Pelham House, Lewes 5552

East Sussex, England, East Sussex, Lewes

Brief Description

The house was built in the late-16th century. The basic layout of the ornamental garden remains, although the kitchen garden has been lost to building. There is a terrace against the house, steps and a lawn. The garden is enclosed by high walls.

History

The house was built by the Goring family. The site has been developed by several owners. The layout of the site, on three tiers at different levels has remained constant from at least the late-18th century. The site was purchased by East Sussex County Council in 1928, and is now a hotel.

Terrain

The site slopes downward to the south.

Detailed Description

Although the kitchen garden has been lost to building, the ornamental garden retains its basic layout to a remarkable degree. The terrace remains, with its pots, benches, a sundial borrowed from Glebe House, and climbers on the walls, including wisteria making its way up the western extension. The steps, with pots at the side, descend the first slope to the gravelled walk, and the rose beds remain in the flat strip of lawn adjoining the walk. The longer slope descends to the lawn with shrubberies on either side. The shrubbery on the east side retains much of the shape shown in the early maps, whilst that on the west is more irregular.

A timber building, used by the County Surveyor's Department, had intruded into the bottom of the garden, until it was destroyed in a fire in 1993, resulting in a restoration of the garden's design but much damage to the line of trees along the southern wall. The line of three trees across the centre of the lawn consists now of two saplings flanking a bravely recovering mulberry. There is also now a pond (with fountain from Glebe House) to the south of the western shrubbery, created when soil needed to be dug out to restore the lawn after the removal of the burnt building. On the upper level, by the eastern wall, is splendid Paulownia imperialis, planted in 1988 to replace an earlier tree damaged in storms.

The eastern walls are listed and The Friends of Lewes' Lewes Twittens describes this east wall (in St Andrew's Lane) as ‘a palimpsest of building techniques' (1991 ,pl0).

The garden is enclosed by high walls but also has a good view of the downs from the upper level.

Features
  • House (featured building)
  • Description: The house was built by the Goring family in the late-16th century and was used as their town house until its sale to Peter Courthorpe in 1649.
  • Earliest Date:
  • Latest Date:
  • Steps
  • Description: The steps, with pots at the side, descend the first slope to the gravelled walk.
  • Walk
  • Description: Gravelled walk.
  • Shrubbery
  • Description: The shrubbery on the east side retains much of the shape shown in the early maps, whilst that on the west is more irregular.
  • Wall
  • Description: The garden is enclosed by high walls but also has a good view of the downs from the upper level.
  • Sundial
  • Description: There is a sundial borrowed from Glebe House.
  • Flower Bed
  • Description: Rose beds.
  • Specimen Tree
  • Description: The line of three trees across the centre of the lawn consists now of two saplings flanking a bravely recovering mulberry.
  • Fountain
  • Description: Fountain from Glebe House.
Garden Terrace, Lawn, Pond
Access & Directions
History

Detailed History

According to the undated East Sussex County Council booklet ‘Pelham House: a brief history', the house now known as Pelham House (and whose entrance originally fronted St Andrew's Lane) was built by George Goring in the late-16th century and was used as a town house by him and his descendants until its sale in 1649 to Peter Courthope. Courthope sold it four years later to Sir Thomas Pelham of Laughton. In 1682 it went to Robert Heath, whose widow in 1683 married Henry Pelham. His son, also Henry, upon inheriting the whole of the Heath estate in 1725, sold Pelham House to his uncle Thomas Pelham of Catsfield, who had the house re-fronted.

The property was owned by John Pelham from 1759 and subsequently by Henry Pelham and then by Thomas, Baron Pelham (to become Earl of Chichester). From 1790, Baron Pelham rented it to Thomas Campion (a wine importer) who bought the house after the Earl's death. Subsequent owners were his wife Priscilla, her daughter Amelia, John Fullager (attorney), his son Lewis Green Fullager, and from 1880 the Brighton brewer Ebenezer Robins, who let it to Reverend Lord Sidney Godolphin Osbourne and the Hon. Arthur Brand. In 1893 it was bought by Edmund Home of Eastbourne, in 1895 by John Blencowe, in 1906 by Miss Margaret Duvall and in 1926 by William Banks. Finally, in 1928, the site was bought by East Sussex County Council.

