Every house has its stories to tell and Uppark has more than a few with which to entertain its visitors. It has been home to political schemers, enthusiastic collectors and a rakish party animal, and has been visited by royal princes and future novelists. Whichever story most fires your imagination, however, it is a real fire that overrides all of Uppark’s previous history, namely the fire of 1989 that destroyed so much of the house and led to an amazing restoration project.
As someone who lives within ten miles of Clandon Park – itself destroyed in a blaze last year – it was really interesting to see what has been achieved at Uppark and how successful its restoration has been. In each room at Uppark, there is a photograph of what it looked like immediately after the fire and you can hardly believe the difference today. A non-expert eye like mine simply sees a house in all its 18th century glory. It really doesn’t matter that a lot of what is there has been reproduced from photo archives and fragments of original material; the effect on the viewer is much the same as if nothing had been altered for the past 250 years (see right). I just hope that something similar can ultimately be achieved at Clandon.
If you are interested in this aspect of Uppark’s history, I would recommend the larger of the two guidebooks that are currently available. This larger and older book is almost 100 pages long and I sometimes label these as TMI (too much information) guidebooks. In this instance, however, the guide really does include quite a bit of detail about what was lost, what was recovered and what was replaced after the fire and I was quite pleased I plumped for the wordier and more informative version.
A 40-minute video about the fire and the restoration project is also shown on a loop in a building adjoining the café. Instead of watching all of this, however, I opted to join a 30-minute Taster Tour, which included a few insights into the fire as well as information about the history of the house and the Fetherstonhaugh family. As usual, it was a useful introduction before taking a closer look at the house later on and visiting the extra rooms that weren’t included in the tour.
The fire is only the most recent of Uppark’s stories, however. Looking much further back in time, the house was built in around 1690 by the 3rd Baron Grey, later the first Earl of Tankerville. Although his story is not a big part of the Uppark visitor experience, he was certainly an interesting character, having been part of the failed Monmouth Rebellion and appearing to have escaped serious punishment only by testifying against his former friends. He then flourished under the reign of William and Mary, gaining his earldom and building the new house at Uppark.
After a couple more Tankerville generations, Uppark was bought by Sir Matthew Fetherstonhaugh in 1747. He made a few changes to the exterior and interior of the house, but his most important contribution was in amassing a large collection of art during his Grand Tour, purchasing many of the significant paintings and artefacts that still decorate Uppark’s rooms today. Among the more important and striking pictures are the numerous Pompeo Batoni portraits (eleven in total) and the Joseph Vernet landscapes.
Now, I had always thought that Fetherstonhaugh (or Featherstonhaugh) is one of those stupid English names that is pronounced totally differently from its spelling (in this case ‘Fanshawe’) but our guide used the more obvious pronunciation so it seems the Uppark clan was a more straightforward bunch than some of their namesakes. You might not think this when you look at the next owner of Uppark, however, as Sir Harry Fetherstonhaugh was quite a colourful character. In his mid-20s, he had a brief liaison with Emma Hart – the future wife of William Hamilton and mistress of Admiral Nelson – and there are stories of her dancing naked on the dining room table during a party at Uppark. After my visit to The Kymin, I read a biography of Nelson so I have already ‘met’ Emma Hamilton in those days, but I thought it was time to find out more about her early exploits, so I snapped up the biography on offer in the Uppark shop. Emma was only a brief fling for Sir Harry, however, and there were no doubt many other romances for him as he appeared to live a fairly decadent life and was a great friend of the Prince of Wales for many years. He didn’t marry until 1825, however, when he was over 70 years of age, and his choice of wife was Mary Ann Bullock, his 20-year-old dairy maid!
This union probably raised many eyebrows at the time but it seemed that Harry had made an excellent choice. Their marriage appears to have been a happy one, lasting 20 years until Sir Harry died, and Mary Ann continued to honour his memory after his death, keeping the house much as he would have liked it and preserving its contents. When she died, Uppark passed to her sister Frances, who took the name Fetherstonhaugh, and she too preserved Harry’s legacy and made sure that the house’s future was in safe hands. Having failed in tracking down distant relatives of Sir Harry to whom she could bequeath Uppark on her own death, she carefully selected friends that she felt would care for the house as she and her sister had done.
First Colonel Keith Turnour, son of the 4th Earl Winterton, took over at Uppark, followed by Admiral Sir Herbert Meade, son of the 4th Earl of Clanwilliam. Both also added the name Fetherstonhaugh to their own in honour of the previous owners, while Margaret Meade-Fetherstonhaugh, the wife of Herbert Meade, did a lot of her own restoration on the silk textiles at the house, thus making her own important contribution towards the preservation of the collection.
It was Herbert and his son Richard who passed Uppark on to the National Trust and some of the family still live in the house and on the estate to this day. Unfortunately, Richard’s offspring were all daughters and later took their husbands’ names so the Fetherstonhaugh name has finally died out, albeit several generations after it might have done. I was particularly intrigued, though, that the Fetherstonhaugh family motto translates as ‘I shall not wholly die’, and it seems that it was a name that proved particularly hard to kill off for many years.
Another story worth mentioning about Uppark is its association to HG Wells. He never actually lived in the house, but he did visit while his mother was housekeeper there in the late 19th century and he mentions the house in some of his writings, supposedly even using Uppark as inspiration for some of the locations in his novels. He also wrote about his memories of the doll’s house at Uppark and this can still be viewed by visitors today, centuries after it was brought to the house by Sarah Lethieullier on her marriage to Sir Matthew Fetherstonhaugh.
One last thing that has to be mentioned when talking about Uppark is the view. It is not called ‘Up Park’ for nothing and it sits at the top of a hill with views as far as the Solent. There is not a particularly large garden at Uppark and very little formal planting, but when the slopes of the South Downs are laid out before you in all their glory, you don’t really need anything more. And if you choose to soak up the views from the Orangery Café lawn over a cup of tea and slice of cake, feel free to leave a few crumbs for the local birdlife. They won’t turn it down!
Highlights: The Saloon; the story of the restoration
Refreshments: Chicken & mushroom pie with potato wedges and vegetables, followed by a slice of Bakewell Sponge; tea and half a flapjack
Purchase(s): Guidebook; a pack of notelets; ‘England’s Mistress’ by Kate Williams (a biography of Emma Hamilton); ‘The Devil in the Marshalsea’ by Antonia Hodgson (secondhand book)
Companion(s): Mum, Dad, Jackie and Peter