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Cowdray Park, Easebourne

Description: Cowdray Park

Grade: II
Date Listed: 16 June 2011
English Heritage Building ID: 1401451

OS Grid Reference: SU9020721674
OS Grid Coordinates: 490207, 121672
Latitude/Longitude: 50.9874, -0.7162

Locality: Easebourne
Local Authority: Chichester District Council
County: West Sussex
Country: England
Postcode: GU29 0AY

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Listing Text


Cowdray Park, a Victorian country house built by the 7th Earl Egmont in 1875 incorporating a late C18 service wing of a former keeper's lodge, alterations and extensions of the early, mid and late C20.

Reason for Listing

Cowdray Park, a Victorian country house built by the seventh Earl of Egmont in the 1870s, is designated at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Architectural interest: a handsome and beautifully crafted Victorian country house which draws on historicist and vernacular styling to create a striking building, clustered in an organic fashion around a dominant Tudor-style stair tower and the baronial Buck Hall
* Interiors: sumptuous and impressive interiors, particularly the monumental stair tower and Buck Hall around which the house-plan has been composed, but with many other fixtures and fittings of a high calibre, from the highly accomplished Jacobean panelling of the Silver Room to the fitted cupboards and enunciators in the servants quarters
* Intactness: the high quality 1870s design remains evident with the key set-pieces of the Victorian composition surviving well
* Group value: with the associated Grade II* registered park and garden which surrounds the house, and also with its kitchen garden, stable yard and other contemporary estate buildings to the immediate south of the house


The Cowdray Estate has a long and distinguished history. It was owned by the de Bohun family from the 1180s. Sir David Owen, great uncle of Henry VII and related by marriage to the de Bohuns, built Cowdray House in the early C16 before his son sold the estate to Sir William Fitzwilliam. He was created Earl of Southampton in 1537 and was granted a licence in 1532-3 to create the park and crenelate the house. Henry VIII visited Cowdray on three occasions and his son, Edward VI and daughter Elizabeth I were also received here. On the Earl's death in 1542 the estate passed to his half-brother Sir Anthony Browne and then to his son, who was created Viscount Montague. The estate remained in the possession of successive Viscount Montague's until the late C18. The seventh Viscount, Anthony Joseph, succeeded in 1767 and made many alterations to the park and house including the employment of Lancelot 'Capability' Brown. On 25 September 1793 a serious fire almost completely destroyed Cowdray House and reduced it to its present ruined state. Cowdray passed, in 1797, to the seventh viscount's daughter, Elizabeth, who married William Poyntz. They did not rebuild the house but moved to a remodelled keeper's lodge, Cowdray Lodge, and also improved the estate. Both the entrance and the approach to the present house were established in part between 1795 and 1808 to serve the lodge (as recorded in Gardner and Gream's map of 1795 and an Ordnance Survey preliminary drawing of 1808) although the main approach to the lodge was from the west and not the east. Cowdray Lodge, was remodelled, as a cottage orné with a service wing to its north, parts of which survive.

Following William Poyntz's death, the estate was purchased in 1842 by the sixth Earl of Egmont and it remained with this family until 1909. The seventh earl built the present house, known as Cowdray Park, in the mid-1870s. It was built on the footprint of the former L-shaped lodge but on a much larger and grander scale.(The lodge is shown on the first edition Ordnance Survey map of 1874 and was smaller than the current house, originally surrounded the north, east and south sides of a courtyard where Buck Hall now stands.) The seventh Earl inherited the estate in 1874 and the south-eastern part of the lodge was demolished in the following year to allow construction of the Egmont house. The architect for the design remains a mystery; many of the estate papers are understood to have been lost in transatlantic transit in the early C20.

Ordnance Survey mapping of the late C19 suggests that the Buck Hall, the dining room and the sitting rooms to their south-east as well as rooms above (such as the Silver and Sicilian Rooms) are secondary and built after 1897. This is erroneous however as the Buck Hall and western rooms are integral to the 1875 design and the Estate has confirmed that Buck Hall is clearly shown on an engraving of 1884.

