Wednesday 19 December 2018

Stanmer House a small Georgian Country House in the City of Brighton and Hove. c1710-2016

Stanmer House and the medieval church in 1826. The church was rebuilt in the 1830s.

The Pelham Family   

Stanmer Park as we see it today was developed by a dynasty whose income was generated from political posts and trade and invested in land. The family became powerful landowners in eastern Sussex where their first county house appears to have been Laughton Place not far from Laughton church where the family mausoleum was established.   Only the tower of the Place has survived and that is owned and let for holidays by the Landmark Trust. In the 1590s the family built Halland House, a very big Tudor country house which may have rivalled other Tudor 'Great Houses' such as Firle (now much altered) and Wiston of which only part remains. 

 By 1710 the Pelhams were wealthy enough to establish three branches all of whom were descended from Sir Thomas Pelham of Laughton (1540-1624). From the 1710s until the 1760s, the family was dominated by two famous Whig politicians: Thomas Pelham-Holles (Duke of Newcastle and the owner of Claremont) and Henry his brother (who owned a well-known house at Esther). When Thomas P-H died he left the land and houses that he owned in Sussex (Halland and, Bishopstone Place) to the Stanmer line. This made the Stanmer line dominant. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the Pelhams of Stanmer secured national political posts and had close links with other landowners in Sussex such as the Dukes of Richmond. In the mid to late eighteenth century they also played a significant role on the growth of Brighton, inviting guests to Stanmer who sea bathed at Brighton.They allowed visitors from the town to go into the Park. However, they had a succession of houses in London and from the 1760s to the 1810s spent a considerable amount of money on them. Like many Georgians with country houses, the time spent locally declined as politics drew their owners to London.

The story of the Pelhams at Stanmer is littered with men called Henry and Thomas and most of their male relatives were given the same names.  This has caused confusion. They are numbered Henry I and Henry II etc below to try to avoid the errors which have appeared in a couple of articles. 

Henry, Henry, Thomas and Thomas Pelham …of Stanmer   In 1710, Henry Pelham of Lewes (Henry 1st) was left money by his father only to buy a country estate. Henry lived in Lewes the county town and political centre of eastern Lewes where the Pelhams owned a lot of property. Most of his rural estate lay well to the east end of the county.  He paid the heiresses of Peter Gott £7,500 for the old Stanmer house and land and £1,200 for the contents of the old house. The inventory of the contents of the old house which has survived suggests that it was comfortably but not luxuriously furnished. 

Located in a sheltered valley the estate was within an open chalk landscape dominated by flocks of Southdown sheep and large fields of grain and famous for hunting. In 1720 Henry leased a house in Leicester Fields (now Leicester Squ.) not far from the Duke of Newcastle’s London house in Lincoln’s Inn Fields to begin lobbying for political posts as was the practice. 

Henry Ist died in 1721 of smallpox and left the house to his son, Henry II who commissioned Nicolas Dubois whom he had employed at Leicester Fields. He knew Dubois who worked for Frederick Prince of Wales nearby. Henry II died in 1725 of consumption and unmarried and left most of his assets to his younger brother ‘Turk’ Pelham who was earning his living factoring (trading) in Turkey. Thomas 1st continued Henry’s work and returned to England to live.

A complete set of building accounts for the 1720s work survive in the East Sussex Record Office The building accounts reveal that the economically minded Pelhams recycled wood and stone from the old house that they demolished as well as recycled stone from elsewhere. None of this was unusual but extent of the documentation is. By 1727 the house and other work had cost £12.300 – this was the new living block, overhaul of the old service wing and the building of a new farmhouse and repairing the now lost dovecote and the construction of a ‘bason’ and fountain and a canal in the grounds to the east and south. In the late 1720s Thomas Pelham imported plants for Stanmer via his trade links in Turkey which he maintained after inheriting the house. Thomas died in 1737. His son Thomas II was a minor and did not come back to the house until 1750 aged 22.

Brighton Corporation, now part of the City of Brighton and Hove

The C20th.  As the Second World War began, the house and park were requisitioned for military use and the village used to train soldiers in hand to hand fighting. 

