Possingworth Park (also known as Holy Cross Priory)5082

Heathfield, East Sussex, Wealden, East Sussex, England

Brief Description

Possingworth Park is a mid-19th-century garden of formal terraces, a sunken lawn, pinetum and lake laid out from 1866 by Robert Marnock. It is the setting for a Tudor-gothic-style mansion designed by architect Sir Matthew Digby Wyatt.

History

In 1864 Louis Huth, a member of a German banking family, bought the house (which subsequently became known as Old Possingworth Manor) and around 830 hectares of land in order to build 'one of the grandest mansions in the South of England'.The new mansion, Possingworth Park, built from 1866 at a cost of 'more than £60,000' (Lower) and sited around one kilometre north-east of the old manor, was designed by the celebrated architect Sir Matthew Digby Wyatt in a Tudor-gothic style.

Detailed Description

LOCATION, AREA, BOUNDARIES, LANDFORM, SETTING

Possingworth Park is situated in an elevated, rural position around 120 metres above sea level in the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty with views south across well-wooded countryside to the South Downs. Sheltered to the north by rising ground and woodland, the site of some 305 hectares lies some 7.5 kilometres to the east of the A22 Eastbourne to London road and one kilometre east of the village of Blackboys.

The site is bounded to the north by the Cross in Hand to Blackboys road (A2102), to the north-east by Warren Lane, to the south-east by Brittenden Lane and the boundaries of residential properties, and to the west by a local road running north-west from Waldron to Hadlow Down.

ENTRANCES AND APPROACHES

The site is entered from the north, from the A2102, in a south-westerly direction along a 120 metre long consolidated-gravel drive bordered by rhododendrons and trees. The drive then continues along the north entrance front of the mansion to a courtyard surfaced with granite setts but now, 2005, without its ‘fine arched gateway' (Sales Particulars 1907). On the east side is the main door under a two-storey porch.

The present main drive was formerly a track (1st, 2nd, 3rd edition Ordnance Survey maps), probably until after World War 2 when the estate was divided. The main 19th- and early-20th century approaches to Possingworth Park were along drives entering from the south, west and east, each with a ‘picturesque entrance lodge' (now, 2005, in separate ownership), built ‘in character with the mansion' (1907 Sales Particulars).

Possingworth Close, 400 metres to the east of the present entrance for Holy Cross Priory, is the former entrance to the east drive entered through gate piers, around two metres high, flanked by wooden pedestrian gates (1907 Sales Particulars). The drive curved westwards from the main drive to run along the north side of the kitchen garden, stables, laundry and gas house (all now, 2005, developed as private housing).

Private housing has been built on the site of the former south drive. Its entrance was at the junction of Warren Lane with the road now known as Forest Place. The south drive was described as running one kilometre north between ‘rhododendron banks'. The entrance to the woodland belonging to Possingworth Park Estates from the A2102, one kilometre west of the present entrance to Holy Cross Priory, follows the route of the west drive, described in 1907 as bordered by a ‘well-grown avenue of blue pines' (Sales Particulars).

GARDENS AND PLEASURE GROUNDS

From a door under an ornate porch centred on the south, garden front of the mansion, steps lead down to a series of descending, grassed terraces. The top terrace, with views south over woodland, extends 130 metres east from the central steps and 310 metres west to run beyond the mansion along the south side of a lawn bordered by a gravel walk with accommodation blocks on its north side.

The lawn occupies the site of the Marnock's sunken garden or bowling green (40 metres x 50 metres), described in contemporary literature as being ‘in fine order, level, and belted by a walk fringed on both sides with bright masses of flowers in beds' (Luckhurst). On the west side of the site of the sunken garden is a semi-circular lawn planted with fruit trees and a raised stone pool, shown on the 19th-century Ordnance Survey maps and now used as a planter.

On the south garden front three flights of stone steps (some, 2005, in need of repair), centred on the mansion and 40 metres to the west and east of it, lead down from the top terrace to Marnock's ellipse-shaped flower garden (300 metres x 60 metres). This area has three low box-edged circular (40 metres in diameter) and two rectangular (60 metres x 20 metres) flower parterres, as described by Robinson (1872) and depicted in contemporary illustrations (Sales Particulars 1907).

