Leonard and Maud Messel

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Nymans as we see it today is not the product of one person’s vision but tells the story of four generations of the Messel family and their home in Sussex.

Taking over the estate

When Ludwig Messel died in 1915, his son Leonard inherited Nymans. Leonard’s family were living at Balcombe at the time and were reluctant to move to Nymans. Maud particularly hated the house and moved only on the condition that it be remodelled from the Victorian country house it was into the Medieval-style manor house that you can see the remains of today.

In the garden, Leonard and James Comber carried on the tradition of experimenting with plants and continued to win prizes, particularly for their rhododendrons.

The golden years

Leonard and Maud had three children, Linley, Anne and Oliver, who spent much of their childhoods enjoying the gardens at Nymans. Maud gave parties for friends and neighbours and there were plays, often Shakespeare, performed in the garden. During the Second World War Nymans even became home to a group of evacuees and their schoolmaster. These were arguably the ‘golden years’ of Nymans.

The fire

On the morning of Leonard’s 75th birthday in 1947 the household awoke to find Nymans on fire. Although everybody inside escaped safely the house was ruined and many of Leonard and Maud’s precious belongings were lost. Leonard was so devastated that he never went to the house again until his death in 1953. In 1949, plans were made to hand over the estate to the National Trust, and the process was completed in 1954.