In 1947, Stanmer Park and some 4,500 acres of surrounding land including the villages of Stanmer and Falmer were bought by Brighton Council, lack of money for the ambitious schemes prevented the Council developing large parts of it as they intended. The House was used by the Brighton Council’s Parks and Garden’s Dept and then by the University of Sussex. The Grade One listed house was then boarded up for years whilst a new use was found for it by the Council. 

Research into this period of the history of the house suggests that the  lack of control by any occupant of the immediate surroundings because successive councils would not concede it in order to find a tenant was a reason for the lack of success in finding a new use because the park comes right up to the house and it  is hard to make secure or private.  

Since 2000

The house had leaking roofs by the time that it was restored by Mike Holland c.2000 and is open– you can go in and buy a coffee and refreshments see website

Houses have been inserted into the courtyard on the north side of the house which helped to meet the capital costs of the expensive refurbishment the building needed.

The 1770s stables on the north side of the house, in poor order well into the 2000s are now homes.

The park is still run by the City. The Church is not in use and the Stanmer Preservation Society are keyholders. 

Stanmer House – the building

The House – the only country house known to be by Nicholas Dubois  a Frenchman who described himself as an engineer and an architect.  As Henry II knew Claremont and Esther and also the work by Campbell and Charles Stanley for the Earl of Wilmington at Compton Place (still standing in Eastbourne) Dubois with his lack of experience of country houses is an interesting choice. 

Exterior - The porch is c.1812 and by John Kay,and the Library extension on the north side is 1860s but the drawings are unsigned. 

Thomas II may have added extra dormers when he worked on the 1720s part of the house in the 1770s but otherwise what you see from the east and south is the plain house 1720s Dubois designed.  

Sadly, the service wing was demolished by Brighton Council in the 1960s but the ‘engine’ survives in the car park to the House and so does the stable block of the 1770s.  

Postcard probably c.1900 showing the north side of Stanmer House and its service wing which Brighton Corporation demolished 

Interior - during opening hours for the restaurant, much of the ground floor can be seen 

– the names of famous interior decorators early are rare here for economy and also because the family needed to keep the electorate of Lewes happy because they wanted the votes at elections and this house employed a lot of them as workmen. Local people also carted the loads of bricks and wood.  

The entrance hall through the front door is simply decorated. The busts – indicating the Whig support have gone but the Festoons in plaster by the Londoner, William Wilton survives and so too his imitation wainscoting done in plaster.  The niches had according to an undated later C19th inventory, the busts of Fox, Pitt, Burke and Windham (Wyndham?). 

The Inner Hall or Staircase Hall originally gave visitors a view into the courtyard which was formed by the north service wing running to the left side of the Hall as you look out and the surviving south wing. The north end was gated until the 1810s when a colonnade was added by John Kay, part of which can be seen from looking at the house from the grounds on its west side.  The stairs are a good example of provincial work by a Lewes carpenter working to strict instructions. Note the decoration on it.

Turning back from the inner hall, you go left into the Library or right into the south drawing room

The Library was extended in the 1860s but to enlarge the one put in by Dubois for which, in the 1720s, books were bought from a London supplier by the yard to get it stocked.

The small drawing room and the other south rooms.

The small drawing room or ‘smaoking room’ as Henry II called it in his letters to Thomas. In the 1720s this had deep coving with a frieze of acanthus leaves below the cornice. By the 1930s this had a fine Roccoco style mirror over the fireplace. This room I can recall in the 1970s with a damaged ceiling and buckets collecting water which had come straight through the roof and the upper floors….so much lost.

Large drawing room - in the centre of the south range. It was decorated in the 1720s but in the 1770s, Thomas II redecorated it and this is what you see now. Thomas II did a ‘makeover’ of some of the rooms then including his rooms upstairs. Note the doors and other details.

Dining Room – some debate here as to date.  The fragmentary accounts of the 1760s suggest that it was redone then but possibly not entirely. Note the Corinthian columns which support the entablature. There is a bill for
the carving of a set of 14 Ionic capitals in Deal in the 1720s accounts but apparently not for here! Note the frieze of garlands and flowers with the family crest of the Pelham Buckle between each swag.  The period chimney piece has gone.

