Brighton is a city of many secrets as well as lots of familiar and worthy landmarks but I’m not sure where Stanmer House sits on the scale between these two. You may well have visited the café, walked some of the grounds or even (as in my case) attended a work event there. But it’s definitely a destination that warrants a deeper dive.
Just north east of Brighton in East Sussex, and not far from the Amex Stadium, you either access Stanmer via the A27 (it’s well signed but somehow I always seem to go around in a circle at least twice before I manage to get the right turn) or you could walk there by descending from the north across the South Downs! Alternatively, there is a car park to the west off Ditchling Road. As an aside, this part of the South Downs seems to be an area of wonderful Sussex names including Granny’s Belt, Moon’s Bottom and Pudding Bag.
The story so far
Stanmer House is a Grade I listed mansion set in Stanmer Park. Amongst other attractions, within the grounds, there is also the very pretty village of Stanmer and a church. The house was built of Weald sandstone by a French architect in 1722 in what’s known as Palladian style for the Pelham family (the Pelhams became the earls of Chichester). The Pelham family also owned Pevensey and Hastings castles.
The house, which was substantially altered in 1860, included walled and ornamental gardens. Within the grounds, there are also a number of other Grade II* listed buildings and a unique (if not wildly attractive) Water Catcher.
The park also once had a pet cemetery with two pet graves dating back to the 1880s (for Tip and Snow) and a menagerie. It’s currently owned by Brighton and Hove City Council but the house is commercially let and has recently reopened under new tenants. There is a café within the house but there remains a question mark about what the new owners’ plans for the house are now.
Beyond the house, in 2019, work got underway as part of the £5.1 million Stanmer Park Restoration project, focussing on the walled garden and surrounding area and restoring the 18th century landscape, parkland, and historical features, including the entrance.
In 1838, the then Earl demolished the existing village houses and church buildings and created an “estate village” and church. The church is now Grade II as is the nearby well house. The village is curious, tucked away as it is at the far end of the grounds with the road beyond petering out onto the South Downs.
The well house was dug in the 16th century and although originally powered by a donkey, was actually driven by a man between 1870 and 1900. And while you’re at the church, there are a couple of amazing trees in the churchyard.
The Water Catcher
I’m not sure what I was expecting when I saw signs to a water catcher but after a short climb, you find a large area in the woods that looks like it might have been the foundation to a long-forgotten building. It is in fact a Grade II Listed Victorian rainwater catcher and one of only two in the UK. Built between 1870 and 1875 it supplied water to the house, gardens and village.
The walled garden
Another surprise is Stanmer’s flint-walled garden where you’ll now find One Garden managed by Plumpton College. It includes gardens designed by modern-day landscape architect Dominic Cole, renowned for his work on the Eden Project. It opened in 2021 and there’s a scented walkway, a café restaurant and a market of local produce, all designed to create a Horticulture Centre of Excellence.
Just outside the walled garden are the old Palm House and a long border which are currently not part of the One Garden project (although they are crowdfunding in order to include them in their restoration work). The Palm House is one of only three of its kind remaining in England.
Stanmer Craft Museum
Walking back from One Garden and there’s a sign for Stanmer Craft Museum, aka Stanmer Rural Museum. This is an eclectic hotchpot of rural artefacts, agricultural working and craft equipment combined with a sort of creative collective which includes metalwork, mosaics, mixed-media art, painting, woodwork, and glass. Last year, in fact, this was one of the venues of the Lewes ArtWave and it’s the sort of place you just cannot and should not walk past without going in.
Of the extraordinary and bizarre things that you’ll find here, is a gypsy caravan and an old Tram Shelter from the junction of Preston Drove and Beaconsfield Road (also used as a pavilion for the defunct bowling club at Moulsecomb Wild Park – I knew it looked familiar).
There are a number of public and permissive footpaths and bridleways around the park as well as a signed Heritage Trail. In short, with at least three cafés on site as well, there’s enough to keep you occupied for quite some time.
I hope as the Restoration Project gets underway again post-Covid and the house gets some clarity about its future, someone will create a nice easy one-stop shop website so that visitors can really make most of this diverse destination that straddles the rural Sussex Downs and bohemian Brighton.
For more things to do, try out 16 Things to Do in Brighton post.
And if you like this post about Stanmer House, Brighton, why not check out our Why Move to Brighton post. It’s got lots more information about what you can expect from this vibrant city.