2015 Programme


Our 2015 season comprised three single day visits to sites of historic and heritage interest:

Firle Place, Sussex and Sheffield Park Gardens in May;

St Albans in June;

Stowe Public School and Gardens, Buckinghamshire, in July.

Booking forms were circulated to members with the Spring issue of the Society’s newsletter.


Firle Place Visit

P1040866 (800x600)

Our first visit of the 2015 season was to Firle Place and Sheffield Park Gardens in Sussex on Thursday 21 May.

Firle Place, near Lewes, has been owned by the Gage family since the 15th century. The present house dates from the Tudor period, having been much altered in the 18th century to achieve its current appearance. Inside is an extensive collection of art, ceramics, furniture etc. The house was opened specially for us and two very knowledgeable guides showed us around. A delicious lunch followed.

P1040870 (800x600)

Lunch was followed by a guided tour of Sheffield Park Gardens, a National Trust property. The history of the estate can be traced back to the Saxon nobleman Godwin, whose son Harold Godwinson lost the estate to the Normans following his defeat at Hastings. A house, dating from Tudor times, was subsequently remodelled in the Gothic style and is now privately owned. The National Trust took over the gardens during the 1950s. The garden design dates originally from the 18th century, with a group of four lakes, connected by waterfalls. There was extensive planting of trees and shrubs during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Glorious weather meant that the gardens were displayed at their seasonal best.

Past Visits and Tours

The Journey by Fenwick Lawson

The Journey by Fenwick Lawson

In 2014 our members enjoyed a varied programme:

In June a day at Penshurst Place, near Tonbridge in Kent, proved popular.  The house guides had a wide-ranging knowledge of the Sidney family – in continuous occupation of Penshurst for more than 460 years since Edward VI granted the estate to Sir William Sidney, forebear of the 2nd Viscount de L’isle who now lives there with his family.

The Baron’s Hall (1341) is one of the best examples of medieval domestic architecture in the country, and the formal gardens are delightful.

In July members of the Society visited the new Mary Rose Museum and Portsmouth Historic Dockyard to see the hull of the Tudor ship, 30 years after she was raised in the Solent.   Currently viewed through the windows of an insulated area (a ‘hotbox’) as water is removed from the timbers after years of spraying with preservative, the hull will eventually be seen in an open museum environment.   A unique collection of 16th century artefacts are displayed in mirror-image context galleries running the length of the ship, and other themed galleries illustrate the working lives of the crew.

After timed entry to the museum, members were free to explore HMS Victory, HMS Warrior, the National Museum of the Royal Navy with a major exhibition new for 2014 on the centenary of World War I, and Action Stations, which brings to life the modern Royal Navy through interactive displays.


Since 2012 the Society has organised tours further afield –

to Rouen and Monet’s garden at Giverny in 2012,

With guide Richard Briggs Outside Rouen cathedral
With guide Richard Briggs outside Rouen cathedral


Rouen cathedral facade
Rouen cathedral façade
Farnham Society's members enjoying Monet's garden
Farnham Society’s members enjoying Monet’s garden
Monet's garden at Giverny
Monet’s garden at Giverny


and Northumberland in 2013.

The Journey by Fenwick Lawson
The Journey by Fenwick Lawson
At the foot of the Angel of the North
At the foot of the Angel of the North

In September it was a tour of the  Cotswolds. link


Tour of the Cotswolds

Rodmarton Manor

Rodmarton Manor

Cotswold tour, 18 – 20 September 2014

Last September a 40-strong party toured the Cotswolds, with two nights spent in Cheltenham (at a hotel next to GCHQ who no doubt kept a watchful eye and ear on us!) First stop was the Arts & Crafts gem of Rodmarton Manor, near Cirencester. Built in traditional Cotswold materials in the early 20th century for Claud and Margaret Biddulph, the family have lived there ever since. Furniture, internal fittings and wall hangings were hand-made specially for the house in true Arts and Crafts style. The gardens retain their original design, comprising a series of outdoor ‘rooms’.

rodmarton pipe feature
rodmarton lead pipe feature

Next day, on to beautiful Stanway House. The present building dates from the 16th century, but, prior to the dissolution of the monasteries, Stanway Manor had belonged to Tewkesbury Abbey since Saxon times. The Manor had several mills, and there is a mill on the site today, which has been restored recently and which we saw in operation. A 14th century tithe barn is evidence of the long history of the house. We were also treated to a display of the fountain in operation, this being the highest gravity fed fountain in the world.

Stanway House

  Our final destination was Upton House, near Banbury. Built in the late 17th century, the house was acquired by Lord Bearsted (of the Shell Oil dynasty) in the 1920s, and was remodelled to add some Art Deco features inside. The house contains a superb collection of fine art and porcelain, and was hosting a temporary exhibition on Shell and the art of advertising. Outside, the garden was redesigned under Lady Bearsted’s supervision , to recreate an 18th century garden. Beyond the formal lawn and a ha-ha, is an impressive series of terraces, invisible from the house, with extensive flower beds and a kitchen garden.

Farnham Society members outside the 14th century tithe barn  at Stanway House
Farnham Society members outside the 14th century tithe barn at Stanway House

A guided tour of Cotswold villages on the second day had brought J B Priestley’s words about Cotswold stone to life:  “The truth is that it has no colour that can be described. Even when the sun is obscured and the light is cold, these walls are still faintly warm and luminous, as if they knew the trick of keeping the lost sunlight of centuries glimmering about them”

Visit to Parham House, Sussex




Parham (pronounced “Parram”) is a delightful Elizabethan H-plan house, centred around a traditional Great Hall and with a spectacular Long Gallery.   Simon Jenkins, in his book England’s Thousand Best Houses rated it in the top twenty, and it was not difficult to see why as we enjoyed a guided tour of the house before it opened to the public for the day.

Set in a 17c deer park below the South Downs, the house has a fine collection of furniture and paintings (Lely, Romney, Gainsborough), and one of the most important collections of 17c embroidery in the country, with an unparalleled group of Stuart embroidered pictures and panels, together with covers for furniture, bed hangings of superb quality, horse furniture, samplers and many other items.   There are also representative examples of work from the 18c – 20c.


After lunch, either in the Big Kitchen displaying row upon row of copper utensils, or with a picnic in the grounds, we enjoyed the wonderful four-acre walled garden with its vast borders and parterres, an orchard, greenhouse, and a wendy house like no other, complete with fireplace and chimney.   Fresh flowers are cut for arrangements throughout the house and sometimes as many as thirty buckets of flowers and greenery are cut each week.

A little coda to our visit was in the barn where plants are sold – a swallow’s nest in the rafters with the female darting back and forth to feed her four chicks precariously perched on a beam, ignoring the constant stream of plant buyers.   Many of those were Society members and the storage bay of our coach for the journey home was testament to that!

A Parham ‘receipt’ from an 18th century Parham recipe book:

To cure the itch.    Take 2 pennyworth of white Lead, 2 penny worth of roach-allom, one nutmeg, half an Ounce of Flower of Brimstone, boyle all these in a quart of Cream, & dress your Self every night by a Fire going to bed.   Take flower of Brimstone 3 or 4 mornings before you anoint your Self.