The next major phase of works was in 1909 coinciding with the ownership of Sir Weetman Pearson who bought the estate in that year. He was an engineer who had made his fortune from docks and tunnel construction, and Mexican oil. His original intention was to restore Cowdray House and live there but this dream was not achieved as the First World War intervened. He remodelled and extended the north-east service wing. The flats at the northern end of the current office range have rainwater goods stamped with the initials 'WDP' and the date 1909. He also improved the plumbing and installed bathrooms. The main fireplace in the Buck Hall is also his work. A plan of the drainage for the house as executed in 1909 is helpful in identifying the functions of the principal ground floors rooms at that time. For example: the current billiard room is marked as a 'Boudoir', the study in the south-east corner of the house was the library; the sitting room is labelled the 'large library' and the lower sitting room at the south-west corner of the house was the billiard room. Pearson (1856-1927) was created Baron in 1910, and then Viscount Cowdray in 1917.

The second Viscount made further alterations in 1927 including the demolition of a vast octagonal conservatory, shown on a coloured print of c1880 in the West Sussex Records Office and on early maps including that of 1912 at the south-east corner of the house. In its place was built the stair turret that can be seen at the junction of the east and south ranges. Some of the gables were apparently toned down as part of this phase of works with the removal of sgraffito or pargeting and also decorative bargeboards. There is some uncertainty as to the date of the remodelling of the dining room and the 'Georgianisation' of some of the other rooms although the Estate suggests this may have been part of the 1927 campaign.

The house was occupied by the Royal Army Service Corps during the Second World War and inevitably rather roughly treated including the conversion of some of the accommodation to flats by a local man by the name of Sweetman. After the war the third Viscount had to spend several years in the refurbishment of the house. This included the conversion of the north-west service area of the house into four flats, the abandonment of the old kitchen and the establishment of a new one on the site of the former housekeeper's and still rooms. Percy Wheeler, a Midhurst architect, was responsible for the designs. In 1958 the third Viscount remodelled the south front central window replacing the Victorian Gothic canted bay with the present arrangement with French doors leading onto the south terrace. (An undated plan supplied by the Estate depicts this elevation prior to modification at which time the central bay was more in keeping with the windows to either side.)

The house was again refurbished by the present fourth Viscount Cowdray from 1995 onwards. Externally these works included: remodelling the garden; the erection of the entrance gate piers; the addition of carved barge boards to the entrance front and the construction of a new swimming pool building. Internally the present billiard room and study are of this phase as is the remodelling and redecoration of some interiors (the drawing room and old kitchen for example) and also some new interior carpentry.


MATERIALS: ashlar, brick, tile hanging, pargetting.

PLAN: a house built around the centrepiece of the double-height Buck Hall. East range: central main entrance hall with billiard room to its south and the main stair tower to its north. South range: study to south-east corner, drawing room, sitting room to south-west corner. West range: dining room. North range: service rooms including utility, larder and commercial kitchen, also family room and open-well service stair to north-east. North-west service wing containing spiral service stair at north-west corner of main house, pantry and flats beyond. Large childrens' room in the former kitchen, also a play room and music room to north of the courtyard. North-east service wing: boot room, offices and flats beyond.

EXTERIOR: Cowdray Park is a large Victorian country house in a grand and eclectic combination of 'Tudorbethan', baronial and vernacular revival styles. Of at least three main phases, with other campaigns of alteration and improvement, its design deliberately gives the impression of a building rooted in history and a house that has grown accretively over the centuries, although the reality is somewhat different. There are three distinct yet equally impressive elevations: the east entrance front, the south garden façade featuring the Buck Hall, and the west garden elevation overlooking the designed landscape.

The exterior is dominated by the massive and seemingly ancient stone stair tower around which the lower ranges of the house cluster. This is undoubtedly a reference to the ruined Cowdray House, which is similarly dominated by its crenelated tower, providing an architectural link between the family's former and present home (and indeed the two are intervisible across the designed landscape). Such devices are evident elsewhere for example in the exaggerated Tudor-style red brick chimneys and Tudor arches to doorways. The main house exhibits a fantastical vernacular styling, with half-timbered, jettied and tile-hung gables, mullion and transom windows with leaded lights, turrets, deep eaves with decorative barge boards and timber brackets and some pargetting. There are armorial touches, such as the use of the griffin, the Cowdray badge, and a coat of arms above a doorway on the east entrance front. Lead rainwater hoppers are decorated with coronets and foliage. The south garden front again harnesses both vernacular and baronial styling. The impressive stone-built and double-height Buck Hall, which is expressed mostly clearly to the south garden front with its steeply-pitched roof topped with bestial sculptures and dominant south traceried window, nestles between two tile-hung gabled ranges but which are distinct in their detailing: again this serves to reinforce the notion of a house whose origins are of considerable antiquity. Service ancillary ranges form a courtyard to the north of the house proper including a stone north-east range (now in use as offices) which, in its styling, gives the impression of an earlier country manor house. While its northernmost extension is early C20 in date, the bays immediately north of the main house are the remnants of the service wing of the former Keeper's Lodge. Its rear courtyard-facing wall has well crafted flat stone arches above its unhorned sash windows, of late C18 date.

