Midhurst West Sussex GU29 9DJ
What makes Cowdray so fascinating are the ghosts of what’s no longer there, for this grand Tudor mansion, once one of the finest houses in the country, was burnt down in 1793 by a careless workman, destroying not only the building but also its priceless contents: splendid furniture, two hundred paintings by Raphael, Rubens, Van Dyke, Holbein and other great masters, and relics from the Norman Conquest which reputedly included the sword and coronation robe of William the Conqueror. As you wander around the site, you get a glimpse of the splendours that once were, from boards displaying poignant drawings made just before the fire by Samuel Grimm, a visiting Swiss artist. One area of the house that did survive was the Tudor kitchen (protected by the same thick walls that, ironically, were intended to prevent fires in the kitchen spreading to the rest of the house), and today you can still see the original spits and fans. Cowdray has an absolutely fascinating history, encompassing the Gunpowder plot (Guy Fawkes was butler here), and the famous “Curse of Cowdray” (which supposedly dispatched both the house and the eighth viscount) – you can hear some of the stories in a fifteen-minute film playing in the wine cellar.
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