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1913: The beauty of Staplefield Grange

Country Life May 17 1913

Staplefield Grange c 1915

Staplefield is an outlier of Cuckfield Parish in Sussex, and still has some air of that rural remoteness that at one time characterised this county of great woods and wide downs, of steep banks, deep hollows and miry roads. Nowadays it is too fashionable not to have had its choice districts bespattered with villas. But only a few dwellings rise here and there on the edge of Staplefield Common, and they are mostly of old date. That is especially true of the house known as “The Grange”, which Mr and Mrs Percy Macquoid have recently made a little country home. It were fortunate indeed had their possession of it dated from rather earlier, for 20 years or more ago it suffered a terrible vicissitude of a tasteless ‘restoration’. The illustration of a portion of its south side shows to the left how Picturesque are building it must've been, well to the right, we see too well that though he has modified, Mr Macquoid has been unable to entirely obliterate the vandal hand of Victorian times. 

The entrance front of Staplefield Grange

The old stone tiled roof on the left covers a building still essentially retaining its mediaeval construction. The principals consist of oak trees set into the ground roughly squared with adze, and where needed, arching over into the roof. Into these, and of equally rough and ready finish, were set beams, rafters, quartering, and the resultant, primitive as it was, has proved of such solidity as to defy the ravages of time and of man. What of this was hidden away behind a tawdry covering of paper, plaster and match board has now been brought to light, and gives a convincing touch of ancientcy to the house. This part cannot surely date later than the 15th century, although a little utilitarian building in an out-of-the-way corner would long continue to be built on traditional lines.

In the garden: pool and statue

In origin it seems to have been industrial, and in no county better than in Sussex can the history of local industries be studied from the traces that yet remain. Of its industries, from mediaeval to Stuart times by far the most important were the iron foundries and forges; but the same fast tracks of oak woods that had supplied fuel for the extraction of the ore produced bark for tanneries, and the old building at the edge of Staplefield common is reputed to have been for long the dwelling and yard of a family of tanners. Before the 18th century closed, however, tanning gave way to parchment making, while the 19th century, so fatal to small works, saw before its close the conversion of the buildings into as commonplace a little country house as the old form and substance permitted. It was therefore on a good thing spoiled that Mr and Mrs Macquoid had to set to work. To entirely efface what their predecessors had done outside was somewhat beyond the scope of their proposed scheme, but the most showy and offensive of the added features were removed, and everything was done to give prominence to what was left of the old, such as the 16th century carved oak bargeboard of the tall gable above the porch. The chief attraction had been not so much the house itself as the garden possibilities of a varied and well timbered south slope of fertile soil, and in this department Mr and Mrs Macquoid have given full reign to both their knowledge and their activity.

In the drawing room

The house is set close to the western boundary of its land, and here the public road runs. Thence a short carriageway led up to the south porch. But as this detracted from the charm and privacy of the south terrace and garden, a new entrance has been contrived on the north side, so that what was still, at the time when the photograph here reproduced was taken, a gravelled carriage turn is now a stone paved and flowery parterre. From it four steps rise to a broad extent of flagging lying in front of the house, and edged by a stone balustrade, on whose piers stand delightful French statuary groups of children. There is abundant room on the white flagged stretch, not merely for tubs of tall, clipped bays and of hydrangeas forming perfect thickets of pink bloom, but also for tables and chairs for open-air meals, and indeed, for the general enjoyment of an outdoor life in this little paradise. Little the paradise certainly is, and yet so carefully planned that without any overcrowding the visitor passes from one garden section to another, all delightfully varied in aspect and in purpose. The most important is that which lies someway to the east of the house, and is divided off from a well-timbered meadow by a lofty wall. This is composed of a local stock brick of rough texture and violet brown hue, the coping being a replica of the excellent old model at Denham in Buckinghamshire. The central section of the wall curves outwards between ball talk to peers, and flanking a central seat to stone Fountain basins of the Adam period are built-in. The paved way that leads into this garden section and up to the seat is broken in its course by an oblong lily pool, into which a well modelled bronze figure of French origin pours water from a vessel she holds in her hands. She faces north, looking up a steep flight of steps onto a terrace where stands a very architectural wooden building, which, like the fountain basins, belongs to the time of Robert Adam. It would have been originally intended for a little orangery or vinery, and was erected as an adjunct to a late 18th century Twickenham villa, known as Lebanon House. It recently suffered from fire after which all remaining material was sold off, and Mr Macquoid has known full well how to use and place his prize. It forms an enticing garden room, much used both for work and for leisure, as the outlook over the garden onto the Sussex landscape beyond gives constant and varying pleasure.

The dining room

The same taste that prevails in the gardens reigns also within the house. The author of “A History of English Furniture” is naturally an expert in surrounding himself with right objects, rightly placed. The small size, the low rooms, the simple character, the rough structural oak work of the house called for treatment on quiet lines yet did not prevent all materials and objects being excellent of their kind. This we find in the dining room, where the rough-hewn oak beam and rafter ceiling is not out of place with the 17th-century gate-leg table and chairs, with the arras of green damask hung in folds on the wall, with the Flemish shutters of late Gothic time set above the chimney arch, or with the little linen panel credence in the corner cleverly contrived as a service hatchway from the kitchen department. Although the floor is rich in pattern and colour it is quite harmonious with its surroundings, for it is of the rough hand-painted earthenware tiles now made in south Italy, true to the traditions of ancient majolica wear. From the dining room across the hall whence springs an Early Georgian staircase, we enter the main parlour, formed out of two rooms, and treated quietly indeed, but with a certain restrained sumptuousness.

Hall and staircase

The walls are lined with panelling in the William the third manner, made of unpolished walnut. The beam across the aperture is supported by old marble columns. English furniture, mainly of the walnut period, and every piece in most choice condition, is associated with Persian carpets, Oriental China and a delightful candelabrum, which though the framework and some of the material of old wall-lights have been used, is largely composed of an abundance of old crystals and amethyst gradually collected by Mr and Mrs Macquoid who have with their own hands created this delightful decorative objects. Much time may be spent in enjoying, and many words in describing, the various rooms of a house where every corner is a resultant of effective thought and every object or piece of furniture strikes the right note.

The garden house

For though many of the latter may be rough and simple, for all are as thoroughly apt to their use and place as the gems in the drawing room. Here, as the illustrations show, there are chairs and settees, of which the untouched Queen Anne frames are a mere setting to the beautiful and contemporary old petite point and other needlework that cover them. That on the settee is particularly noticeable. Both frame and needlework originated in about 1720, although their conjunction is recent. Nor would one wish to see a better and more untouched example of the lacquer work that became so fashionable under William III than the fine cabinet on chest of drawers stand dating from about 1700. The tall walnut cane-seated chair belongs to the latest phase of the style that was introduced at the Restoration. The straight leg of that time has given way to the cabriole form and although the wide carved front stretcher (here taking the form of griffin heads holding a ribbon), and also the simple turned ones at the sides and backs are retained, they are in connection with the horizontal curved type centring in a turned vase which was obtained under William III. We may, therefore, set this chair down as having been made just when his father-in-law terminated his reign but his flight in the year 1688 closed. With all its wealth of curios, Staplefield Grange is not a museum but a home, adapted to the satisfaction of all the senses, and where what is delightful in the past is not made to exclude such desirable modern contrivances as bathrooms and electric light.



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