Book reveals fascinating and shocking history of an Elizabethan mansion

Richard Burrows who owns Danny House. He is pictured with his resident ram
Richard Burrows who owns Danny House. He is pictured with his resident ram

A ritual roasting at the fire in Danny House and a headmaster overdosing on laudanum - some of the shock and tell stories about life in a temporary boarding school at Danny House.

A fascinating book has just been published on the history of the Elizabethan mansion in Hurstpierpoint, which nestles under Wolstonbury Hill.

The mansion, now owned by Richard Burrows,
 remained in the Campion family for many years until 1983 and the Great Hall is famous as the setting for talks on the terms of the Armistice in 1918.

The authors of ‘Danny House - A Sussex Mansion through Seven Centuries’ are Colin Brent, Vice-President of the Sussex Archaeological Society and Judith Brent, an archivist at the East Sussex records Office for 31 years.

Their research is meticulous on an important country mansion that retains the footprint of a Medieval hunting lodge with an extensive deer park begun by the Pierpoints in 1200.

George Goring, a rising star favoured by Elizabeth 1, became the new owner of Danny in 1852 and transformed the hunting lodge into a mansion with state rooms and formal gardens.

During the Second World War, boys from Westminster School became a familiar sight in the grounds and the billiard room.

The school had been evacuated to Hurstpierpoint College but the Headmaster of Westminster and two of his assistants were billeted at Danny and some of the pupils cycled over there for lessons.

The Campion family had re-grouped to the south wing by the time Canadian troops moved in, in 1940.

Housed in temporary huts and tents in the grounds, the high-spirited soldiers were chastised by their superiors for stealing apples from the orchard.

Six villagers from the Home Guard were recruited into a special ‘Resistance Patrol’ and staged mock attacks in the grounds as part of their training against a potential invasion. It is not known whether the Canadians repelled them!

After the war, Danny’s running costs continued to spiral and the Campion family moved to Little Danny, formerly Home Farm.

The empty mansion was occupied by Montpelier College, a boarding and day school for boys, which had moved up from Brighton.

“Conditions were spartan,” write Colin and Judith, “with meagre coal fires, little hot water, few wash basins and a tap in the changing room.”

Disaster struck in 1950 when, in the early hours of the morning, a nine-year-old boarder, Anthony Harrison-Barbet, looked out of his dormitory window and saw the headmaster, Captain Costello, being carried unconscious to a police car.

He had just swallowed laudanum in a suicide attempt amid allegations that he had abused some of the pupils. Later that year, he was sentenced to five years imprisonment at Lewes Assizes.

The college was renamed ‘Wolstonbury’ and in 1954, under a cloud of money worries, pupils were transferred to Horsham.

On the day of departure, the youngest boarder, Michael Smale, received a ritual ‘roasting’ by the fire in the Great Hall but lived to tell the tale!

He recalled that one of the pupils cut-out and pocketed ‘Mr W.S Churchill’ from the Armistice plaque nearby.

In a clever piece of marquetry, the name was restored.

Colin and Judith’s book with a preface by Danny’s latest owner, Richard Burrows, is published by Phillimore and Co. Ltd.

ISBN 978-1-86077-738-7