THE TUDOR HOUSE of St Mary’s is a must to visit if you are in Bramber between May and September on a Thursday or a Sunday. I’m not really a rep for the Bramber Tourist Board, honest. (Actually, I think I AM the Bramber Tourist Board).
St Mary’s Tudor House
St Mary’s was built around 1470. The land had original belonged to the Knights Templars who remained in Bramber until 1154. The house took its name from the late 12th century chapel of St Mary’s that had been built on the central pier of the old stone bridge between Bramber and Beeding.
The house became a sanctuary (or Inn) for pilgrims travelling from Canterbury to Winchester (as you do) and was controlled by the Monks of Sele (Sele Priory was in Beeding in case you missed previous blog). It is likely it would have been a four-sided, two-storied, oak-framed building with a central open courtyard (where the music room is today).
Plan of what the house may have been like as a four-sided building in 1470 (street to right) – by Walter Godfrey (Thorogood, St Mary’s Bramber, 1998, 8)
What remains of the 15th century house is the east wing. During the 17th century the other wings of the house and the south end of the east wing were demolished, either through fire or disrepair (they didn’t have insurance in those days!). If you come out of the music room onto the stairs and look up you will see four entrances which would have been to the travellers’ cells (bedrooms). The fact that one opens into thin air is evidence of a gallery which would have been present in the 17th century (either that or the owner had a sense of humour). If you go into the garden from the door by the kitchen and look back you will see the south wall is of flint and stone. This is a 17th century repair and the old wood beamed wall would have extended further into the garden (by approximately 15 feet).
Although there are two entrances on the east side of the existing wing, the original entrance would have been where there is still a door on the North (the street) side (see pic below). Part of the oak pillar (found in the basement) to this entrance is now on display on a wall within house.
Plan of what the front (north side) of house may have been like from the street in 1470 (Thorogood, St Mary’s Bramber, 1998, 7). From the middle of the entrance door to the right no longer exists (well, it does, it’s now the flats and St Mary’s Court)
The Warden’s room (or Monks’ parlour) contains some of the earliest oak panelling in the house, dating from the 16th century. There is also a unique massive ‘dragon’ beam carrying the weight of the upper floor. The Elizabethan inglenook would have been used for cooking when the great kitchen in the west wing was lost.
The Warden’s room (or monks’ parlour) in the first entrance
In the 16th century, following the dissolution of the monasteries, the house was taken over by Sir Ralph Shirley (of Wiston) and he divided the open common room on the ground floor of the east wing into separate rooms and installed the fireplace in the middle entrance hall – as it is today. Also in the hallway is a central table believed to be from the wood of a ship from the battle of Trafalgar.
The entrance hall with the ‘Trafalgar’ table
It is possible that the house may have seen the visitation of Elizabeth I on one of her ‘Progresses’ through Sussex and it may be that ‘The Painted Room’ was prepared for her visit (see pic below). It has also be ‘said’ that Charles II stayed at the house during his escape to France, but there is no documenatry evidence of either of these royal visits, just romantic speculation. Nothing wrong with that.
The Painted Room
During the 18th and 19th centuries the house was used as a farm and the Tudor oak beams whitewashed over (sacrilege!). Then in 1890 the Hon. Algernon Bourke (second son of the Earl of Mayo) purchased the property and built the music room and accommodation extension (now flats and St Mary’s Court). Algernon was from ‘High Society’ and owner of White’s Club in St James’s and chairman of the Grand Hotel in Monte Carlo. He was also related to the ‘notorious’ Lord Alfred Douglas whose father, the Marquis of Queensberry, had a hand in the fall from grace of Oscar Wilde. The characters, Algernon Moncreiff and Gwendolen Fairfax, in Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, are believed to be based on Algernon Bourke and his wife, Guendoline.
Algernon Bourke by ‘Spy’
In 1899 Alfred Musgrove succeeded Bourke as owner of the house. Little is known of him other than that he may have been the inspiration behind Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes’ tale The Musgrove Ritual which is set in a house very similar to St Mary’s. As with the Conan Doyle tale, there is a cellar which, at present, is blocked off – but what may be down there today?
