Barnham Court is a magnificent Grade I-listed former merchant’s house, built in 1631 in the early English baroque artisan mannerist style. Set within almost seven acres of grounds, on the edge of the Arun district in West Sussex, it is close to the coast, Arundel and Chichester. The house is in the semi-rural village of Barnham and its conservation area and is entirely private, situated in the south of its exquisite gardens. The house has undergone an extensive and highly sensitive programme of restoration works in recent years and is now exceptionally well presented. Internal accommodation extends to over 8,000 sq ft, with five bedroom suites and a series of imposing and beautifully designed living spaces. Additionally, it has a charming guest cottage and an outdoor heated swimming pool.
Setting the Scene
From Church Lane, mature hornbeam hedges border the entrance to Barnham Court, and an elegant sweeping driveway leads to the front of the house. The exquisitely restored gardens surround the house, with yew and box topiary and formal lawns, relieved by meadow flower beds and the open fields beyond.
The main façade of the house is baroque yet relatively simple. Built from hard-red Sussex brick, laid in English Bond, the house has a wonderful sense of balance; Pevsner recorded the design as ‘more effective than many palaces’. Five bays wide and three storeys high, three Dutch gables lie at its apex. Two Doric and ten Ionic pilasters define the front, and there is a rusticated brick doorway with a set-in aedicule comprising a triglyph frieze and pediment; box sash windows are painted in custom ‘Barnham Grey’. The house is built on a double-pile plan with four very tall chimneys and twelve stacks. Lead hoppers and guttering are cleverly concealed behind the dentil cornice, and the house is crowned with a clay peg-tile roof. A series of additions were added in the early 19th century at the house’s southern range in a beautifully complementary design.
As part of the extensive works undertaken by the current owners, master craftsmen carefully removed much of the fabric of the building, including the windows, roof, and original floorboards, in order to restore the house’s original elements, including beams and joists, which were then replaced exactly to create a modern home. The restoration utterly respects the integrity of the original structure, with the highest quality treatment and materials. Additionally, a back-to-base burglar alarm, fire detector system and CCTV are fitted throughout. For more information, please see the History section.
The Grand Tour
Barnham Court’s main and primary entrance opens immediately to The Hall Room, a grand room spanning the entire width of the primary plan. Here, a beautiful quality of light streams in through the four tall box sash windows. Views of the formal gardens are particularly exceptional from this room, and panelling is replicated from the King’s ground floor library at Kew Palace. There are open fires at each end of the room. To the rear is the original handsome staircase, with the library and dining room on either side. The dining room features 17th-century style oak panelling and an exquisite, moulded plaster ceiling; Purbeck flagstones run underfoot. Glorious open fires feature both here and in the library opposite. Underfloor heating has been installed here and in all newer parts of the house.
Leading to the now-connected cook’s house (traditionally detached from the main house for safety), a comfortably cosy sitting room features original bread ovens and opens to the kitchen (previously the old dairy). Here, tall red-brick arches support the open-beamed pitch roof. Original marble worktops and open shelves have been ingeniously incorporated into the contemporary design. A separate larder with a glorious pediment has been fitted along one wall and behind concealed doors, while a double butler sink is set beside the window.
A glass-roofed hallway leads from here to The Tower Room, an anteroom of sorts encased in beautiful, mirrored glass. From here, a jib door leads to The Great Room, a capacious space that is arguably the most impressive at Barnham Court. At over 50ft long, with soaring ceilings, the roof’s pitch is punctuated with the graphic lines of blackened timbers. The incredibly elegant room has the architectural features of a barn, with a purity of design that is reminiscent of the Belgian masters of contemporary architecture. Light floods the room through a bank of French windows and from the beautiful, attached south and west-facing orangeries. There is heated brick-paved flooring underfoot.
Bedrooms are set on the first and second floors of the primary range, all arranged on a thoughtful and spacious plan, each with its own generous bathroom. The first floor houses the principal bedrooms and bathrooms, with marble chimneypieces and bathrooms featuring Carrara marble, traditional brassware and roll-top baths; both have incredible views of the open fields beyond. A further bedroom is set on this floor, above the cook’s house. With its own staircase, access, and bathroom, it would make excellent private quarters for staff. The bedrooms at the apex of the house feature exceptional and original restored beams, and beautiful landscape windows are set into the gables. Each has its own spacious bathroom.
Separately, the house’s cellars are exceptionally well-designed and spacious. Accessed by descending a wooden staircase, discretely set behind a doorway in the main stairwell. From here, a brick-paved hallway leads to a series of rooms with excellent ceiling heights. The house also features a glass-covered open well in the sitting room, fed by a culvert running deep below the house.
