Firle Place - Lord and Lady Gage share their plans for the estate
PUBLISHED: 09:02 29 December 2014 | UPDATED: 16:34 20 March 2015
Jim Holden www.jimholden.co.uk 07590 683036
Firle Place near Lewes is both steeped in history and looking boldly into the future. Alice Cooke met Lord and Lady Gage, who told her all about their exciting plans for the estate
Nestled in the foothills of the South Downs, Firle Place is a fantastic array of fortuitous contradictions – its very walls are part Tudor and part Georgian, and while the two are certainly distinguishable, they work most pleasingly in juxtaposition with one another. The rooms are all jaw-droppingly beautiful without exception, but while some are very much open for the public to pass through and peruse, some make up the private living quarters of the Gage family – the eighth Viscount Gage, Lady Gage and their five-year-old son, Henry Valentine Gage (known as Valentine). Viscount Gage’s oldest son, Henry is soon to take up residence in the house with them too, which will enable him to carry on his work on the events at Firle, which are going from strength-to-strength. Even the refreshingly forward-thinking attitude of the Gage family (who couldn’t be more delighted to show me around), seems to be working in perfect harmony with the fascinating history of the house and gardens.
Having competed at the horse trials that the estate hosts each year, I had gazed at the beautiful façade of the house many a time from the grounds below and wondered what it might be like inside. Upon approaching the sweeping drive in front of the house, it was the stables that struck me first – painted in duck egg blue and fronted by beautiful wrought iron gates, they are the stuff that little girls’ dreams are made of. Inside, two beautiful stocky hunters and a small grey pony named Sammy are among the residents – the family all go out hunting together and host the opening meet each year. Needless to say with visions of Mr Darcy galloping across the lawn to meet me, I was already entranced.
After ringing the doorbell I was greeted by a veritable gaggle of spaniels – Jupiter, Firle, Phoebe and Percy – this might sound terrifying, but it was very clear that the most harm they were going to do me was an enthusiastic lick on the hand.
As I was ushered into the kitchen by Lady Gage, I was struck by the colourful collection of paintings that lined the walls – these, as I was soon to find out, are the handiwork of Lord Gage, who is a passionate artist. “I’ve been painting for as long as I remember really,” he says of his talent, “but I haven’t been able to sit down and do it as much lately, with a small boy running riot around the place.” The small boy in question is darting in and out of the room in search of both Percy (who he spends hours playing with in the garden), and a cheese sandwich. Both seem equally important and he can’t really decide which he’d like first. As he streaks out of the door into his playroom, I can see that this too is lined with an impressive collection of Lord Gage’s paintings. “He loves painting,” says Lady Gage of her husband, “but he’s not very commercially minded, and when they’re finished he just quite likes to keep them – I can see why as they’re amazing, but we do try to arrange shows and the like so that he can share them – he’s exhibited at the Royal Academy before, not that he’d ever let on.” All this is mentioned without any passing reference to the Van Dyck that hangs a couple of rooms away – one of many breathtaking pieces that line the walls at Firle.
It is this quiet modesty that makes the Gage family so affable – nothing is too much trouble, and they are so refreshingly forward-thinking about the house that its future success seems almost a foregone conclusion. You would never know, for example, that Lord Gage has ridden in 10 point-to-point races, or that Lady Gage has her own skincare range called Beauty Energy Balms, made by hand on site from herbs grown in the garden. “I would say that it’s been a labour of love, except that it’s felt like more love than labour,” she says of the collection, which is available at www.firleplaceherbgarden.com, as well as in the gift shop. “I have always been interested in alchemy and herbs, so I have very much enjoyed developing them.”
Equally, were you not to ask, you would never know anything of the time and effort that has gone into the restoration of the house. Among her many ongoing projects, Lady Gage (who has an obvious eye for style, and has worked for fashion titles in the past) repainted the entire Long Gallery upstairs: “Quite by chance I discovered that the colour I chose was almost exactly what it was originally – I only found out when I was told by a cousin who’s incredibly keen on history. It was very odd, as though I had some kind of intuition.”
As with any stately home, maintenance is a never-ending challenge, but alongside keeping everything in full working order (which has involved everything from reinstating original doorways that had since been blocked up with stone, to replacing a huge part of the roof upstairs, which saw scaffolding in place for nearly two years), Henry Gage is in the process of expanding and promoting the wedding business, which this year meant hosting an event nearly every weekend of the summer. But as with everything else, the family seem to be taking this in their stride. “Next year we hope to host more weddings on the South Lawn,” says Lady Gage. “It will be very much at our discretion, as of course it is our home, but we held a few this year with great success, and Henry can’t wait to do more in the future.”
The future is very much a buzz word around here, and having spent a day with the Gages that I wished could have lasted much longer, I was left in no doubt as to the scale of their ambitions. There’s talk of Henry overseeing the use of the house as a film location, which it has been a few times in the past, as well as hosting exhibitions and events, expanding the skincare range, hosting spectacular Sussex weddings and of course keeping everything looking as pristine as it does now.
Never one to rest on her laurels, Lady Gage is already enthusing about her next project. “I want to completely refurbish the café, so that guests can really get the most out of their time here.” Firle may be steeped in history, but there can be no doubting that there are justifiably high hopes for what lies just around the corner.
01273 858307; www.firle.com
From 2015 Firle Place will be available for a small number of bespoke weddings in both its private gardens and also Lady Gage’s Herb Garden. With the house itself as a backdrop, the private gardens also lie at the foot of the Downs with uninterrupted views of the park. Firle Place Herb Garden is a tranquil, beautiful haven set in part of the 18th century walled gardens, offering a captivating backdrop for a more bohemian-style wedding. Walk through magical woodland and into the Herb Garden where reception drinks can be enjoyed amongst an abundance of colour and fragrance, followed by dinner and dancing in the neighbouring orchard.
01273 858893; firstname.lastname@example.org