Cowdray, West Sussex

At Cowdray, the ruined Tudor mansion with ‘Capability’ Brown grounds is said to bear the scars of a monk’s curse

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The banks of the River Rother at Cowdray have been the site of a prestige home since 1284, though the current house dates back to the 1520s when Sir William Fitzwilliam bought the Cowdray Estate.

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Fitzwilliam set about rebuilding Cowdray in grand style using the very latest brick designs. At the dissolution of the monasteries shortly afterwards Fitzwilliam also acquired Easebourne Priory, less than a mile to the north and his half-brother and heir, Sir Anthony Browne, then grabbed Battle Abbey. Browne was cursed for his brutal methods by the last monk to leave, who declared. “Your family will perish by fire and water”.

Initially Browne prospered, with both Edward VI and Elizabeth visiting Cowdray, but his family could not escape the curse. In 1793 the house was burned down and the last Browne drowned in the Rhine, leaving no heir. In 1908 the estate came into the ownership of Sir Weetman Pearson, who gained the title of Viscount Cowdray. The Pearson family founded the Cowdray Trust 88 years later to restore the ruins and grounds, and to add a cafe and walled garden.

The vast grounds, landscaped by Capability Brown, are partly occupied by the polo club, though much remains as Brown intended. These grounds offer an enjoyable walk from Midhurst over the Rother, past the ruins and north to Easebourne. The church of Easebourne Priory is now the parish church and is open to the public. The prior’s house, cloisters and other structures are now private housing, though they can be viewed from the churchyard.

Don’t miss: the arms of King Henry VIII on the gatehouse, added in 1538 when Henry
visited Cowdray.

Rupert Matthews

Information

Cowdray Heritage Trust Visitor Centre, River Ground Stables, Cowdray Park, Midhurst, West Sussex GU29 9AL

www.cowdray.org.uk

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01730 810781