The house, ancillary buildings and gardens covered a site of 1 acre, 1 rod and 17 perches. The site slopes downward to the south and this has clearly long-influenced its overall layout. When purchased by East Sussex County Council in 1928, the layout ‘was in three tiers at decidedly different levels' (ESCC Report on Office Accommmodation,3/7/1928; ESRO C/C65/13).

The pictorial and map evidence indicates that this three tier design remained constant from at least the late-18th century (viz Lambert's 1783 picture of the garden front and Edwards' 1799 map of Lewes) until sale to the County Council in 1928 and the subsequent truncation of the garden. This enduring design consists a of paved terrace abutting the house, steps down the slope to a gravelled walk, a further, longer slope down to a lawn with trees and shrubs and, at the lowest level, the kitchen garden. The privacy afforded by high walls is combined with fine views of the downs from the upper level.

Lambert's view of the garden (BL Add Ms 5677 fol4; photograph ESRO PDA L/68) shows the paved terrace along the garden front, with a few low shrubs in front of the house wall and three tubs with oval shaped shrubs in front of the window opposite the six steps leading down the slope from the terrace. There are pots with shrubs at the sides of the top step and the fourth step down. There is also a stippled area at the bottom of the steps denoting the gravelled walk. The lawn is dotted with shrubs and trees, with trees framing the lawn in the right foreground.

Behind a wall to the left of the house, stables are visible. The first map in which any detail of the Pelham House garden is shown is Edwards' 1799 map of Lewes (sketch map 1). The gravelled walk is indicated, the lawn is shown, and to the south three beds represent the kitchen garden. Marchant's 1824 map of Lewes (sketch map 2) does not indicate the gravelled walk but does show the lawn and represents the kitchen garden with four beds.

This basic layout is still found in the 1873 25" Ordnance Survey map (sketch map 3), although here there is far more detail. The two slopes are indicated by hachures and the steps are shown descending the first slope. On either side of the lawn there is an oval shrubbery and a row of three trees or shrubs indicate the planting in the lawn. At the south-west corner of the lawn is a building marked ‘SH', presumably a summerhouse. The perimeters of the kitchen garden are shown as lined with trees or shrubs (presumably fruit trees) and the kitchen garden is shown as divided by paths into three areas (two adjoining squarish lower areas and one rectangular upper area), with a small building towards the north-east corner.

The more detailed map, pictorial and text information in the sale particulars for the auction sale of the property in June 1880 by J Plumer Chapman (ESRO, XSP 26 and SAS PSi) reinforce this picture. The illustration of the garden front and part of the garden, on the front cover, shows climbers almost reaching the roof level of the two outer ‘wings', the terrace and (very foreshortened) steps, with a planted pot on either side, the slope down to the lawn and the lawn itself with small island beds and the trees and shrubs of the east and west shrubberies. The climbers, trees and shrubs are quite impressionistically drawn and it is not possible to identify species from the picture. A little information about the actual planting is given in the particulars.

The particulars describe the house as being in ‘a high and healthy situation', ‘commanding extensive and delightful Views over a rich pasture Vale, almost to the Sea, terminating with the range of the South downs'. ‘There is a wide stone Terrace on the south side, with steps to the Garden which is studded with ancient elms, flowering trees and other shrubs'. ‘The Garden and Grounds, forming the Curtilage to the House, are enclosed by strong and substantial Walls, with Buttresses, laid out with broad gravelled Terrace and other Walks, a very fine Tennis Lawn, 100 feet long, secluded by Trees of an ornamental Character, including a Row of Elms; a stone Terrace, always a fine and dry Promenade, in front of the Hall, Drawing and Dining Rooms, ornamental Flower Beds, Weeping Ash Trees, Pink May, Summer House , and together with a productive walled Kitchen Garden, Planted with Wall and other Fruit Trees, and a Greenhouse'.

