A look inside Folkington Manor near Polegate
PUBLISHED: 12:23 02 June 2015 | UPDATED: 12:23 02 June 2015
Jim Holden www.jimholden.co.uk 07590 683036 01825 841157
A beautiful Sussex home but also a fantastic venue in the making with an intriguing musical history. Alice Cooke visited Folkington Manor near Polegate
Although Harry and Jacquie Brunjes have owned Folkington Manor since 2010, there was so much renovation to be done that they didn’t move in until 2013. “We lived in a flat over the stables until it was ready,” says Jacquie. “It was all very exciting, but at the same time it did make us wonder what on earth we’d let ourselves in for.”
What they didn’t know then is that what they’d let themselves in for was to turn out to be wholly serendipitous…
Both Jacquie and Harry are very musical – he is Acting Chairman of the English National Opera, and she has been a producer, a musician, a performer, and even ran her own theatre school in Brighton – the list is seemingly endless. In fact they met while performing in a show in Newquay. “I was singing and dancing, and he was playing the piano. He was a bit of a Donny Osmond lookalike in those days!” smiles Jacquie as we walk through the high-ceilinged entrance hall downstairs, which is lined with amazing objets that include antique instruments, a beautiful statue of a ballet dancer and various prints and paintings that all point to a love of the stage.
I visit on the eve of one of the first shows to be put on at Folkington Manor, in the Flint Halls, where there is now a fantastic performance space. It is a piece called Violet, which tells the story of the house and one of its previous chatelaines, Violet Gordon-Woodhouse. Through her, as Harry and Jacquie discovered soon after they moved in, the house has a great musical history, which they both adore and embrace. Violet was an acclaimed harpsichordist and clavichordist, and was highly influential in bringing both instruments back into fashion. She was the first person to record the harpsichord, and the first to broadcast harpsichord music.
She is also known to have had quite a racy side, and lived at Folkington with four men. “It must be something in the water around here,” laughs Jacquie. “We have Charleston just down the road with all its goings-on, and there have been lots of exciting tales of intrigue based in the area – in fact I was just saying to Harry the other day that I think we’re rather letting the side down. We’ll have to think of something outrageous to do to remain in keeping with the area!”
While living above the stables (which are currently being used for storage but are not far down the list of things to be revamped), Jacquie had many a sleepless night about whether they would be able to modernise the Grade II-listed house without losing any of its original charm. “I took plenty of advice and eventually made my peace with the fact that we could make it a modern, comfortable home whilst retaining everything that makes it such a beautiful house in the first place – and thankfully I think we’ve managed to do that.”
As well as shows in the Flint Halls, (which look set to grow as all scheduled performances to date are sold out and have waiting lists), Jacquie has a couple of other theatrical projects in the pipeline. The first is the one that she’s most excited about, Musicals at the Manor, which is being kindly supported by Rix and Kay Solicitors. “We will have a theatre on the front lawn, as well as two huge picnic marquees,” she says. Ruthie Henshall is the headline act and one of the most celebrated international stars in musical theatre. She has starred in the West End and on Broadway in unforgettable roles that include Fantine in Les Miserables and Roxie Hart in Chicago. Ruthie will perform material from these famous roles alongside music from Gypsy, Sunset Boulevard and Into the Woods, as well as popular numbers personal to Ruthie from the Eighties, Nineties and the present day. “With Glyndebourne just down the road we are already spoilt for choice around here when it comes to fantastic operatic events, so we wanted to stage something different, that would appeal to another audience,” says Jacquie.
The event is in aid of a cause very close to Jacquie’s heart, the Kent, Surrey & Sussex Air Ambulance (KSSAA). “This year marks the 25th anniversary of this amazing charity,” she says. “And few people realise that this lifesaving service relies almost entirely on charitable donations.”
Jacquie sits on the board of the KSSAA, and is understandably passionate about promoting their invaluable work, which could save any one of us at any time. “The beauty of it is that they have doctors on board as well as paramedics, so while of course you are on your way to hospital, you can be treated by a doctor from the moment that they arrive on the scene. You can’t put a price on something like that.”
Never one to rest on her laurels, Jacquie is also Chairman of Sussex Festival of Performing Arts and Director of Dance World Cup UK. “We organise a team of dancers under 25 years of age to represent our country annually. England has won the Dance World Cup for the past two years we are off to Romania this summer to defend the title. We have 400 children in the team with a large proportion of the children coming from Sussex.”
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