Intriguing past of a historic house

Fryern Ladies Probus Club.'Picture by Freddie from Roundabout Hotel
Fryern Ladies Probus Club.'Picture by Freddie from Roundabout Hotel

It was a pleasure to meet the two new managers, Andy and Dee, at The Roundabout Hotel and, after a pleasant lunch, the ladies were ready for some local history - right on their doorsteps.

The invited Speaker for the day was none other than Lady Emma Barnard, Chatelaine of Parham House and home to her two sons and husband since 1994.

The history of Parham is impressive and from the time of the Dissolution of the Monasteries in Henry VIII’s reign, when Parham belonged to the Abbey of Westminster, it has only been home to three families.

Parham was then granted by Henry VIII to a London mercer called Robert Palmer who was intent on improving the rundown building and so invited his two year old grandson Thomas to lay the foundation stone in 1577 and, because he was the youngest member of the family, it was considered to be lucky.

There was an additional royal connection as Thomas’s mother Elizabeth was god-daughter to Queen Elizabeth 1st and it is believed that there were royal visits to Parham.

In 1601 Parham was sold to Sir Thomas Bysshopp and it remained in his family for some 320 years and then in 1922 the estate was transferred to Clive and Alicia Pearson - Lady Emma’s great grandparents - and has been in her family ever since.

Parham is one of the country’s finest Elizabethan houses, complete with Great Hall and Long Gallery and from the illustrations, which Emma showed us during her talk, its tranquility and timeless beauty have changed little over the centuries.

However the Pearsons initially found it in a dilapidated state with no water, electricity, proper drains and all original panelling heavily painted.

So they employed the architect Victor Heal to carry out major repair and conservation during the 1920s and 1930s. All repairs used traditional methods of craftsmanship and no expense was spared on achieving high standards and authenticity with a view to posterity which holds true today.

During the outbreak of war in 1939 Parham was home to 30 evacuee children from Peckham and in 1942 these children were rehoused in Storrington when Parham became the middle of The South Downs Training Area and accommodation was requisitioned for billeting Canadian officers.

In 1948 the Pearsons opened their doors to visitors and this is still enjoyed by so many people today. When Emma’s great aunt Veronica Tritton died in 1993 the charitable trust, set up to preserve the house in perpetuity, invited her to move in and hold it for the next generation.

We appreciated hearing about this beautiful, quirky, historic house and its history and inhabitants. Barbara Yarrow thanked Emma for her wonderful and intriguing insight into Parham and how marvellous it must be to continue this legacy for future generations. We were assured that there were no ghosts but did remember that the 1995 film Haunted had been filmed extensively at Parham.

Our next meeting is scheduled for Nov 3rd when Alyson Heath will talk to us about Education - we look forward to meeting her.

Contributed by Russ Fry, Fryern Ladies Probus Club

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