The 10.56 feet to the mile plan, included with the particulars (sketch map 4) names the terrace and shows the steps descending the first slope, the gravelled walk, the second, longer slope, the lawn, again with a row of three trees across the centre, and with the western (more or less oval) and eastern (more sinuous in outline) shrubberies, summerhouse, and trees along the kitchen garden wall. The three planted areas of the kitchen garden are shown as divided up into beds with symbols for different kinds of fruit and vegetables in them. There are two greenhouses (indicated by hatching), two sheds, a well, steps down from the lawn and also a separate entrance from St Andrew's Lane.

Interestingly, one of the two copies of the sale particulars held in ESRO (SAS P51) is evidently the auctioneer's own (it has ‘JPC', that is John Plumer Chapman, handwritten on the front cover) with his annotations on the plan and handwritten notes bound into the centre. These indicate (as pointed out by the 1943 notes of a Mr Lucas, stapled in) that he considered the house and garden potentially more valuable as building plots: the site of the house and outbuildings, with a 150 foot frontage to St Andrews Lane, would fetch, he estimated, £750, with a further £500 from the scrap value of the buildings. The kitchen garden, sold as building land for ten houses with 18 foot frontages along Southover Road and an average depth of 100 foot would fetch £72 per plot, with the timber, wall and greenhouses able to fetch another £50. The central garden as two building plots may have been worth £450 each (one with its entrance in Watergate Lane, the other in St Andrews Lane), the whole totalling £2920. In fact annotations (in another hand) indicate that the house and grounds were sold intact for £3425.

The 1910 25" Ordnance Survey map (and its 50" enlargement for the Inland Revenue, sketch map 5) is less detailed than the earlier maps, although the Inland Revenue 50" enlargement held in the East Sussex Records Office is hand-annotated to indicate the terrace, lawn and kitchen garden. The larger greenhouse is shown, along with the shed by the steps.

Sale particulars for the auction sale of the property by Powell and Co. at the White Hart on 26th July 1926 (ESRO XSP3) describe the gardens as ‘old-world terraced grounds well timbered and laid out' with a ‘walled-in kitchen garden, with glasshouses, the whole extending to an area of about 1 1/4 acres'.

The particulars describe the ‘garden room or smoke room' of the house and ‘a similar room' on the opposite side of the terrace as having entrances on to the ‘Stone terrace'. The ‘Charming Old-World Terraced Gardens' are ‘beautifully timbered and situated on the South Side of the Residence and falling away from the flagged Terrace, which is 100 feet in length, and the broad gravelled walk, rendered quite private and secluded by a high and substantial wall'. It goes on to list the tennis lawn, shrubberies, herbaceous walk, flowers borders, ‘&c', and the ‘Large Well-Stocked Kitchen Garden, having also a separate approach from St Andrew's Lane' and the ‘Lean-to heated Greenhouse, 46-feet long, with Stokehole. Brick and slated Potting Shed. Range of brick Pit Lights &c.' On the opposite side of the house, opening onto the courtyard, is the stabling and, adjacent, a ‘Range of Timber and Tiled outbuildings comprising Coal and Wood Lodges, Boot and Knife Room, Wc &c'.

East Sussex County Council reports and letters (ESRO C/C5/13) indicate that, on the purchase of the site by the County Council from Mr Banks in 1828, Mr Pelling, the gardener for 21 years, who had been occupying and getting his living from the kitchen garden was kept on, on Mr Banks' recommendation. However Mr Jesse, Director of Agriculture, in a letter to the Clerk to the Council of 25/9/28 indicates the kinds of economies, in labour and design, that will now start to be put into practice. ‘Having regard to the amount of land we think that the present arrangement of having two men, one at a salary of £3 and another at a salary of £2 per week, and for these men to mow the lawn with a hand lawn mower to be a most expensive procedure...'.