The house is deliberately irregular in its massing, roofscape and fenestration - no two bays are identical - and yet from this apparent incoherence emerges a convincing whole. Materials are carefully and effectively employed from the finely jointed ashlar of the entrance front to the scalloped detailing of the window surrounds in the servants' court.

INTERIOR: in plan, the interior of the main house is arranged around the central and double-height Buck Hall. The main entrance is in the east elevation through a generous entrance hall with lime-finished original woodwork and coloured glass using the 'E' for Egmont and coronet as decorative devices. This opens, through a glazed screen, into a wide north-south corridor which has finely crafted sandstone arches with chamfered reveals. To the north-east lies the impressive baronial style stone staircase tower with a magnificent timber open-well staircase which has carved and moulded newels and pendants and pierced panels of a high quality. The tower is decorated with armorial detailing including delicately carved stone shields and initials as well as further coloured glass decoration to its mullioned stone windows. To the south of the entrance hall is the present billiard room, with a study at the south-east corner. While the billiard room appears authentic with its panelling and marble fireplace, it was created by the present Lord Cowdray in 1995 although re-using components from the earlier billiard room located at the south-west corner of the house. The study was remodelled in a classical style at the same date. To the south of Buck Hall is the classical drawing room (also remodelled in the C20 although possibly as part of the 1927 campaign) and morning room which is split-level, the lower south-western part of which was the former billiard room. This has linenfold panelling and an elaborate plaster ceiling decorated with roses and thistles. To the west of Buck Hall is the large dining room which has panelled walls and a drop tray ceiling decorated with floral swags and panoply. The centrepiece both literally and architecturally is the double-height Buck Hall, a tour de force of the medieval baronial style. This is stone built, of five bays, with a majestic hammer-beam roof supported on stone corbels. The north wall is dominated by the stone fireplace inserted by the first Viscount in 1909. It includes Pearson's heraldry and the family motto 'Do it with thy might' carved in relief. Above the fireplace at first floor level is a minstrel's gallery, understood to be of 1909 also, replacing the Victorian incarnation. There are also six balconies along the west and east walls overlooking the hall, all of which have the same moulded stone arches and curving carved balustrades. The south wall is dominated by a large four-light traceried window.

To the north-west and north of Buck Hall is a serving area with original cupboards, pantry, back staircases to the north-east and north-west (the former a spiral staircase, the latter with splat balusters), utility room, modern commercial kitchen, staff room (the former boot room with enunciators and a range of original cupboards) and family room. The kitchen was formerly located to the north of the servants' court but is now a children's play room although retains its large stone fireplaces. The northern ranges, originally also servants' quarters, are now largely converted into staff flats.

The master suite is on the second floor in the east range with the nursery wing to its north. In the west range is the so-called Silver Room with its C17 carved and pegged panelling, intricately carved fireplace, surround and overmantle with caryatids, and carved four-poster bed, also with anthropomorphic detailing. The carpentry in this room is of a very high quality in a resolutely Jacobean idiom. While it may be a possibility, although not proven, that this was brought from the Tudor Cowdray House and re-assembled here an alternative is that this it is representative of the late C19 and particularly early C20 trend for re-using salvaged material described in detail by Harris in his 2007 book 'Moving Rooms: The Trade in Architectural Salvage'. As one would expect, the rooms are more modest as one moves away from the main areas with the second floor accommodation much simpler but still retaining some original features including carpentry. Flats within the service ranges and the cellar were not inspected: the latter runs under the west and south side of the house and accommodates a wine cellar, gun room, bowling alley and other storage areas.

English Heritage, Register Entry for Cowdray House and Park, Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest, (1982)
Girouard, M, The Victorian Country House, (1979) 82, 403
Pevsner, N & Nairn, I, The Buildings of England: Sussex, (1965) 198
Plumptre, G, Glory in a Grand Design, in Country Life
(27 March 2003) article on recent works to the gardens at Cowdray Park
Website of the Cowdray Heritage Trust including a Cowdray timeline at [accessed 25 Oct 2010]

Source: English Heritage

Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.