The box is now half a metre high and the planting simplified. On the south side of the central bed (now, 2005, hidden under a mature rhododendron) a flight of steps descends to a lower terrace, bordered on the south side by a one metre high laurel hedge, with woodland beyond. A gap in the hedge, 20 metres west of the steps, gives access to a 40 metre flight of steps leading steeply down through overgrown woodland to a narrow iron pedestrian gate to the park.

PARK

Below the terraces and immediately through the iron gate are areas of woodland containing mature trees, self-seeded trees and rhododendrons, and grassed clearings. These are on the site of Marnock's picturesque planting and Huth's ‘extensive and unique collection of remarkably grown coniferae trees and shrubs' (Sales Particulars 1907), some of which remain, now, 2005, in poor condition.

Three hundred metres to the south-west of the mansion there is a 1.6 hectare, irregularly-shaped lake with small islands towards the southern shore, the whole fringed by woodland and spanned at a narrow point at the northern end by a wooden bridge (now, 2005, a 20th-century replacement). The maturity of the 19th-century trees, the proliferation of self-seeded trees and the growth of the understorey now obscures views from the mansion to the lake (and vice versa).

The boathouse, of brick with a tiled roof (now, 2005, ruined), stands on the northern tip of the lake shore (now, 2005, on dry land). It stands on the route of the one of the many remaining ‘winding walks' (Sales Particulars 1907) found in the vicinity of the lake.

REFERENCES

Books and articles

Thomas Walker Horsfield, The History, Antiquities and Topography of the County of Sussex Vol 1 (London: Messrs Nichols & Son, 1835), 360.

John Ley, Waldron: Its Church, Its Mansions and Its Manors (Lewes: Sussex Archaeological Society, 1861), 92.

Mark Antony Lower, A Compendious History of Sussex, topographical, archaeological and anecdotal (Lewes, 1870), 222-24.

Edward Luckhurst, ‘Possingworth. The Seat of Louis Huth Esq', Journal of Horticulture and Cottage Gardener (October 26, 1871), 318.

‘The Terrace Garden at Possingworth', The Garden (May 25, 1872), 592-93.

William Robinson, ‘Obituary. Robert Marnock', The Garden (November 23, 1889), 489-90.

Ian Nairn and Nikolaus Pevsner, The Buildings of England. Sussex (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2003), 72. 1st edn Penguin Books 1965.

Paul Waterhouse and John Robinson, ‘Sir Matthew Digby Wyatt (1820-1877), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004). http:/viaoxforddnb.com

Maps

Richard Budgen Survey of the County of Sussex 1724. East Sussex Record Office (ESRO).

Christopher and John Greenwood Map of the County of Sussex 1825. WSRO.

Tithe Map for Waldron 1841. ESRO ref TD/E150.

OS 25" to 1mile: 1st edition published 1874 (Sheets 41/3); 2nd edition published 1889 (Sheets 41/3); 3rd edition published 1910 (Sheets 41/3)

OS 1:2500 Revised edition 1977 (TQ545 213)

Illustrations

S.H. Grimm, The east front of Possingworth in Waldron formerly the seat of Sir Thomas Offley. BL Ref Additional MS.Burrell 5671.fol.38.

S.H. Grimm, The NWest front of Possingworth in the parish of Waldron the property of Mrs Dalrymple. BL Ref Additional MS.Burrell 5671.fol.38.

Possingworth, Cross-in-Hand, Sussex. Postcard 1905 Private collection).

Archival Items

Possingworth Estate Sales Particulars 1907. Messrs Trolloppe in conjunction with Messrs Lofts & Warner. ESRO ref XSP 243.

Plans of estate and memorandum and articles of association of Possingworth Park Estate Ltd 1935. East Sussex County Council Highways and Transportation - Roads and Bridges File. ESRO C/C/64/237.

Possingworth Park Development Plan August 1946. ESRO ref C/P/26/1.

Correspondence on Planning Application 1963 and Appeal 1964 to permit residential development of land at Roser's Cross. Hailsham RDC v Forest Lands Investments Ltd. ESRO DW/B36/61.

