One of the reasons for buying ‘Picturesque Sussex’ (see first installment on 19 Dec) was because it mentions West Grinstead in its grand tour of the county.
West Grinstead was where my Granny grew up and was married and where several generations of Mitchells before her had lived and died. Certainly at least three generations had been employed at West Grinstead Park: James Mitchell was some sort of ‘caretaker’ during the first half of the nineteenth century, Thomas Mitchell was woodman on the estate around 1860 – 1880, and my great grandfather William Mitchell was a ‘houseman’ from the 1880s onwards, one of whose duties was apparently to “raise and lower the flag”. In fact I have an old postcard of the house which says on the back “Dad standing on tower about to take flag down”.
West Grinstead Park House was unfortunately demolished in 1964, but the Park itself still exists, and Steyning Lodge, where my Granny lived, is still there.
‘Picturesque Sussex’ describes West Grinstead as “a large village surrounded by copses and meadow-land”. Apparently the Park was famous for ‘Pope’s Oak’ – a reference to Alexander Pope, a friend of one-time owner John Caryll. It is believed that he wrote ‘Rape of the Lock’ while staying at West Grinstead Park in 1712. However, the entry for West Grinstead in the Victoria County History claims that “there is no evidence that the incident which gave rise to the poem occurred at West Grinstead, nor that the poem was composed under the oak tree in West Grinstead park which was made the subject of a tree preservation order in 1951”.
The book also refers to the ruins of Knepp Castle, within the parish of Shipley, which can still be seen from the public footpath on the west side of the A24. It goes on to say that King John stayed there several times. ‘Picturesque Sussex’ then mentions the ‘new mansion’ (built around 1809) which suffered a ‘disastrous fire’ in 1904. What it does not mention, is that the house was rebuilt the following year. I know this from one of the old postcards in my possession that have been kept within the family. My 3 x great grandfather Francis Philoptt lived at Knepp Mill around 1861 – 1871 and would have known the ‘new mansion’ in its prime.
‘Picturesque Sussex’ is giving me new glimpses into notable features of the county just over a hundred years ago.