: From the foregoing statement and opinions, I have the satisfaction to know, I have been most maliciously charged, most inconsiderately tried, and most illegally censured.
In 1802-03 Sir George extended Madehurst Church (St Mary Magdalen) to the south. Letters proclamatory noted that Sir George had lately built a mansion at a cost of several thousand pounds but there was no pew or seating in the church large enough to accommodate him and his family. Both he and his wife, Sophia (died 1854), are commemorated by wall monuments in the church and he is buried beneath the alter. His eldest son, William Lewis George Thomas inherited the Dale Park estate on Sir George's death in 1815.
- 18th Century
- Late 18th Century
- Associated People
- Features & Designations
Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty
Local Listing or Building of Local Importance
- Natural Landscape
- Gate Lodge
- Kitchen Garden
- Key Information
Late 18th Century
Open to the public
Sally Walker, Sussex Gardens Trust