Nymans House

Forecourt garden in summer

Nymans dramatic architecture is part Regency, part pseudo-medieval - and now part ruin, following a fire in 1947. Nothing is quite as it seems, but room stewards will explain how this intriguing house fits together.

The Messel family boating on the lake
The Messel family boating on the lake

The Messels at Nymans

There have been Messels at Nymans since the 1890s. Ludwig Messel (pictured above) was a German émigré who set up a successful stockbroking business.To intergrate himself into English society Ludwig bought the 600 acre Nymans estate where he could cultivate his love of gardening, sharing it with family and friends. He and his wife Annie had six children with the eldest, Leonard, inheriting the estate on Ludwig's death in 1915.

Leonard, together with his wife Maud, set about transforming Nymans into the building we see here today. Their children Linley, Oliver and Anne spent much of their childhood at Nymans.  As an adult in the 1940s and 1950s Oliver become a famous theatre designer and Anne married into the aristocracy with her marriage to the Earl of Rosse.

Anne with her uncle Roy Sambourne in the forecourt garden at Nymans
Anne with her uncle Roy Sambourne in the forecourt garden at Nymans

Anne Messel

Anne was a renowned beauty and socialite in her twenties. She was married first to Ronald Armstrong-Jones and quickly became one of the 'bright young things' who feautured regularly in the media. Anne and Ronald divorced in 1935 and later that year she married Michael Parsons the 6th Earl of Rosse, becoming the Countess of Rosse. She moved to the family seat at Birr Castle in Ireland but often stayed at Nymans where her family could enjoy the magnificent gardens. She moved back to Nymans as a widow in 1979.

Lady Rosse with her son Lord Snowdon
Lady Rosse with her son Lord Snowdon

Lord Snowdon

Lord Snowdon was Anne's son from her first marriage to Ronald Armstrong Jones. In 1960, the then Anthony Armstrong Jones married Princess Margaret and he was created Earl of Snowdon and Viscount Linley, of Nymans in the County of Sussex in 1961. The title reflected his father’s Welsh roots. 

He certainly inherited the Messel family talent for creativity and was a highly successful and well respected photographer.  In a career spanning six decades he captured the likenesses of some of the greatest icons of the 20th Century: royalty, society and celebrity.

Lord Snowdon has a close connection with Nymans and for many years lived at one of the estate properties. Upon the death of his mother, he provided tremendous support to the Nymans team in the presentation and opening up of the mansion show rooms and loaned a number of items to our collection such as family photographs.  He agreed to interviews with the property team and we have some wonderful archival footage of his memories and reflections.

Lord Snowdon also had extensive collections of items belonging to his uncle, Oliver Messel which are now in the archives at V&A.  He was also a great campaigner for the disabled having suffered from polio as a child.

A flamboyant flower arrangement in the library
A flamboyant flower arrangement in the library

The House

Originally Ludwig remodelled Nymans to incorporate his Germanic roots into the architecture of the Regency building. Leonard and Maud then transformed the house into a medieval style country manor house, but tragedy was to strike when on the night of Leonard's 75th birthday when a catastrophic fire blazed throughout the building destroying many of the rooms. Following the fire the Messel family contined to live close to Nymans and enjoy the gardens. Part of the house remained and the Countess of Rosse returned to live here on being widowed. 

The Old Staircase Hall
The Old Staircase Hall

Nymans Collection

The Nymans collection reflects the family's diverse tastes and includes a 16th century chair-table as well as Flemish tapesties and many family photos. The house is presented as it would have been when the Countess of Rosse was in residence.