A snapshot history of Petworth

West Front at Petworth

Nestled in the South Downs National Park, Petworth House is an impressive mansion surrounded by a 700 acre deer park landscaped by Capability Brown. The state rooms within the mansion display the finest collection of art in the care of the National Trust including works by Turner, Reynolds, Blake and Van Dyck. Separate Servants’ Quarters offer a glimpse of life ‘below stairs’, featuring domestic rooms and Historic Kitchens with a 1000 piece copper batterie de cuisine.

The mansion is divided into two areas – the state rooms which are open to visitors and the private family rooms. The state rooms are largely laid out as they were by the 3rd Earl of Egremont (1751-1837), designed to showcase the art and sculpture collection. The family never lived in the state rooms and so when you visit, you won’t see any domestic furnishings. 
 
The private rooms at Petworth are not open to the public as they are the family residence of Lord and Lady Egremont. This separation of the private residence and show rooms is a similar arrangement to other grand houses and has its origins in the 1690s, when the house was first built. There is a changing programme of talks and tours throughout the year where you will be able to gain insight into the history of Petworth and take a look at some of the behind the scenes areas, such as the estate office, bedrooms and ice house.
 

Frequently asked questions

When was Petworth built?  

The Chapel survives from the medieval great house that was fortified in 1308-9.  After 1682, when Elizabeth Percy, daughter and only heir of the 11th Earl of Northumberland, married Charles Seymour, 6th Duke of Somerset, Petworth was completely rebuilt as a palatial baroque mansion. The Chapel, Marble Hall and Grand Staircase were decorated in this period.

 

Who lived here? 

Henry I’s widow gave Petworth to her brother Joscelin. He married Agnes de Percy and adopted her surname. Their descendants became Earls of Northumberland and the most powerful family in the north of England.
 
The Percy family also had castles at Cockermouth and Alnwick, and were given Syon House by Henry VIII. Elizabeth I exiled the 8th Earl of Northumberland to his Sussex estates to prevent an alliance with Mary Queen of Scots while in the north, so Petworth became the main Percy stronghold.
 
Petworth has passed by descent to Lord and Lady Egremont who now live privately with their family in the southern end of the mansion. See the Petworth family tree in more detail here Petworth family tree (PDF / 1.0966796875MB) download Petworth House and Park was given to the care of the National Trust in 1947.

 

Where did the money come from?  

Historically the family owned huge estates in Northumbria, Cumbria, Yorkshire and Sussex that brought in large rents, and they managed their incomes wisely and married well. The 6th (Proud) Duke of Somerset was one of the wealthiest men in England.
 

How many servants were there?

In 1819 over 50 ‘indoor’ servants lived here and by 1834 there were 135. The servant’s bedrooms were above the kitchens and domestic service rooms, and these are used as National Trust offices today.

 

How many famous artists are there in the collection?

There are over 300 paintings at Petworth that include 20 by Turner, 17 by Van Dyck, 16 by Lely, 16 by Reynolds, 3 by Blake, 3 by Gainsborough, 6 by Teniers and 8 rare Elsheimers.
 
There were four great collectors in the Petworth family tree who commissioned and bought artworks of the highest standard, and you can learn about them here
 
We are fundraising for new LED picture lights for key paintings so that everyone can enjoy the artworks more. Each bespoke picture light costs £1,000 and if you would like to help with this important project please email Petworth@nationaltrust.org.uk for more information.
 

How much land is there?

Petworth Park is owned and managed by the National Trust, and the wall around the 700 acre deer park is 14 miles long. The grounds are managed sustainably for wildlife and are protected under a Higher Level Stewardship agreement with Natural England.
 
Petworth Park and Pleasure Grounds were transformed by Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown throughout the 1750s. The 'Proud' Duke's formal gardens were replaced with the graceful curves and wide sweeping vistas of a perfect ‘natural’ looking landscape that you see today.
 
The Park and Pleasure Grounds were one of Capability Brown’s earliest large-scale commissions and considered by many to be his masterpiece, taking 12 years and no less than five contracts to complete.