The Great Outdoors
The restoration of the formal 17th-century structured gardens further enhances the beauty of Barnham Court. It draws a direct relationship to the architecture of the house, with both designs routed in the Anglo-Dutch style. Golden sand pathways lead through the lawns, Buxus hedging and topiary designs, to the immediate front and rear of the house, with wonderfully mature evergreen oak trees set above. A private pathway leads to the Norman Grade I-listed St Mary the Virgin church, discreetly hidden behind more trees and built from Sussex marble in the vernacular style.
Other areas of the gardens include the heated outdoor swimming pool, approached via rose and flower borders, lavender gardens, and an orchard. There is also a large pond, with a small island leading to a rife and a woodland beyond. A well-screened second drive runs south to north along the north-eastern boundary hedge, giving access to a discreet secondary visitor’s parking area. The gardens are exceptionally secluded and border farmland and vineries, with horses grazing in the distance.
Exterior buildings and accommodation include the flint-built guest cottage, which recently has also been renovated. It features a beautifully designed kitchen area and a bathroom that looks out to the pool through a glass aperture. A bank of external glass pocket doors open to a sunny terrace; there is ample seating space to enjoy alfresco drinks in warmer months.
Recent additions to the grounds are a large, detached garage with a second upper floor in the roof’s pitch and a gardener’s cottage built to the side. Connected by an outdoor terrace, both have built-in connections to all utilities. Built from weatherboard with pitched clay peg-tile roofs, the buildings are a direct nod to the local agricultural vernacular. Subject to the relevant planning permissions being granted, these have been designed with the foresight to potentially convert them into one larger residential unit, with a glass structure to be built on the connecting terrace, linking both structures.
Out and About
The village of Barnham has several local shops, including a good baker, an excellent butcher, and a supermarket. Just a 10-minute drive east, Arundel has further provisors, including the popular Edgecumbe’s for coffee and tea. There is also a farmer’s market on the third Saturday of every month. Slightly further away and only a 15-minute drive to the west is Chichester, which has an extensive range of shops, cafes, and restaurants, including a branch of Waitrose. The Pallant House Gallery in Chichester is also very much worth visiting when in town and has an excellent programme of shows throughout the year, as does the brilliant annual Chichester Festival, curated by Chichester Theatre.
Further local attractions include Petworth, and its art galleries, antique shops and the National Trust’s Petworth House and Gardens. The Goodwood Estate is within easy reach for golf, motor racing and its brilliant central clubhouse, The Kennels, which offers fine and informal dining, spas and wellness centres, and a programme of inspiring cultural events throughout the year. Its farm shop has a great selection of fresh organic meat and dairy produce, which is supplied in several farm shops in the wider area.
The South Downs offer countless walking and hiking routes with excellent views. Local beaches are just three miles away, including the favoured Climping beach, for swimming in warmer months.
There is an excellent choice of independent day schools locally, many offering private bus transportation. Of note is the Prebendal School in Chichester, which offers co-ed preparatory education from the ages of three to 13. Great Ballard School, also in Chichester, offers co-ed schooling from ages three through to 16. Additionally, Slindon College in Arundel caters for boys from eight to 18.
Transport links are excellent, with Barnham train station just a 10-minute walk from Barnham Court, and thrice-hourly direct journey times to London Victoria taking just under 80 minutes. Gatwick International is a one-hour drive away, and there is also easy access to the South Coast and Dover for connections to France and mainland Europe by car.
Council Tax Band: E
Barnham Court was built in the early 17th century, during the first years of the Caroline era, when Charles I was on the throne. Built for the Shelley family of Michelgrove, near Worthing, it is understood to have been constructed on earlier footings of a monastic Chapter House and, later, a 13th-century house called Barnham Manor. Grade I-listed, Barnham Court is the only non-ecclesiastical building with this classification in the district other than Arundel Castle.
Built in the artisan mannerist style, this was a development of Jacobean architecture led by a group of primarily London-based craftsmen active in their guilds. The architect’s name is usually uncertain in these designs (as often the contractor played a large part); however, the house has many features similar to Kew Palace, particularly its main elevation and Dutch gables. Pevsner recorded that it was ‘so similar to Kew Palace that the same designer must surely have been responsible’ and that ‘[they] achieved an effect of all-over magnificence combined with precision and elegance in the details’. In the 19th century, the original house was extended with servants’ quarters added to the earlier 17th-century service wing.
Additional links tie classical architect Inigo Jones and Barnham Court. Jones, who is considered almost solely responsible for bringing Palladianism to England, was a close friend and frequent guest of the Earl of Arundel at nearby Arundel Castle. The classical detailing in Barnham Court, including pilasters and entranceway pediment, suggest that Jones could well have been involved in the design, at least in an advisory capacity, due to his close connections in the area. Jones fell out of favour in court when Charles I was executed, and the English Baroque style then rose to be the style of the day, with the relative modesty of Inigo’s designs losing prominence.