The interior of the house when it was furnished and used by the Pelhams is described and shown in photographs in two articles by Oswald, A.’ Stanmer, Sussex’  Country Life(2nd Jan 1932)  14-20 and,  ‘Eighteenth Century Furniture at Stanmer’ Country Life (16th Jan 1932) 66-68. Any large reference library should have Country Life  -  please refer to them. Lot of 1770s furnishings.

The Grounds

The grounds……the immediate setting had a canal somewhere on the east side in the 1720s  but it was filled in by the 1760s. It caused a row between Dubois and the vicar who refused land for it which is how we know it was excavated and roughly where – between Stanmer pond and the House..   

The Wilderness to the west of the house (behind it) on the slope was there by the mid 1720s

Many of the garden walls of the area now a nursery were standing too. Dubois supervised their refurbishment.  
Until the 1770s, the Park ended on the east side at Old Lodge Clump, about half way to the present lodges. The area was worked on by Thomas and Anne Pelham when between from 1769 when they updated the house, having had a substantial legacy.

The Frankland Monument looks down from amongst the trees on the west slope of the park half way up between the lodges and the House.  This is of the 1770s, a memorial to Lady Anne Pelham's father.

In the later 1770s the Pelhams bought the rest of the land now in the Park from Lord Craven and relocated the lodges and the main road to where they are now.  The landscaping was mainly DIY by Thomas II until his death soon after 1800. Before this work much of the area was treeless. Thomas II may have had some advice from Henshaw who worked for Mr Richmond, a landscape gardener who was employed at Compton Place and at Saltram.  The Frankland Monument in the Park is by Hayward and is 1775. This needs better care and also to be more obvious (as intended) to reduce vandalism. Other park features such as the menagerie and Sabina’s tomb (whereabouts unknown) have gone.
The lodges which still stand at the entrance were erected in the 1770s when the park was extended to this point. 

 The Church –  the pictures show the old and the new church built in 1838 on the site of the original, probably to a design by Butler of Chichester who did a plan. Joanes of Lewes signed off the building accounts for £3,638.  This was an eye catcher and the village is grouped neatly behind. Thomas III even thought of putting a classical façade on the long barn! There are family monuments in this church, in St Michael’s in Lewes and, in Laughton Church (see Berry on churches below).  The church is closed other than by arrangement with the Stanmer Preservation Trust and they usually open it Sunday afternoons 2-4pm.  The originals of both the pictures below are owned by the Sussex Archaeological Society (Lewes). 

The medieval church at Stanmer c1800 by Petrie 

Quartermain's drawing of the church we see today which was designed by Butler and cost £3638. 

The sources for this note are cited below. The main collections of archives are in East Sussex Record Office and in the British Library (Newcastle Papers mainly).  The best letters are in the Wrest Park Archives and in the Plymouth and Devon Archives, mainly written by members of the Robinson family. Much gossip. The church building accounts are in the Record Office.

Pelham, Hon Mrs Arthur and McLean, D. Some early Pelhams Hove: Combridges, 1931 family tree facing p. 274.
Most of the guide notes are from Berry, Sue ‘ Stanmer House and Park: East Sussex c1710-1805 – the evolution of a small country house and its setting’ Sussex Archaeological Collections 143, 205, 239-55.
Brighton developed as a resort from around 1750 – the Duke of Marlborough, a Spencer and a relative of the Pelhams had a house there from the early 1760s see Berry, Sue, Georgian Brighton (Phillimore, 2005).
[1]English Heritage Ref. GD3134.
For the affair between Thomas III and Lady Webster of Battle Abbey see B. Dolan Ladies of the Grand Tour HarperCollins 2001.  For country house taste in the 1720s J. Cornforth  Early Georgian Interiors Yale 2004.
Berry, Sue ‘The impact of the Georgians, Victorians and Edwardians on early parish churches in the City of Brighton and Hove c1680-1914’ Sussex Archaeological Collections 149 (2011), 199-220. 

Goodfield, J. and Robinson, P., Stanmer and the Pelham Family Brighton: BN1 Publishing 2007.
ISBN 978-1-905933-05-1   Paperback 978-1-905933-06-8   Illustrated     Draws on 1,2,3 above plus additional info and some very good pictures.

DOWNLOADs  - both articles by Sue in the Collections can be downloaded from legally and free – and other SAC articles too.