SM 60 – May 16
This is the last of my current series of ‘Sites of the Month’, and I have saved something very special to occupy this slot. It relates to a lovely garden that I would have included in my book, Rock Landscapes: The Pulham Legacy had it not been for the fact that, at the time of preparing for publication, this property was in the process of being sold, and I did not want to offend the potential new owners by including it without their knowledge or permission.
Browsing through the Pulham Garden Catalogue of c1920, I came across a couple of rather intriguing pictures. They are reproduced here in Fig 1, and the description beneath the first reads:
‘Formal Garden, Lily Pool, &c., “Homestall”, Sussex, for Lord Dewar’
Lord ‘Tommy’ Dewar lived at ‘Homestall’ – which is close to Ashurst Wood, near East Grinstead, in Sussex – around the turn of the 20th century. The old ‘Homestall’ house was then changed to ‘Dutton Homestall’, and later became occupied and run as a boarding school under the name of ‘Stoke Brunswick’. This was a good omen, since some of the other Pulham sites that I have visited – like Westonbirt, in Tetbury, Gloucestershire (see ‘Site of the Month’ #21 – February 2013), and Worth Park / Milton Mount, in Crawley, Sussex (see Chapter 15 in the book) – have also since been used as schools, and their gardens have all been comparatively well preserved. ‘Homestall’ is now in private hands again, and called ‘Homestall Manor’.
Fig 1 – The Formal Garden at ‘Homestall’, from the Pulham Garden Catalogue c1920 (Reproduced by permission of the RHS Picture Library)
When I first visited ‘Dutton Homestall’ –it was then the Stoke Brunswick School – in 2003, the gardens were still much the same as they always were. When I asked if there might still be any Pulhamite rockwork in the gardens, I was told that there was ‘some old rockwork tucked away in a far corner’, although no-one at the school was able to help me with any clues about its provenance, because the gardens were already there when they moved in. However, the sunken formal garden was easily identifiable from the old Catalogue photographs.
The house is now very much bigger than it used to be in its old ‘Homestall’ days – in fact, there is a very interesting story behind this. It seems that the valley used to be a favourite royal hunting ground of Edward III, whose son, John of Gaunt, is reputed to have built a hunting box here during the 14th century. Despite the many changes that have obviously taken place in the meantime, one of its original rooms – one that has always been known as the ‘John of Gaunt room’ – still survives. It has old oak floorboards; a great open fireplace; small, latticed Tudor windows, and stout oak beams of great antiquity that support the low plaster ceiling.
These details come from some unpublished typewritten notes compiled by an unnamed person – probably in a number of different stages during the 1940s and ‘50s – and the writer describes this room as follows:
‘Three of the walls (in the John of Gaunt room) are panelled in the style prevalent during the reign of Charles II. The fourth wall, however, is of great interest because it is one of the finest examples of the earliest known form of English wall panelling. This wall is composed of great boards in the style known as floorboard panelling, and on the panels crude paintings are still discernable. One upright painted beam continues through the ceiling to the room above. Most of the paintings are of Tudor roses, but on one panel there is a crude but highly coloured representation of the Royal Arms of the period of Henry VI or earlier.
‘This provides ample proof that the panelling was there during the life of John of Gaunt (1340-99). The arms are interesting. In the centre the motto ‘Honi soit qui maley pense’ surrounds the shield, which is quartered alternately with the three lions of England and the three fleur-de-lys of France. The lion is standing up on one side looking outwards, and, looking towards the lion from the other side stands a dragon. This dragon is yellow, and spotted with red; it is very crudely drawn, and has been given a long, bulbous nose! The most extraordinary thing about the crest is that it is all painted in reverse – the lion is on the wrong side; the quartering on the shield is reversed, and the motto is written backwards round the scroll.’
