A look inside Stopham Park
PUBLISHED: 14:44 22 August 2016 | UPDATED: 14:44 22 August 2016
Jim Holden www.jimholden.co.uk 07590 683036 01825 841157
Stopham Park is home to one of Sussex's oldest families, and the new house is packed full of stories as Duncan Hall discovers
The Barttelot family is one of the oldest in Sussex – able to trace their genealogy back to William the Conqueror’s invading force.
But Stopham Park, the current residence of Sir Brian Walter de Stopham Barttelot, 5th Baronet of Stopham, is a recent addition to the estate. Built in 1958 under the supervision of Sir Brian’s mother Lady Patricia, it replaced the Grade II listed Stopham House in Pulborough, where Sir Brian was born. The original house, which was one of only three homes the Barttelots have occupied since the 14th century, now provides flats for 11 families.
“It was a big house,” says Sir Brian in the library of Stopham Park, surrounded by only a quarter of the leatherbound books his birth-home contained. “By the time my mother came to live there it was a great big rambling place and it wasn’t possible to find staff to run it in the way it used to be. We needed somewhere else.”
Sir Brian’s father had been killed towards the end of World War II, so it was up to Lady Patricia to find the right spot – which turned out to be a rundown cottage on the estate. “She wanted to build a house in the period style to house all the stuff which came from Stopham House,” says Sir Brian. “It was quite an undertaking. It took two-and-a-half years – I was 15 when we started.” She was assisted by the architect John Kemp, who was chosen for his pliability to his employer’s will. She encouraged him to build his first cantilever staircase and install the underfloor heating which means there are no radiators or pipework taking up wall space in the current house. Instead the walls are lined with pictures of Sir Brian’s ancestors – creating a real feeling of living in the midst of history. The breathtaking entrance hall is dominated by the cantilevered staircase and overlooked by a first floor balcony. Nothing on the outside of the building quite prepares a visitor for it. Lady Patricia’s eye for detail is clear to see in the repeated use of a scroll design picked out from a vintage lantern illuminating the space, found in the wrought iron balustrade, above the doorways and in the ceiling rose.
References to Sir Brian’s 32-year career in the army are plain throughout the house – with collections of beautifully painted wooden soldiers, photographs in uniform and side tables built from ceremonial drums. In an unassuming manner photographs of Sir Brian in his full military regalia and sat next to the Queen are resigned to the smallest room in the house, alongside his framed royal appointment as Harbinger in Her Majesty’s Bodyguard of the Honourable Corps of Gentlemen at Arms.
Sir Brian joined the army despite the fact his father died in World War II, his grandfather in World War I and his great-grandfather in the Boer War. There were Barttelots fighting at Agincourt and at the Peninsular War – although part of the reason the name has survived is because they sensibly kept their heads down during the Wars of the Roses and English Civil War.
Throughout the house every piece of furniture or painting has a story behind it – from Sir Brian’s chair in the library which was the last resting place of his ancestor Walter Barttelot, to the Regency furniture in the drawing room, which was discovered in the servants’ quarters by Sir Brian’s grandmother. “She came to Stopham as a young bride,” says Sir Brian. “On her first day she asked the housekeeper to take her on a complete tour of the house. When she saw what was in the servants’ quarters she asked for it all to be put on the lawn at 3pm that day.
“It was a complete set of Heppelwhite furniture. They’re not chairs you can sink back into, but when there was a group of people in a drawing room they were light enough so you could draw them up close together. In the Victorian days you would change the furniture regularly – the furniture man would come from London with his horse and cart and bring a new set in exchange for the old. On this occasion it hadn’t happened – it had just been shoved up into the servants’ quarters!”
If the house was the domain of Sir Brian’s mother, it was his wife who transformed the gardens. “I have been a flower girl all my life,” says Lady Fiona. “I had a wonderful garden where I came from in Shropshire. There wasn’t much here when I arrived, so I started building walls and a balustrade while Brian was serving in Belfast which gave the plants somewhere to go. It has just evolved now.”
Her love of gardening has moved down through the generations, with the pair’s youngest daughter Emma now a professional garden designer. “She comes back here and helps her mother improve the garden,” says Sir Brian. “My mother had hated plants and that sort of thing.”
Stopham Park was the family home for the pair’s four daughters, and is now popular among their 11 grandchildren. But the family hasn’t had to throw open the doors to the public to generate an income – instead taking it from the 1,000-acre estate. One of the most recent additions is Stopham Vineyard, which has been producing wine for the last 10 years. The 21 acres and winery farmed by Simon Woodhead produces 40,000 bottles of white, sparkling and pink wine each year. “English wine is not longer perceived as it used to be,” adds Lady Fiona. “We have the same green sand as France, which is perfect for wine grapes.”
“We pour it down people’s throats to help him promote it,” laughs Sir Brian.
Those tastings happen when Sir Brian and Lady Fiona open the doors of Stopham Park for charity functions – most recently for 70 people in support of the Sussex Community Foundation. “It’s something I have been a supporter of from the beginning,” says Sir Brian. “It was set up by the Duke of Richmond, and we have done what we could for it ever since, although I’m not actively involved.”
The charity’s history dates back to a meeting in 2004 and an idea to support existing Sussex organisations. Most recently it managed a £190,000 fund for families left bereaved by the Shoreham air crash to cover costs of funerals, transport and accommodation, counselling and general living expenses.
Sir Brian and Lady Fiona have also been involved with the Mary How Trust –providing screenings for early signs of serious illnesses including prostate and bowel cancer, heart disease and diabetes. Lady Fiona has been a part of St John Ambulance for 46 years. And Sir Brian is president of West Sussex Scouts which he describes as a huge success story. “It’s going from strength to strength,” he says. “We have more than 1,000 children on the waiting list in West Sussex, on top of more than 11,000 Scouts. The only reason we can’t take more is we need a certain number of trained leaders per child, and we can’t train people fast enough.
“We have been here since 1379 and there has definitely been a tradition of public service in the family. I’m trying to carry it on.”
Although he had been involved in campaigns before, Sir Brian’s dedication to local charity really began in earnest when he was made High Sheriff of West Sussex on leaving the army in 1997. “It got me back into Sussex so I could see what went on,” he says. “By the time my term was over I’d got to know the police, fire and ambulance service. I made a lot of strong connections that year.”
The pair are beginning to cut back their responsibilities though, especially after one charity effort last year nearly had a sour ending for Sir Brian.
As part of a 10-strong trek from Kathmandu to Manaslu for leprosy charity Promise Nepal trek he found himself only a few miles from the epicentre of a devastating earthquake.
“We were being well-led by a good sherpa,” he says. “We had to stumble around for two days until we got to a plateau. There were huge rocks hurtling down over our heads. It took two-and-a-half days before we could tell anyone we were still alive. Eventually an ancient Russian helicopter came and pulled us out – which was the most frightening moment!
“I realised I was a very lucky boy and I had better not do that too much more. I should calm down a bit.
“I’m not going anywhere for the time being – my wife has confiscated my passport!”
• Niki Perry: Achieving a lifetime’s ambition in her Sussex family home - Yoga teacher Niki Perry has achieved a lifetime’s ambition in the grounds of her family home, as she tells Duncan Hall
• Best things about living in Ticehurst - Based in an area of outstanding natural beauty on the Kent border, Ticehurst offers days out and popular pubs