History of Possingworth New Manor now known as Holy Cross Priory Heathfield Sussex. Leaflet. Undated

Description written: August 2005

Features

Style

  • Formal
  • House (featured building)
  • Description: The Tudor-gothic-style mansion at Possingworth Park (listed grade II) is a large, U-shaped, red brick house with stone dressings under a slate roof with brick chimney stacks, designed by Matthew Digby Wyatt (knighted 1869) and built from 1866-70. Described by Pevsner as `colossal and joyless?, the mansion?s two-storey, north-facing entrance front, now, 2005, with a single-storey extension on the east side, presents a varied composition of gables, roofs and chimneys.There is a central entrance courtyard, once enclosed by an arched gateway (The Garden, 1872), now, 2005, open on the north side. The projecting wings of the mansion have gables and mullioned windows. There is an octagonal-shaped tower on the south front. An ornate conservatory (The Garden, 1872), described as a `winter garden measuring 59ft by 30ft, heated by hot water and specially designed in character with the remainder of the mansion? (Sales Particulars 1907), was later constructed on the west front but had been demolished by the 1970s (Ordnance Survey revised edition).The south, garden front is of two storeys with a canted bay window on the west side and a three-storey one on the east side. A 30 metre long, two-storey accommodation block (red-brick under a flat roof) has been added on the east side. A further range of four two-storey accommodation blocks (red-brick under a grey tiled roof) has been built on the north side of the sunken garden 20 metres north-west of the west end of the mansion.
  • Earliest Date:
  • Latest Date:
  • Stable Block
  • Description: Two hundred metres north-east of the mansion stands a red-brick stable block (40 metres x 40 metres) with a clock tower, `in enclosed yard? large loft and groom?s room over? coach-house for six?. above are 5 rooms for married coachmen? (Sales Particulars 1907). These and other estate buildings are now converted to private housing.
  • Kitchen Garden
  • Description: Located 280 metres north-east of the mansion is the site of a former 0.6 hectare kitchen garden (120 metres x 90 metres), now, 2005, developed as private housing and in separate ownership. The garden is shown on Ordnance Survey maps (1874, 1889, 1910) as walled on the west and south sides, and with an extensive range of glasshouses on the north side and a four hectare orchard with nut walk on the west side. The horticultural expertise of Possingworth?s head gardener was praised in contemporary journals (Luckhurst). Later Sales Particulars described the garden as `most productive and well-stocked with wall and pyramid fruit trees in full bearing, on one side there being three ranges of early and late vineries and peach-houses?.
  • Latest Date:
  • Drive
  • Description: 120 metre long consolidated-gravel drive bordered by rhododendrons and trees.
  • Garden Terrace
  • Description: There is a series of descending, grassed terraces. The top terrace, with views south over woodland, extends 130 metres east from the central steps and 310 metres west to run beyond the mansion along the south side of a lawn bordered by a gravel walk.
  • Pool
  • Description: Raised stone pool.
  • Lawn
  • Description: The lawn occupies the site of the Marnock?s sunken garden or bowling green (40 metres x 50 metres), described in contemporary literature as being `in fine order, level, and belted by a walk fringed on both sides with bright masses of flowers in beds? (Luckhurst).
  • Steps
  • Description: On the south garden front three flights of stone steps (some, 2005, in need of repair), centred on the mansion and 40 metres to the west and east of it, lead down from the top terrace to Marnock?s ellipse-shaped flower garden.
  • Parterre
  • Description: There are three low box-edged circular (40 metres in diameter) and two rectangular (60 metres x 20 metres) flower parterres, as described by Robinson (1872) and depicted in contemporary illustrations (Sales Particulars 1907).
  • Steps
  • Description: There is a 40 metre flight of steps leading steeply down through overgrown woodland to a narrow iron pedestrian gate to the park.
  • Lake
  • Description: Three hundred metres to the south-west of the mansion there is a 1.6 hectare, irregularly-shaped lake with small islands towards the southern shore, the whole fringed by woodland.
  • Ornamental Bridge
  • Description: The lake is spanned at a narrow point at the northern end by a wooden bridge (now, 2005, a 20th-century replacement).
  • Boat House
  • Description: The boathouse, of brick with a tiled roof (now, 2005, ruined), stands on the northern tip of the lake shore (now, 2005, on dry land).
  • Walk
  • Description: There are many remaining `winding walks.
Access & Directions

Directions

The site lies some 7.5 kilometres to the east of the A22 Eastbourne to London road and one kilometre east of the village of Blackboys.
Authorities

Civil Parish

  • Heathfield and
History

Detailed History

In 1281 the Manor of Possingworth (sometimes Possingwode, Posingeworth, Possynge-werse or Posingworth), once part of the ancient Forest of Anderida, was granted by John de Posingeworth to a Sir William Harengaud and Margery, his wife (Ley, Lower). The land was held by the Harengaud family until 1333, when it was sold to a William Stannyden of Lamberhurst, Kent, and then resold to a Roger Luket a year later.

