In the grounds of Cowdray Park at Midhurst, are the imposing and magnificent Tudor ruins of a grand house once visited by Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth I. The ruins are Grade I listed.
In the 1520s, Sir David Owen (uncle to Henry VII) began construction of a great house, although there had been a stronghold on the site before that. Thereafter, Cowdray House was owned by a number of influential members of Henry VIII’s court. In 1533, Sir William Fitzwilliam was granted a licence by the King to “empark” 600 acres of nearby land and Cowdray Park as it now is, was born.
Legends about the house and its occupants abound, as you might expect. In 1536, following the Dissolution of the Monasteries, Sir William was given the nearby Easebourne Priory, whilst his half brother (who later inherited Cowdray) received Battle Abbey. It is this that is thought to be the source of a curse (by one of the monks from Battle) that foretold destruction at Cowdray by fire and water. But for the time being, the house continued to play its part in our English heritage and amongst other events, the last surviving member of the House of Plantagenet was imprisoned at Cowdray. She was the niece of Richard III. And in later years, Guy Fawkes was employed for a short time as a footman.
Fire and Tragedy
Over the following centuries, the grounds and gardens were developed and in particular in the 18th century by the well known Capability Brown. By September 1793, renovations were afoot. Cowdray was going to host the grand wedding of the 8th Viscount Montague to the daughter of the Countess of Guildford. Unfortunately, workmen left a fire burning and most of the house was destroyed, with many of its contents then being looted and stolen. Tragically, the Viscount was drowned a short later time later on holiday in Switzerland. Locals believed this was finally fulfilment of the Curse of Cowdray foretold by the Battle monk so many years before.
A place of interest
Even though it stood in ruins, the house continued to be of interest. According to local sources, even as long after the fire as 1834, items from the house could be found scattered in amongst the remains and the site became popular with writers, artists and tourists. In 1908, the estate was bought by Sir Weetman Dickinson Pearson who became 1st Viscount Cowdray. The ruins had been largely neglected until then but the Viscount arranged for the careful removal of the ivy, the restoration of any unsafe structures and a full survey of the ruins to be completed. His family still owns the estate today. Sir Weetman’s son bought Parham House whose family also still own it today.
There’s a lot going at Cowdray these days, including walks, polo, golf, weddings, clay-pigeon shooting, fly fishing, and cycling. There’s also, of course, an excellent farm shop. The Estate hosts some fantastic events which include a night tour entitled “Strange and Mysterious Tales of Cowdray” on the 29 October this year.
If you’re walking from the farm shop to the ruins, do stop and have a look at the stunningly beautiful sculpture of a horse’s head by Nic Fiddian-Green.