Despite a house having been in the family for over a hundred years, sometimes it can seem the most rational choice to sell. For the current Lord Cowdray, the idea that he might saddle his heir with what he considers a burden has led to his decision to put the impressive Cowdray Park House up for sale.
If you mention Cowdray often the first house which springs to mind are the atmospheric ruins which are all that are left of one of the grandest Tudor houses in the country. The fire in September 1793 destroyed not only a large part of the house but also many priceless and historically important artefacts including William the Conqueror’s sword and also the roll-call of those present at the Battle of Hastings. Just two weeks after the fire the 8th Viscount Montague drowned whilst swimming in the Rhine, forcing the title to a distant descendent of the the 2nd Viscount, who died childless, extinguishing the Viscountancy.
The tragedies continued – the 8th Viscount’s sister inherited but both her sons died whilst swimming off Bognor in 1815. The three daughters who then inherited in 1840 eventually decided to sell and it was bought by the 6th Earl of Egmont for £300,000. The current Cowdray Park House dates from 1878 when the 7th Earl, who had inherited the estate in 1874, massively enlarged the Keeper’s Lodge to create the house we see today. A large rambling, but very picturesque creation, it obviously has taken its cues from houses such a Knole and Penhurst with their varied rooflines and many courtyards. The grounds had been previously landscaped by Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown between 1768 and 1774 with the ornamental gardens laid out in the early 18th-century.
The house was bought in 1908 by Sir Weetman Pearson who was created Viscount Cowdray in 1917. Sir Weetman was a brilliant engineer who not only built the Blackwall Tunnel under the Thames but also had extensive oil interests in Mexico. The house then passed through the Pearson family with few changes until the 3rd Viscount, in pursuit of his passion for polo, created one of the premier polo grounds in the country within the 16,500-acre estate.
Yet being a titled aristocrat living in a 16-bedroomed, 44,000 sq ft house in the middle of a fine estate proved to not be what the current Viscount hoped for after he inherited in 1995. In May 2009 it was announced that he and his wife and son were to move out of the main house and into a smaller house on the estate, Fernhurst, where they had lived before inheriting. The 2009 plan involved finding someone to take a long lease and create a hotel and spa in the house but the wider economic circumstances have forced this plan to be abandoned. Unwilling to continue managing such a large house, with all the attendant issues with staffing and maintenance, the Viscount has decided to sell, putting it on the market, with 110-acres, for £25m, whilst retaining the rest of the estate including the world-famous polo grounds. Renting the house out, he says, would just be delaying the decision.
Speaking to the Sunday Times in 2009 when he announced his plans, Viscount Cowdray admitted that “I’m not the sort of person who feels hugely attached to things, and it’s a big house.” and later speaking to the Observer that same year he said “I have worried whether I will be leaving Perry a wonderful asset or a noose around his neck. I fear it is likely to be the latter,”.
Whilst the arguments put by the Viscount seem rational it does seem a shame to divorce the house from the estate. The Cowdray estate has long adapted to changing circumstances but to dismember it seems to be a short-term solution which his son may, with hindsight, regret when he comes to take over, as it leaves one of the most significant estates in Sussex without a principal house.
*Update* Remarkably, Cowdray Park House is unlisted so any buyer has the opportunity to make any changes they wish – and I’m willing to bet they won’t be good. Knight Frank are touting this as a benefit but perhaps representations ought to be made to Chichester District Council to nominate it for listing using this form.
More details: ‘Cowdray Park House on sale for £25m‘ [Chichester Observer]
Property details: ‘Cowdray Park House, West Sussex‘ [Knight Frank]