Uppark in West Sussex
Last summer I finally visited Uppark –– a place with a grand story to tell that had been on my list for years after reading words like these:
In 1941, architectural historian Christopher Hussey said that the Meade-Fetherstonhaugh family’s ancestral home had an atmosphere, “as delicate and fragrant as the bloom on a grape…. It is the kind of house where you feel that you might look through the window into the life of another age’… its romantic history was suggested and enhanced by the fading and aging of ‘silks and paint impregnated with light streaming in through two score great windows for so long.” It was believed that the “untouched perfection of Uppark” had been like “the bower of Sleeping Beauty for a hundred and twenty years.” It was a great gift from generations of Fetherstonhaugh spinsters and widows who felt they had family tradition and history to uphold and cherish –– the Saloon and Dining Room hadn’t been redecorated since 1815.
photo from West Dean Conservation
Yet what should have been a total loss was not. I read all about it in a 1997 book that told the dramatic story of why and how the miracle occurred.
Uppark Restored by Christopher Rowell and John Martin Robinson is a favorite book of mine. I’d say it’s a must-have for any designer, architect or old house enthusiast. It sings the praises of the heroic artisans who turned disaster into triumph –– what was learned at Uppark has changed the way restorations are done. On the way, dozens of people learned skills that hadn’t been practiced in nearly two hundred years, new companies were formed and restoration studios created.
Thankfully, though the devastation was overwhelming, on the day of the fire some didn't give up hope –– they acted.
While the flames blazed through the house, The National Trust mustered an army of conservators and staff who, with the Meade-Fetherstonhaugh family and courageous firemen, hauled out nearly all the furniture and art from the main floor. Carpets were rolled up, tapestries tugged down, even wallpaper was stripped from the walls.
Unfortunately, the family’s private rooms on the upper floors and virtually everything in them was completely incinerated but the walls of Uppark withstood the blaze –– even a good deal of paneling and woodwork was spared. The house acted like a chimney.
Geoffrey Preston Photo © NTPL/Paul O’Connor
When the fire was finally out a few days later, Peter Pearce, the man in charge of the restoration (and now head of the amazing Edward James Foundation) remembered, “the house was four feet deep in wet ash and rubble. (It was open to the sky from every ground floor room.) It was gridded in the manner of an archaeological site to record where each cubic metre of ash came from which was then stored in 4000 plastic dustbins, later reused at Windsor Castle, to be put through a giant riddling machine developed by the Ministry of Defense to sift out bomb fragments.” The pieces were organized and then redeployed where possible to their original position to be incorporated into the new work.
Photo from Clivedon Conservation
Master craftsman from Clivedon Conservation and artists like Geoffrey Preston did freehand plastering using lime plaster strengthened with hair –– a technique that hadn’t been used in more than a century (today, virtually all work is done with molds using gypsum plaster that dries too quickly for freehand work). A brilliant mix of craftsmanship, science and scholarship created the finished product. The great West Dean Conservation masters played a part too (love, love their blog – a record of what they get up to).
Because of these techniques, the new stucco ceiling is a masterpiece of old and new, seamlessly joined
Red Drawing room ceiling, detail, NTPL
The red drawing room, NTPL
The red drawing room, NTPL
The Saloon NTPL
The Print room was spared disaster because the prints had been removed for conservation. The prints were returned once the house restoration was completed
The Print Room, NTPL
The Print Room, detail, NTPL
The result is nothing short of a miracle.
Brotheridge Chandeliers, the Red Drawing Room Chandelier
There were also master carvers who replaced what the fire had taken
You can see the new carving against the burned wood
Carpets and draperies were also masterfully repaired so that they still have the patina of age and don’t look new, in keeping with the spirit of the house that Hussey had described so well in 1941.
The Prince Regent’s Bed, NTPL
The textiles for the Regent’s bed took over a year and the patience of a saint to redo but the result is remarkable and fit for the prince that often slept there, requesting for a 1796 visit, “ … my old Bed at Up Park.”
I can tell you the result is astonishing. The bloom was recreated.
Sir Harry Fetherstonhaugh, 1776
All of this would not have been possible if it weren’t for the loving ministrations of the Fetherstonhaugh family who had tended the house for over 200 years, acquiring it in 1747.