Between the war years the house was owned by the McConnels and was used on occasions as an American ‘finishing school’. First-hand accounts from the family’s grand-daughters report that the rooms were filled with gaiety, dancing and laughter.
The outbreak of WWII brought the downfall of the house and it fell into disrepair. It was saved by Miss Dorothy Ellis who bought it at auction in 1944, saving it from a builder who would have dismantled it for building materials (omg!). Since 1985 it has been lovingly cared for with expertise and skill by Peter Thorogood and Roger Linton.
The Music Room
The five acres of gardens make St Mary’s a very special place to visit. Surrounding the actual house is the Topiary garden to the east, leading to the now front doors and the Terrace garden to the south leading out from the rear door.
In the Terrace garden is the ‘Monks Walk’ (remember previous blog?) which is an ivy-clad pergola of yew. Some of the ornamental stone fragments in the flint wall are remnants of the old Medieval bridge. The lawn was laid out by Algernon Bourke in the 1890s and was used for croquet. One of the notable features of the garden is the ‘living fossil’ tree, the prehistoric ginko biloba, which is the oldest species of tree in the world.
Behind the Castle pub St Mary’s Victorian gardens were sold off by Dorothy Ellis to pay for the repairs to the house. The present owners, Peter Thorogood and Roger Linton, were fortunate enough to be able to buy them back when the cottage to which they belonged came up for sale. The gardens (aka the ‘secret’ gardens) have now been restored to their Victorian glory by Roger and are a delight to wander around and relax.
Entrance to the ‘secret’ gardens
There is also a small museum housing various fascinating garden relics and an enchanting and tranquil ‘Poets Corner’.
For Dr Who fans St Mary’s is a must. The ‘Silver Nemesis’, with Sylvester McCoy as the Doctor, and his trusty police box, was filmed at the House in July 1988. Click here for article.
Events and things
The House puts on various events, including music and comedy which you can all go and see. You can also get married there, as my son, Toby and his wife, Zoe, did in 2012:
Toby and Zoe married at St Mary’s
More on the House, click here: stmarysbramber.co.uk
On another topic, did you see the size of ‘dem bones’ found just recently??
The bone in the picture is a fossilised femur (thigh bone) of a new species of dinosaur or titanosaur, dating back to the late Cretaceous period (that’s somewhere between 66 and 100 million years ago to you). It was discovered in a desert in La Flecha in Argentinia and bearing in mind the size of the femur this dinosaur (sorry, or titanosaur) is likely to have been around 40 m in length (that’s 130 ft in English) and 20m tall (that’ll be 65 ft), weighing in at 77 tonnes (much the same as 14 elephants apparently), which is seven tonnes heavier than the previous record holder, Argentinosaurus. Bad luck Argentia, you’re big but not big enough.
Fossilised remains of seven of this enormous fellows, totaling some 150 bones, were excavated by a team of palaeontologists from the Museum of Palaeontology Egidio Feruglio, led by Dr Jose Luis Carballido and Dr Diego Pol. They were discovered by a local farm worker and one assumes he thought better than to give them to his dog.
The real question is, where are they gonna put them?
Honey, we need a bigger garage …….
Next week: Lets’ go to Crete
Artemus Smith’s Notebooks
I continue my research of the notebooks of Dr. Artemus Smith, archaeologist of great courage, determination and fiction. Here is a further extract:
My days searching for early African civilization were fraught with endangerment. I recall being warned by our guide that we were entering a region inhabited by a lion. My colleagues and I commenced enclothing ourselves in heavy boots and a strong robust rig about the body. To my surprise, our guide stripped almost naked and donned only a pair of plimsolls, clearly intent on avoiding any physical contact with the king of the jungle.
“My dear man,” my voice raised with some degree of authority, “I trust that such foolish attire will do you little favour should we encounter the savage beast of the wild. Lightly garmented such as you are, you will never out run the creature.”
His response, which left me a little disturbed, was, “Master, but I only need to out run you.”