The Manor was then held in tenure of Lewes Priory for a year until the land was conveyed to the Abbot and Convent of Robertsbridge. It remained in the Convent's possession until the Dissolution in 1539, when it was granted to a Sir William Sydney. In 1585, his descendant, Sir Henry Sidney, sold the Manor to the Pelham family, who sold soon after to a Humphrey Offley, who became the first to build a house there, which he completed before his death in 1643.

His son, Thomas, rebuilt the house in 1657, the Offleys continuing to hold the Manor until about 1750 when it passed by marriage to a Captain Fuller of Waldron. The Manor stayed within the Fuller family through several generations, the last owner being a Mrs Morgan Treherne, who in 1850 sold the house and lands to a Sir Francis Sykes (1907 Sales Particulars).

The Manor of Possingworth is identified on 18th-century (Budgen, 1724) and early-19th century (Greenwood, 1825) maps. Its stone, gabled manor house is depicted in several contemporary illustrations (Grimm, 1785; Ley, 1861). Horsfield reports that the house was reduced in size by 1835. In 1864 Louis Huth, a member of a German banking family, bought the house (which subsequently became known as Old Possingworth Manor) and around 830 hectares of land in order to build ‘one of the grandest mansions in the South of England'.

The new mansion, Possingworth Park, built from 1866 at a cost of ‘more than £60,000' (Lower) and sited around one kilometre north-east of the old manor, was designed by the celebrated architect Sir Matthew Digby Wyatt in a Tudor-gothic style. By 1871, the mansion is described as ‘quite enclosed by the dressed grounds' (Luckhurst), the work being that of the Scots landscape gardener Robert Marnock. He favoured a ‘picturesque' style in which the beauty of individual trees and shrubs was emphasised, developing ‘all the grace which Nature suggested' (Robinson).

Contemporary writings describe a sweeping carriage drive, a flower garden and terrace ‘of handsome proportions', a long curving rose garden sheltered by low clipped laurel hedges, ‘high turf-clad banks crested with trees, sloping downwards to a fine sheet of water, in a bold yet irregularly wavy outline' and ‘admirably arranged groups of trees' (Luckhurst). The extent and layout of the garden are confirmed by contemporary Ordnance Survey maps (1874, 1889, 1910) and illustrations.

Sales Particulars (1907), prepared when the estate was offered for sale following Huth's death in 1905, describe a ‘highly-important residential and sporting domain', including a mansion with three avenue drives, a ‘grandly-timbered park', pleasure grounds ‘skilfully enhanced by clever landscape gardening', an Italian garden and a ‘charming wild garden traversed by winding walks and through which meanders a brook'.

During World War 1 the Huth Jacksons (descendants of Louis Huth) lived at Possingworth Park, but during the 1930s it became a hotel, part of which was used as a base for British officers during World War 2. Division of the estate began in the post-war period, Possingworth Park Estates Ltd submitting plans for residential and leisure development (1946), only some housing on the north and east boundaries of the estate being implemented.

In the 1950s the Augustinian Order bought the mansion and ornamental gardens around the house as a training centre for young men entering the priesthood. These were sold again in 1964 to a company (House of Hospitality Ltd) for the Benedictine Sisters of Grace and Compassion to develop a home for the elderly, Holy Cross Priory, which remains its current use. Residential development has continued on the periphery of the estate with the stables, kitchen garden, lodges and other estate buildings now also in separate private ownership. Possingworth Park Estates Ltd retains much of the park and woodland, including the lake and pinetum.

Period

  • Mid 19th Century
Associated People

People associated to Possingworth Park

Contact
References

References

Contributors

  • Barbara Simms

    1

  • Sussex Gardens Trust