As you stand at the Duncton Hill viewpoint (halfway up the hill on the A285) in West Sussex, in the distance (to your right) you can see a large, square, white building. This is Burton Park.
The Burton Park estate was inherited in the 15th century by the Goring family and passed to the Biddulphs in 1724. The present house was built in about 1828 and apparently has an impressive Grecian hall and staircase (although I haven’t been inside). The house sits in 6 hectares of grounds originally designed in the 18th century and altered in the early 20th century. The design of Burton Park and its grounds are thought to have involved both Capability Brown and Humphrey Repton. The house has since been a school and even a dog training facility but is now divided into flats.
Ancient art and brasses
I have long since been curious about this building so I was delighted when recently I was lucky enough to join Petworth resident and font of all Petowrth knowledge, Gerald Gresham Cooke, on a run that took us right past the front door. Better still, next to the house is a Grade I listed, 11th century church, St Richard’s, and knowing my fascination with frescoes, Gerald and I stuck our heads round the door.
The first thing you notice about Burton Church is the stark contrast to the grand house next door. It’s a very humble little church with a Norman chancel and nave, and the west doorway is thought to be 14th century. The church was restored in 1636 and again in the 19th century and it’s one of the smallest in Sussex. But it’s the paintings and brasses inside that are really interesting.
To the left, and partly obscured, is a painting on the wall of an upside figure on a crucifix with fiery, long red hair. The painting is so vivid that it could have been painted yesterday but it is thought to date to the 16th century. There seem to be different views about who she represents (possibly St Catherine) or whether she is in fact female at all.
The Sussex Parish Churches resource notes that she may be St Wilgefortis (AKA St Uncumber),
“a Christian Sicilian or Portuguese princess around 130 AD who refused to marry the man chosen by her father as she wished to become a nun. Her father had her cast into prison, where she prayed to be made so unattractive that no man would marry her. Her wish was granted and she grew a beard, which so enraged the father that he ordered her to be crucified like Christ, whose heavenly bride she aspired to be.”
There are also some interesting brasses which include one of Elizabeth Goring who died in 1558. This is thought to be unusual because she is wearing a tabard over her dress. On the south wall, is the royal coat of arms of King Charles I dating back to 1636 and also thought to be very rare.
It won’t take you long to look round St Richard’s but it does happen to be on a footpath and it is worth a detour. There is parking at Burton Mill which itself is a point of interest. The mill dates from 1780 and although it’s a private house now, it’s using water power to mill local wheat to produce wholemeal and white bread flour. It’s open to visitors on the Sunday of National Mills Weekend in May and the National Heritage Weekend in September.
From the mill, it’s just over a kilometre to the church through New Piece and Newpiece Moor. If you are up for a longer walk, just carry on and there is a nice 6 km loop via Barlavington. Don’t forget to head back into Petworth afterwards for a mooch and a bite to eat.
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