The Park and Manor of Bignor were held from at least the mid-fourteenth century by the Earls of Arundel. Originally used as grounds to fatten deer, Bignor Park was bought in 1584 by Richard Pellatt of Steyning, who built the first house on the site, the only surviving relics of which are two finials at the west end of the walled garden. The property descended through his family until sold in 1712 to Nicholas Turner. Charlotte Turner Smith (1749-1806), prominent poet and novelist, spent her childhood at Bignor Park and it became the inspiration for many of her poems (see separate section).
At the start of the 19th Century the Cornish tin miner John Hawkins bought the estate as an addition to his main property at Trewithen in Cornwall. He built the present house in 1826-9, employing the Belgravia architect Henry Harrison, and laid out the surrounding parkland according to a plan devised by renowned landscape designer and artist William Sawrey Gilpin. Hawkins had earlier taken the grand tour, but travelled further east than usual since Napoleon was occupying much of central Europe. Hawkins and his cousin Sibthorpe toured all the Greek islands in a rowing boat and wrote the definitive work on Greek Island Flora. It could have been his encounter with antiquities there that encouraged Hawkins to take such an active part in the excavation of the Bignor Roman Villa, half a mile away and currently celebrating its bicentenary (www.bignorromanvilla.co.uk).
Bignor Park has been with the Bigham family since 1926, when it was bought by Charles Bigham, second Viscount Mersey (the first Viscount Mersey was the judge at the inquiries into the sinking of RMS Titanic and RMS Lusitania). The second Viscount was an author, traveller and collector. His son Edward, third Viscount Mersey, moved to Bignor with his family in 1959 and his wife Katherine, Baroness Nairne, renovated the house and garden.
The great storm of 1987 blew down forty trees in the shrubbery, leaving it exposed and bare. In 1992 Richard, fourth Viscount Mersey, built a temple there to commemorate his mother Kitty's 80th birthday, a homage also to her ancestor Maud Lansdowne, Lady Nairne, friend of Sir Walter Scott and author of Jacobite ballads such as Charlie is me darlin, Caller Herrin’ and Will ye no come back again. Richard and his wife Joanna moved into the house the same year, and Joanna redesigned certain aspects of the garden, including the creation of the Zen Pond.
Richard died in 2006 and their son Ned has now taken over the running of the estate, moving down with his family in 2010. As well as the restoration of the Stables, Ned has overseen the extensive repair of garden walls, haha, house and parkland fencing. With assistance from Natural England and advice from the South Downs National Park Authority and the Sussex Wildlife Trust, Ned has undertaken a parkland restoration plan put together by Dr Philip Masters of ACTA, following the original 1820s scheme of William Sawrey Gilpin. Bignor Park was recently awarded the Woodpecker Trophy for Conservation at the South of England Show.
For more detail please see History section.
Bignor Park is best viewed
on portrait mode.
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