His recommendations for ‘the most economical way of dealing with the land' include that the kitchen garden should be let to the present gardener or to the highest bidder (‘we do not see that the garden would be of any practical use to the County Council'). It was also suggested that in the upper garden ‘the two Rose beds on the slope immediately in front of the house be removed and turfed down' which would enable the lawns to be mowed with a motor mower (cost £30 to £40) and all the work in the upper garden done at no more than £2 per week. Mr Pelling's terms and conditions ,as set out in a letter from the Clerk of 20/10/1928, were a wage of £2 per week for looking after the upper garden, ‘some assistance' with the slopes of the lawn, and the use of kitchen garden for himself, some plants for the upper garden to continue to be grown in the lower but ‘bedding plants such as geraniums' to be bought in rather than grown in the greenhouses.

There are further glimpses of the planting at this time, in the County's archived papers. For example, in a letter of 15/9/28 to the Clerk of the Council, the former owner Mr Banks notes that ‘The old asparagus bed gave us a few heads on 31st March last in fact the whole of the Kitchen garden with its Walls, slope and Southern aspect is one of the Earliest producers in the District...'(ESRO C/C65/13).

Further information on the kitchen garden is given in a report of 23/10/1928 by GC Johnson, the County's Horticultural Superintendent, on ‘the permanent crops now growing in the kitchen garden at Pelham House'. This lists, on the south wall, starting from the St Andrew's Lane end, one fig, one very old and one young William's Bon Chretien pear, two sweet cherries, one peach, one Jargonelle pear and one Beurre Bosc pear. There were also two half standard apples in the border at the foot of the east wall, four loganberries ‘of doubtful value' on the north wall and, on the west wall, one plum above the door, one Louise Bonne of Jersey pear below the door, and one Beurre Diel and one Doyenne Pu Comice pear.

In ‘the garden above the kitchen garden', on the west wall there was one Early Kirkes plum and a diseased plum tree and pear tree which are to be grubbed. In the westerly of the two beds in the middle of the garden were two espalier apples, two large bush apples and one asparagus bed. In the easterly bed there was one Pond's Seedling plum, one bush Catallac pear, one bush Worcester Pearmain apple, one bush Newton Wonder apple, one half standard Lord Suffield apple, one bush Lanes's Prince Albert apple, one half standard Allington Pearmain apple, one bush Beurre Diel apple, one bush Lord Suffield apple, one bush Bramley seedling apple, one bush Golden Jester (possible apple), one row of raspberries, plus ‘a number of very old Gooseberry bushes planted in various positions in the garden'.

A little later, as ‘members of the County Council seem disposed to make considerable use of ‘the very beautiful terrace' of Pelham HouseJohn Every in 1931 donated 2 seats (letter to Clerk, 25/7/31, in ESRO C/C65/13).

In 1937 new committees room were built, extending the garden front of Pelham House to the west. This involved the destruction of several trees but also the extension of the terrace (letter from Clerk to Colonel Crisp, 31/3/37). More dramatically, the kitchen garden was lost to the new County Surveyor's offices in 1938.

The garden played its role in the war effort, the Home Guard using a miniature rifle range there (correspondence in ESRO C/C65/22). Life went on during the war years, however. On 25/10/40, a letter from GJ Johnson, the County's Horticultural Superintendent, to the Clerk of the Council, gives costings for the planting of six flower beds on the front of Pelham House with 200 rose bushes and two magnolia grandiflora shrubs, one begonia grandiflora shrub and one Wisteria sinensis.

The house is now a hotel.

Period

  • Tudor (1485-1603)
Contact
References

Contributors

  • Sussex Gardens Trust

  • Sharyn Hedge

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