Firle Place in East Sussex has a unique place in our Sussex heritage. The magnificent house dates back to the time of Henry VIII (although it was substantially remodelled during the Georgian period) and it sits just shy of the South Downs in the secluded splendour of its own parkland. The Gage family has lived at Firle for 500 years when the then Sir John Gage built a great Tudor manor house here.
The family history has been intertwined with our national and county history ever since and today the house is also home to a stunning collection of works of art, fine furniture and porcelain of national significance. You may recognise it as the setting for Hartfield in the 2020 film production of Emma and as you approach the house up its sweeping drive, you’re not unlikely to see a rider cantering across the parklands as if you’ve slipped into some sort of Jane Austen vortex. And if that isn’t enough to tempt you to visit, Firle Place is also hosting a fantastic exhibition of tiaras.
Crowning Glory – The story of the tiaras
This exhibition combines exquisite pieces from the family collection along with gorgeous and glamourous costume jewellery made by designer Andrew Prince for historic films and different television series. Yes, that’s right, think Downton Abbey, Mrs Henderson Presents and The Princess Switch 2. The family items include the Coronation raiment worn by members of the Gage family including Imogen 6th Viscountess Gage, mother of the current Lord Gage. Her mother, Lady Desborough (Ettie, 1867-1952), was a leading Edwardian society hostess, Lady-in-Waiting to Queen Mary, and friend to six Prime Ministers including Churchill.
The exhibition, timed for the national celebration of HM the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee year, includes everything from tiaras to chokers, earrings, and necklaces, as it takes you on a walk through the beautiful and historic rooms of the house. There is a laminated sheet you can take with you that identifies each piece and where / by whom it was worn and I was left with the urge to go home, re-watch Downton and spot the tiara! There are certainly worse ways to spend a rainy afternoon.
A word or two from Andrew Prince
Andrew Prince is a jewellery designer, lecturer, and jewel historian. But more than that, he’s brilliantly talented, seems to have an encyclopedic knowledge of his subject, a never-ending source of anecdotes, and a great sense of humour. He trained as a traditional antique jeweller but subsequently got a job with the art jeweller and goldsmith Elizabeth Gage. Yes, she’s a relative of the present Lord Gage.
And Andrew can certainly hold a room. “Tiaras are lots of fun but they’re also ridiculous. They are there to make you look better and feel great, after all, discrete jewellery…well what’s the point?” he asks before he cantered off, jumping from Ancient Greeks and pagans, to the Van Dyke in the hall at Firle Place and an anecdote about working on Downton Abbey. He’s addictive to listen to and as luck would have it, he’s giving a series of talks that go with the exhibition including:
Thursday 29th September, 2.00 pm – The Glamour Years
With increased leisure time, advertisers were persuading us to enjoy ourselves and indulge in the finer things in life. The ultimate glamorous lifestyle was portrayed on the silver screen, but how did the likes of Marlene Dietrich and Grace Kelly influence the great designers?
Tickets: £35 pp to include tea/coffee
Thursday 20th October, 2.00 pm – Royal Jewels and the American Heiress:
Following the turbulent political period between 1870 and 1929, and the collapse of the Russian and European monarchies, many glorious art and jewel collections were looted or sold. But as the great families of Russia and Europe foundered, the power and wealth of America soared. Its new millionaires were intent on creating palaces of their own. These fabulously wealthy heiresses married into the British aristocracy, bringing many of their newly acquired treasures with them.
Tickets: £35 pp to include tea/coffee
It’s always lovely to get a chance to visit the great houses of Sussex past (and present) but it’s an added pleasure to include a little bit of frippery and sparkle. The exhibition runs until the 25th October 2022, tickets are £14.00 (Concessions are £13.50 and children (5-15 years) £7.00. And you can book here: Firle Place, East Sussex