Various owners have changed the interior of the house, and it was at one time divided into two cottages. When Lord Dewar – the whisky magnate and racehorse owner – purchased the property in 1900, he restored it into one dwelling, and called it ‘Homestall’. Part of this work involved the careful removal of no less than sixteen layers of wallpaper from the oak panelling in the John of Gaunt room, and, by the time it was finished, there was nothing anywhere to mar its beauty, or to remove its connection with the early days when John of Gaunt is said to have lived there.
Fig 2 – ‘Homestall’ c1920 (Photo reproduced by kind permission of Mark Ellerton)
James Pulham’s patrons included a number of great ‘characters’, and Lord Dewar was obviously one of them. He and his brother, John, transformed their father’s local whisky supply business in Perth, Scotland, into one of the major suppliers to the world spirit trade – in fact, it was John who was the first merchant to realise the potential in selling whisky by the bottle to the general public, rather than in heavy wooden casks, only to licensed premises.
‘Tommy’ also gained himself a reputation as a wit and a showman. On one occasion, for example, he gained considerable publicity – possibly not universally favourable – by playing the bagpipes at the 1885 Brewers’ Show, and he is also noted in certain sources of quotations. The ‘Said What’ internet website tells us that he once proclaimed: ‘There are only two classes of pedestrians in these days of reckless motor traffic – the quick and the dead!’ And that was in the early 1900s!
At a formal dinner, he is reputed to have found himself seated next to a rather pompous lady who introduced herself as ‘Porter-Porter – with a hyphen!’ His response was immediate – ‘Delighted to meet you, Mrs Porter-Porter. My name is Dewar-Dewar – with a siphon!’
It is easy to imagine that Lord Dewar loved entertaining guests to his house at Homestall – in fact, one of his favourite guests used to be Sir Harry Lauder, the famous Scottish comedian. What times they must have had together!
After his death in 1931, Lord Dewar’s nephew, John, inherited ‘Homestall’. This was only a few months before his marriage to Kathleen O’Neill, who decided that, although the house may have been large enough for a bachelor to live in, it was far too small for a family home. She persuaded her husband to buy Dutton Hall, in Cheshire, and move it – brick by brick and piece by piece – to Sussex, to combine it with the existing house. This incredible task was meticulously completed, after which the house became known as ‘Dutton Homestall’.
Fig 3 – The Stoke Brunswick School, Dutton Homestall, as it was in 2003
Most of the house was turned over to the Red Cross for the convalescence of wounded RAF pilots and Army officers during the Second World War, while the Dewars retained the use of one wing. They finally moved away sometime during the late 1950s, and the property was purchased by the Brunswick School, which used to be known as ‘The Misses Thomson School’, of Brunswick Square, Hove, in Sussex, where the young Winston Churchill studied before moving on to Harrow. They were joined in 1965 by Stoke House School, which moved from its old home in Stoke Poges, Buckinghamshire, and the two schools amalgamated to become the Stoke Brunswick School – a Nursery, Pre-Preparatory and Preparatory School for both boys and girls – and so it remained until 2010.
The Pulham Garden Catalogue demonstrates that Lord Dewar also had his gardens extensively landscaped, and the anonymous chronicler upon whose research these notes are based has this to say about the way they looked c1950:
‘The rock garden is planted with flowers and shrubs of almost every known kind, brought from the corners of the earth. These are interspersed with rhododendron and syringa bushes, rare Japanese shrubs and a series of ponds full of water lilies, and bordered by tall irises. In one of the largest of these ponds, black Australian swans with scarlet beaks floated lazily on the waters before the (1939-45) war. There are evergreens and May trees; heather, moss and thyme.
‘The garden is beautiful at all times of the year, but perhaps it is at its best in spring, when the daffodils and primroses are out; or when the bluebells are in bloom, and the long grass which grows round the feet of the pines is flecked with blue. When the roses are in bloom, the Tudor rose garden is a blaze of colour, and the air stirred by the bees. In the ponds, goldfish swim, and turquoise blue dragonflies settle on the leaves of the water lilies. On a spring morning, the air is filled with the calls of many birds. On a summer night, there is a great croaking of frogs, and grating of crickets. At all seasons, there is the constant music of water rippling down from the springs to feed the ponds. Here in the garden there is peace and beauty.’
