The history of Petworth Town

A photograph of St Mary's Church in Petworth

Stately homes never exist in isolation from the area in which they are situated - and Petworth House is no exception.

As a small town Petworth is fortunate to have several unique Heritage Sites. The Petworth Heritage Partnership has created a 'Virtual Experience' where you can discover the intriguing stories behind these historic locations, including Petworth House.

Click on the link below to explore:

Each of these wonderful places is linked to Petworth House through our shared history and this story continues today.

Many of the houses in the town were owned by the Estate and were lived in by the estate workers. They all had mid brown doors which denoted them as Estate cottages. An example of this is Mrs Cummings Cottage.

Mrs Cumming's Cottage

Mrs Cummings, a seamstress at Petworth House, living in the cottage from 1901 to 1930. Now a museum, the cottage is furnished as it would have been in 1910.

Whilst many of the houses were owned by the Estate, very few of the shops or business premises were. 

The Estate owned the land 360 degrees around the town, with the parkland of Petworth House being 90 degrees, and this shaped the connection between the town to the surrounding area. Farming and the use of the land was dominated by the estate, with many of the farms having tenant farmers.

This also impacted on travel and movement around the area. Coultershaw to the south of the town was the site of a turnpike and still has evidence of the old canal and associated warehouse as well as being adjacent to the railway that served the town until the last passenger train in 1955 and good trains in 1966. It is said that was railway station was built there, 1½ miles south of the town, because Lord Leconfield who lived in Petworth House did not want to hear, or smell, the trains.

Coultershaw, now a heritage site, was for a long time the site of a corn mill, the last building being demolished in 1974. In 1782, Lord Leconfield built a beam pump at Coultershaw to pump up water to serve the house and the town. The increased water supply, albeit river water, must have made a big difference to the lives of those living in the town. Water was last pumped up to Petworth in about 1960. 

St Mary's Church, close to the servants' quarters to the east of Petworth House, once proudly boasted a spire - originally a wood and lead structure that twisted hence the local rhyme 'Proud Petworth, Poor People, High Church, Crooked Steeple.' 

Petworth also has the Catholic Sacred Heart Church built in 1896, one of the earliest Congregational Churches built in 1740 (now the United Reformed Church) and a Strict Baptist Chapel (now a private residence). The employees at the house would be expected to attend church on Sunday, but not all would be seen at St Mary's.

Catholic Churches of Petworth

Mrs Cummings, being an Irish Catholic, certainly did not and is buried at St Anthony and St George, the Catholic Church at Duncton to the south of Petworth.

This church was built in 1868 by Anthony Wright Biddulph of Burton Park. Burton Park was one of several smaller estates around Petworth, that included Bignor Park and Lavington Park, now Seaford College. In the heyday of these houses there was a hierarchy of status and one can imagine the Jane Austenesque excitement of being invited to the 'big house' at Petworth for dinner or a ball. These manor houses and their estates also had an impact on the area as they farmed and shaped the land.

By 1893 the present mill included two waterwheels and four pairs of stones. Soon after, the eastern waterwheel was replaced by an early Francis type turbine driving a dynamo to provide power to Burton Park House, which must have made an exciting transformation to the house as electric light replaced oil lamps.