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The history of Uppark

Black and white photo of the house, and a seasonal bedding scheme in front of the east pavilion circa 1910
Seasonal bedding scheme in front of the east pavilion circa 1910 | © National Trust

At first glance, Uppark today appears as a homage to its fine 18th-century furnishings and its beautiful parkland setting. But beneath the surface there's a far more complex story, one of political allegiances, pioneering conservation, tragedy and triumph. Discover all about the owners that shaped over 400 years of history at Uppark.

Uppark House and Garden is closed until late summer 2025

During which time a major essential works project and conservation will be undertaken. We look forward to welcoming you back in 2025.

Creation of the property

Uppark's story begins with the creation of a deer park in the 14th century, recorded in a later survey as 'Le Upparke, with pasture and wood’.

By 1440, it was being leased as a pair, 'Up Parke and Down Parke', but it wasn’t until 1595 that a house was recorded here, built by the Ford family. One of the Ford daughters married Ralph, the 2nd Lord Grey of Warke, and it was their son Ford Grey who built the house.

The building of Uppark

Uppark was built in 1690 by Ford Grey, the Earl of Tankerville, to demonstrate not just his wealth but also his political allegiances.

Ford Grey was a colourful character by all accounts. As a prominent Protestant Whig, he was deeply involved in anti-Catholic plotting, culminating in the invasion by William of Orange in 1688. He was arrested more than once but despite being convicted he escaped imprisonment, once on a technicality, once by plying the sergeant-at-arms with alcohol. He later escaped action for his part in the campaign against James II by testifying against his cohorts and the somewhat dubious transfer of large sums of money.

After William III took to the throne, Ford was rewarded for his support with a string of appointments, among them Privy Councillor, Commissioner for Trade, First Commissioner of the Treasury, and Lord Privy Seal.

The original house

The original 'Up Parke' is likely to have been designed by William Talman. Symmetry and simplicity were key attributes, together with the Dutch-style use of brick and stone dressings, an important stylistic choice, since it reinforced Grey's political leanings.

In 1695, the same year Grey was created the Earl of Tankerville, the house was described as ‘square, with nine windows in the front and seven in the sides, brickwork with free stone coynes and windows, in the midst of fine gardens, gravell and grass walks and bowling green’, a description that largely holds today.

Unlike today, the house was approached from the east via two courtyards, flanked by stable and service blocks, with formal gardens and long vistas.

Inside, the floor plan was much as it is now. The Little Parlour and Stone Hall even retain their original names, although a Great Hall would have risen the full height of the house before later being split into the Saloon and Print Room above. Many rooms were panelled or hung with gilt leather, tapestry or woven textiles, some of which were revealed by the fire of 1989, having been hidden behind later additions.

Portrait of Sir Matthew Fetherstonhaugh by Pompeo Batoni, at Uppark, West Sussex
Portrait of Sir Matthew Fetherstonhaugh by Pompeo Batoni | © National Trust Images

Sir Matthew Fetherstonhaugh's influence

The Uppark of today owes much to Sir Matthew Fetherstonhaugh, who is responsible for its fine Georgian interiors and grand tour art collection.

Sir Matthew Fetherstonhaugh bought Uppark for £19,000, around £4 million today, in 1747 from Charles Tankerville, Ford Grey’s grandson. He commissioned an extensive remodelling of the interior with architect James Paine, and to furnish his new home he and his wife embarked on a grand tour of Europe in 1749.

Together, they acquired fine furniture, tapestries and paintings, some under commission such as the series of nine portraits by Batoni, his renditions of Meekness and Purity of Heart which have hung in the Saloon for over 200 years, and a series of atmospheric seascapes by Joseph Vernet.

The list of artisans he engaged reads like an encyclopaedia of masters, with acquisitions from Antonio Canaletto, Tommaso Ruiz, Luca Giordano, Francesco Zuccarelli, Frans van Bloemen, and Jacob Xavier Vermoelen.

Sir Matthew returned to Uppark in 1751 but continued to acquire new pieces such as the Rococo pier-glasses and the scagliola tabletops by Don Petro Belloni, only five of which are known to exist, all of which were produced for friends of Sir Matthew.

Interior alterations

By this time, the service blocks to the east of the house had been demolished and replaced by the pavilions visible today, and by 1759 Sir Matthew's accounts showed that he had spent £16,615, around £1.8 million today, on 'Uppark, beside furniture’.

Perhaps the finest alteration to Uppark's interior came in 1770 when a mezzanine floor was added to the Great Hall to create the Saloon and Print Room above. The Saloon's ceiling, likely to have been designed by Paine, features intricate Palladian-style plasterwork that resonates with the ornate door architraves and capitals.

By 1772, Sir Matthew's recurring health problems had become more serious. He died two years later at his house in Whitehall. As a mark of his character, in his will he awarded a year’s salary to 43 servants.

North front of the house at Uppark House and Garden, West Sussex
North front of the house at Uppark | © National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

The next generation

Uppark was at its most sociable during Sir Harry Fetherstonhaugh's ownership, with a string of parties that attracted royalty and high society.