Fig 4 – Balustrade along top terrace
Fig 3 shows the entrance car park of the school as it was at the time of my visit in 2003, and the first thing one sees when walking through the gate at the side of the ‘Homestall’ wing is the fine balustraded terrace, shown here in Fig 4. The balustrading is simple, and quite similar to other examples that I have found during my travels in search of all things Pulham.
Fig 5 – The ‘Homestall’ house, terraces and formal garden today
Fig 6 – The steps to the Formal Garden and Summerhouse from the lower lawn
The steps lead down through the terrace levels to the formal pond garden, which lies at the bottom of the valley. Moving round to the other side of the lily pond, I was able to take the picture shown in Fig 5 – from below the level of the picture taken from the old Pulham Catalogue in Fig 1, and of that in the 1920s postcard shown in Fig 2. Fig 5 shows quite clearly just how little things have changed since the gardens were first laid out some 100 years ago – one small difference being that the original terracotta fountain in the small lily pond has since been replaced by an iron one These pictures also demonstrate how much I would have missed if I had not bothered to pursue this enquiry.
Fig 7 – Terraces and house viewed from the Summerhouse – part of the Dutton Hall extension can be seen beyond the original ‘Homestall Manor’
Fig 8 – Rustic stone terrace wall, with a small area of rockwork beyond.
Moving across to the right of the pond from where that picture was taken, I came to the set of rusticated steps, from the bottom of which one can look back, across the pond garden to the summerhouse – shown here in Fig 6 – which is still in remarkably good condition, considering that it is almost certainly the same one that is pictured in the second picture from Pulham’s Catalogue in Fig 1.
I then went across to the summerhouse to savour the view that many previous visitors must have enjoyed, and looked back across the pond garden, past the house, and down the valley. This view is shown in Fig 7, and will be different from that seen by Lord Dewar and the Pulhams, because, at that time, Dutton Hall – part of which can be seen beyond the ‘Homestall’ – had not yet been added
Fig 9 – Looking across the valley, past an artificial rustic well-head, filled-in streams and pool.
Moving back along the terraces, one enters the ‘informal’ part of the gardens through a low rustic stone wall (Fig 8), with a small area of rockwork beyond, and further along the valley floor there is an imitation well-head, beyond which used to be a small artificial lake, fed by streams running down the hillside from a cascade at the top – all designed and created by James 3. Fig 10 is taken from the Sale Catalogue of 1957, and looks back across the lake to the house.
It is just to the right of the well-head – on the slope of the valley opposite the house – that I discovered the ‘old rockery tucked away in a far corner of the garden’. It was small wonder that hardly anyone seemed to know of its existence, because, in 2003, it was completely overgrown, and not at all photogenic. The cascade and streams had become completely overgrown, and the lake had been reduced to the size of a small pond for the sake of the children’s safety.
Fig 10 – Looking back towards the house from the lake, taken from the Sale Catalogue of 1957
Fig 11 – The Pulhamite cascade uncovered by Harry Chesterton in 2011
Following the departure of the Stoke Brunswick School in 2010, Dutton Homestall returned to the hands of its former owners, the Gardner family, and one of the sons, Harry Chesterton, worked tirelessly to maintain the gardens, and try to restore them to their former glory. By the time of my return visit in 2011, he had uncovered the cascade – Fig 11 – and most of the streams that lead down to the lake at the bottom. In fact, the more he uncovered, the more determined he became – and what a transformation he had managed to achieve! One could now see the artificial rocks over which the water cascaded down the hillside into the streams and pools. One could also see why the lovely little ‘well’ was there. It contained the small pump that circulated the water around the cascade and pond – a charmingly quaint example of the care, imagination, and craftsmanship that James Pulham and Son put into all their projects.
 Unpublished research notes from a folder lent to me by the Headmaster of Stoke Brunswick School