An intrepid 8 (reduced from 10 by illness) found our way to Stansted Park House, near Rowlands Castle, north of Chichester. My partner and I had been last year, to assess the property, but the other six had not visited, in fact they had probably not heard of it, despite various large events taking place there each year.

The house, of a moderate size, appears to be old, but is in fact only about 100 years old, having been rebuilt, largely as it had been, after a serious fire. Luckily, this had started near the top of the building, so most of the historic items had been successfully removed and retained, so are still present. The house had many owners and is now run by a Trust.

Having met at the Pavilion Tearooms (within the walled garden) for coffee, at 10.30 am we were given a private tour of the house by John, apparently almost 90 years old, who has been a volunteer at the house for 20 years. We were shown six ground floor rooms, each full of period furniture, many paintings including portraits of members of the Ponsonby family, and many objets d’art. We were now back at the entrance hall, and then went downstairs to the semi-subterranean below stairs area. Here we saw the Butler’s and footmen’s quarters, the crypt and wine cellar, the servants’ hall, the housekeeper’s quarters, the pantry, pastry room and old kitchen. These rooms were all furnished and accoutred as if they were still in use, and proved very interesting.

John then took us into the chapel of St Paul, whose design was based on Sainte Chapelle in Paris; it is beautifully decorated, with stained glass windows. Parts of this date back to the 15th century.

It now being lunchtime, the group again repaired to the tearooms and had a pleasant meal, most sitting outside. After that, some of our party returned to the house, now open to the public, to see the magnificent model railway layout of Rowlands Castle station in World War II, which took 25 years to build, by one man, and which is manned by volunteers every afternoon. We then explored the grounds, including the arboretum and the Dutch Garden. The light railway and the maze were closed, being only open in high season.

There is also a farm shop and a large garden centre, with a coffee shop, and selling far more than just plants and gardening equipment.

The cost of the tour was £12 per head, which included a guide book with map; the house manager would not take money for those unable to be present – very unusual, especially as we were such a small group! Being only about one hour from Winchester, this is a venue that must be recommended, especially as many U3A members have not been there before and there is a lot to see. Everyone enjoyed it, and we were made very welcome.


Elizabeth Thorn