As his father had before him, Sir Harry sat for Batoni, and that painting still hangs in the Red Drawing Room. Unlike his father, he had little interest in keeping accounts. His mother, who managed his household for him, discovering that he'd spent £3,324 in just a few months abroad, equal to about £286,000 today.

In 1780, he met the socialite Emma Hart who, aged just 15, worked as an entertainer in London. She lived on the estate and attended many of Sir Harry’s parties until 1781 when she was sent away, penniless and six months pregnant. Sir Harry was the assumed father but he would not respond to her many letters asking for help. Fortunately Emma went on to achieve great success, she become Lady Hamilton and had a famous relationship with Admiral Lord Nelson.

Sir Harry's parties were legendary. When the Prince of Wales visited in 1784 and 1785 the parties lasted for three days and included gambling, fine cuisine, and horse racing on West Harting Down, complete with silver-gilt prize cups.

Perhaps as a result of his acquaintance with the prince, he became friends with Humphry Repton, the renowned architect and landscape designer. In 1810, Repton set out proposals for alterations to Uppark in one of his famous red books.

As part of these plans the main entrance was moved to the north front in 1812-13, where a Portland stone portico was added, leading via a stained glass-lit corridor to the crimson baize door that opens onto Staircase Hall.

Meeting Mary Ann

At the age of 71, the bachelor life finally lost its appeal. Having been charmed by the sound of singing coming from the dairy, he one day told the maid he found within, a 20-year-old Mary Ann Bullock, that he wanted to marry her.

She was speechless and he told her ‘Don't answer me now. But if you will have me, cut a slice out of the leg of mutton that is coming up for my dinner today’. When the mutton arrived, the slice was cut. The proposal may have been unconventional, but the marriage lasted nearly 20 years until Sir Harry's death in 1846, aged 90.

The new Lady Fetherstonhaugh

Mary Ann may have come to Uppark as a dairy maid but by 1846 she found herself owner of a 5,000-acre estate, employing 203 labourers (as of 1851) and living in the grandest surroundings. The new Lady Fetherstonhaugh and her sister, Frances, resisted the temptation to restyle Uppark to suit the incoming Victorian tastes.

Instead, during the 1850s some rooms received new satin flock wallpaper, paintwork was renewed, ceilings redecorated, panelling ‘twice oiled and flatted in white’, and the Servants Hall and Housekeeper's room repainted. In the 1860s, the windows were re-glazed, the hot-water boiler replaced, a new kitchen range installed, and downstairs pipework renewed.

The house continued to be a sociable one with shooting parties and honeymoons for friends and family. Lady Fetherstonhaugh created several charities, provided funds to support the village church, and on her death in 1874 she left Uppark to her sister, Frances, who assumed the Fetherstonhaugh name.

Towards the end of her life, Miss Fetherstonhaugh tried to find a suitable blood relation of Sir Harry Fetherstonhaugh, but without success. Instead, she bequeathed Uppark to Lt. Col. The Hon. Keith Turnour, who assumed the name Fetherstonhaugh on her death in 1895.

Restoration and repairs

On the death of Col. Turnour in 1930, in accordance with Lady Fetherstonhaugh's wishes, Uppark passed to Admiral The Hon. Sir Herbert Meade, 4th Earl of Clanwilliam. He and his wife Margaret arrived on 11 February 1931 ‘to enter into the fairy story of our lives at Uppark’.

The new Lady Meade-Fetherstonhaugh began restoring Uppark to its former glory. The roof was repaired, paintwork renewed, and she embarked on an eight-year period of textile conservation, during which many new techniques were developed in conjunction with the Royal School of Needlework. The fragile, filthy window and bed curtains were cleaned ‘by being pulled over dewy grass’ or by immersion in water infused with the herb soapwort.

Silk that had become fluffy was flattened by sewing special ‘couching thread’ in parallel lines across it. The hangings of the Prince Regent's bed were repaired in 1931-32 with as many as 20 rows of stitching to just one inch. By 1939, Lady Meade-Fetherstonhaugh reported that she and her staff had ‘mended and re-hung twenty-eight brocade curtains, three Queen Anne four-poster beds, and a set of chairs’.

Acquisition by the National Trust

Admiral Meade-Fetherstonhaugh and his son Richard approached the National Trust with an offer to protect Uppark for the future. After a period of negotiations, an endowment was put together which included a substantial sum from an anonymous woman who had never seen the house but was inspired by a description given over the telephone by a member of the National Trust. As a result, Uppark passed to the Trust in 1954.

In 1958 Lady Meade-Fetherstonhaugh's son Richard died, followed by her husband in 1964. The following year she relinquished her tenancy of Uppark to her widowed daughter-in-law.

On her death in 1977, the 11th Duke of Argyll described Lady Meade-Fetherstonhaugh as ‘the visionary behind... the complete reinstatement of the building to its former glory’, surmising that together with her husband they had ‘dedicated their lives at very great personal sacrifice to bringing back its furnishings and fabrics to their original 18th-century condition for the world to enjoy after them’.

The West Pavilion at Uppark, West Sussex, with a white cupola on top

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