Possessed of a goodly fortune and great taste, The Prince of Wales actually consulted with Lord Fetherstonhaugh on matters of art and decoration. Perhaps the fine quality and rightness of the rooms was the recipe for immortality. Where other homes went through style changes, Uppark stayed true to the early 19th c vision for it –– at once elegant and warm.
The dining room NTPL
So, how did they eat during the golden age of Uppark?
It is no surprise that the house saw many wonderful parties when the Prince of Wales was a regular guest. Although the ladies of the house would often absent themselves for these male-centric sporting weekends, I discovered a list of food from Lady Fetherstonhaugh for one hundred guests in 1784 at the Jane Austen’s World site :
2 Bucks, a Welsh sheep, a doz. Ducks, – 4 Hams, dozens of pigeons, and Rabbits, Flitches of Bacon, Lobsters and Prawns; a Turtle of 120 lbs; 166 lbs. of Butter, 376 Eggs, 67 Chickens; 23 Pints of Cream, 30 lbs. of Coffee, 10 lbs. of Fine Tea; and three lbs. of common tea.
Photography is not allowed in the house without prior consent, but I had arranged an early visit through the National Trust and spent a bit of time shooting the just about perfect kitchen – I would be deliriously happy to call it my own (ok, a modern stove and a fridge might be a good idea –– tucked away in a corner).
When I tried to think of something to make for you that would suit the house, I had to go no further than Elizabeth Raffald’s The Experienced English Housekeeper from 1769. Every time I visit this book I find new wonders.
detail of dairy tiles
This time, since the dairy was an important element of Uppark's history (70 year old Lord Harry Fetherstonhaugh notoriously married the 18 year old dairymaid, Mary Ann Bullock after hearing her singing), I thought I would go with Raffald's splendid cheesecake, full of orange peel with a sherry orange sauce -- don't let the crumpet in the heading confuse you, its not a bread. It IS divinely decadent and deliciously boozy –– somewhere between a cheesecake and a dessert soufflé. I am one of those too much is never enough girls so I doubled down on orange and added a bit of Aftelier petitgrain orange essence (her blood orange would be lovely too). It adds a deep orange-ness to the mix.
Orange Crumpets (makes 6-8 individual cheesecakes)
2 c cream
2 c milk
1/2 tab of rennet or 1/2 t liquid rennet
2 orange's rinds (with as little pith as possible)
8 eggs, beaten
1/4 t nutmeg
juice of 1 lemon
1/4 - 1/3 c sugar to taste (remember the demerara and marmalade add sweetness)
1 or 2 drops Aftelier petitgrain (optional)
butter to grease molds
slices of orange (*cooked in sugar syrup for 20 minutes and baked at 225º for
1 hour or until dried)
1/3 c orange marmalade, warmed
1/4 c sherry
Demerara sugar for sprinkling
Warm the milk and cream to 100º, remove from the heat. Crush the rennet and add to 1 T non-clorinated water and add to the milk-cream mixture, stirring well. Cover and let sit for at least 1/2 an hour. The mixture should look like yogurt. Put a clean piece of muslin or many layers of cheese cloth into boiling water to scald and then squeeze dry. Put the cloth over a strainer over a bowl. Scoop the cheese gently into the cloth and allow to stand, covered over night.
Preheat oven to 325º
Take the rind and enough water to cover and cook for 20 minutes. Drain and do it again for another 20 minutes or until it is very tender. Strain and mash.
Take the eggs, nutmeg, salt lemon and sugar and petitgrain if you are using it and combine with the cheese.
Butter 6-8 molds (I used a large muffin tin about 1/2 c each - they don't rise very much). Put parchment in bottom and butter that as well. Pour in the mixture and bake for 20-25 minutes until firm. You can make them smaller (10-12 molds) but then only cook about 15 minutes.
Allow to cool and remove from mold. Pour the sherry over them and let sit a while -- they soak up the sherry. Plate and add orange slices and spoon marmalade over the top then sprinkle with sugar.
Those of you who read this blog know how much I love Aftelier essences like the petitgrain I use in the cheesecake. They spring from the wonderful and amazing Mandy Aftel. She has a book out and the critics are raving. Some great Lost Past Remembered recipes are inside.
I'm writing about the book next week because it's great and you will love it -- food and scent have had a fierce and abiding relationship since the beginning of time.
You can order it Here at Amazon: Fragrant: The Secret Life of Scent