Monday 25 August 2014

Uppark House & Garden

Have you ever been at a National Trust property when someone has shouted "THE ROOF'S ON FIRE!", before encouraging you to join a human chain and remove as many treasures as you can from the house before the ceilings collapse and everything is consumed by flames?

Me neither. But that's exactly what happened at Uppark House in West Sussex on 30 August 1989.

It was a builder using a flame to finish some lead work that set the house ablaze. National Trust staff, visitors, members of the family living at Uppark, plus the fire service had about three hours to rescue as much as possible - at one desperate point firemen were pulling curtains down and ripping wallpaper from walls. 

If I was in charge of a National Trust property that burned down, I would now be doing one of two things; I would either be hiding in Acapulco, living under an assumed name and jumping into a cupboard every time someone said the words 'national' or 'trust'. Or I would still be under sedation somewhere.

But luckily I was not in charge and the Trust rallied itself for the mother of all restoration projects. It was the contents that saved the day for Uppark - the house itself was completely gutted by the fire and there were people who thought it should be pulled down. But where to put all of the contents that had been saved? In the end, Uppark was restored, although it took six years and a lot of money.

They deal with the fire very well at Uppark. In every room there's a picture of what looks like a scene from the Blitz, but is actually the same room in 1989. It's really quite staggering. 

There's a lot more to Uppark than the fire, however. Here's a quick summary:

  • Uppark House was built around 1695 by Ford Grey, Earl of Tankerville.
  • Sir Matthew Fetherstonhaugh bought it in 1747 and remodelled the interiors.
  • His son, Sir Harry Fetherstonhaugh, was a bit of a lad - he had a liaison with Emma Hart, who eventually became Emma Hamilton and mistress to Lord Nelson, and she used to dance naked on the tables at Uppark, until she became pregnant and Sir Harry got rid of her.
  • Sir Harry married his dairy maid, Mary-Ann, when he was 70+ and she was 20.
  • Mary-Ann remained at Uppark with her sister, who died in 1895.
  • Sarah Wells, mother of H.G., was housekeeper for Mary-Ann and Frances for a while, but she was "perhaps the worst housekeeper that ever was thought of" according to her son.
  • There was no heir when Frances died, so it was handed to family friends who obligingly changed their names. Today it is still inhabited by some Meade-Fetherstonhaughs. 

No photography was allowed in the house, hence the lack of pictures. 

The Uppark scone
But I do have photos of the scones. Readers, I think the National Trust might be onto me. Of my last six visits, FIVE properties have now scored top marks for their sconeage. It's unheard of, frankly, and I'm worried about my reputation as a discerning sconnessieur.

Uppark didn't help me much: the scones were absolutely top class today. They were fresh, perfectly sized, melt-in-the-mouth...just top drawer. Well done, Uppark scone baker. 

Uppark National Trust Scones

Uppark: 4.5 out of 5
Scones: 5 out of 5
Optimism in face of total adversity: 100 out of 5

1 comment:

  1. I really like Uppark .. next time I shall be having a scone. Great account of the property :)