Standen House September 2019

Standen House

"Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful." William Morris

For some of us this could amount to throwing the old man or the cat out, but this famous quotation certainly applies to Standen, an arts and crafts family home South of East Grinstead. This was the destination of our September outing and we enjoyed a day of looking at nature, beauty and "useful things" in abundance.

17 of us descended on the house and garden, owned now by the National Trust and originally built for the Beale family in the late 1800s. James Beale had made his money building the East Midland Railway and, with his wife Margaret and 7 children, lived in Kensington. He craved a country retreat and a cleaner way of life outside of the dirt and grime of London and discovered land with three farms for sale set in the hillside and overlooking the Weirwood Reservoir and Sussex countryside. He appointed arts and crafts architect Phillip Webb to create the perfect family home. The Arts and Crafts movement grew as a kickback against the ugliness surrounding the industrial revolution. Another strong advocate of this concept was William Morris who worked with Webb and designed and produced the furniture, fabrics and famous wallpapers based on nature still to be seen in the house. The family lived an idyllic life here for almost a century - a wonderful home and a perfect backdrop for creating childhood memories …

"It is the childlike part of us that produces works of the imagination. When we were children time passed so slow with us that we seemed to have time for everything." William Morris

- until the youngest, unmarried daughter died in the 1970s and the house was bequeathed to the NT.

Firstly, we had a tour of the garden with Pam, one of many gardening volunteers. The garden was designed with a geometrical layout - a mix of formal and natural styles. Volunteers were working on restoring the original farm track which divides the garden and leads to the ancient barn now restored and used as the restaurant. Pam had some fascinating sepia coloured photos to share with us of children in full Victorian dress in a landscape very different from how it is today. We met on "goose green", a recreation of a village green thoughtfully bedecked with deckchairs and set in front of the original medieval farmhouse. The long drive into the property is lined with sandstone - a rocky outcrop that passes through the countryside here. Many properties in E.G. have sandstone bases. We admired the lavender lawn, the south facing front terrace still traced with fading hot summer blooms, then the quarry garden - cool and green - , James' walkway lined with lime trees, the pond where the children swam, the croquet lawn, the rose garden, and finally the vegetable garden with ancient apple trees heavy with fruit and veg ready for the picking and pulling. Sadly, a 120-year-old apple tree had twisted and collapsed recently in those fierce august winds

"Wherever nature works - there will be beauty." William Morris.

sign about fallen tree
fallen apple tree
standen house

After lunch we had a tour of the house. John, another volunteer guide, gave us all the background history to the family and house which was designed using all local building materials and would have been state of the art in its day. Throughout the property we saw evidence of the arts and crafts ethos - decorative fixtures and fittings, all individually made, no mass production here, William de Morgan porcelain, electric lights with sunflower style sconces, and everywhere we looked - a William Morris wallpaper fest - "willow"; "pomegranate" "strawberry thief" and "trellis", some of the 50 different wallpapers he designed. Reception rooms, orangery, hallways, bedrooms all were festooned, even the hallway to the kitchen - all happily living together and bringing the outside in.

We thoroughly enjoyed our bit of culture in the countryside. It was so pleasant to wander around together, taking time to gaze and gossip.

"The true secret of happiness lies in taking a genuine interest in all the details of daily life.” William would have approved.