Petworth House and Town

Explore antique shops and the rolling parkland and art collection at Petworth House.

Petworth House and Town

Petworth House and Town is a heavenly blend of English culture, history and shopping. Whether you are a fan of arts and antiques, country boutiques or like to wander and take it all in, Petworth is the perfect place to visit. 

This idyllic and historic market town, set in the rolling south downs, even has it’s very own country house. 

Petworth House has one of the most significant collections of 17th-century paintings, including portraits by Van Dyck, Rubens, and Rembrandt. Not only do they have original Turners, but the artist also stayed in the house and painted the grounds. We have included a stop at Petworth in our Great Gardens of the South Tour.

Historic town in the South Downs

A brief history of Petworth House and town

The Domesday Book
The famous historical document the Domesday Book (1066) records the existence of Petworth town. The Domesday Book is an infantry of the assets of the country and who owned them. A tool to plunder the resources of England to finance William Conquerors future military exploits. Anyway, Petworth is in said book, and records the population as being 44 people, woodland, fields for ploughing and a few pigs. 

The Town
The town became an official town in the 17th Century and has mostly flourished as a market town with a symbiotic relationship with Petworth House. It, unfortunately, lost its passenger railway station in 1955 and so it keeps its rural feel with cosy pubs, restaurants and many antique shops. 

World War Two attack
During World War Two Petworth was attacked by a single German Heinkel 111 bomber. Petworth House was the target, but the three bombs that dropped missed the house and one hit a tree bounced off and exploded in the boys' school. Twenty children lost their lives, along with two teachers and two adults. Every year there is a church service in remembrance. A minute silence is held, and flowers are laid on the mass grave at St Mary's Church. Some (not all) are buried here along with the then headmaster, Charles Stevenson.  

Today Petworth is a busy little town with around thirty antique shops and twenty places to eat and various other amenities. 

Petworth House
Petworth House (a National Trust Property) origins are 900 years old. The chapel survives from what was a fortified manor of some sort. The young heiress Elizabeth Percy was widowed twice by the age of 16 - this made her a desirable prospect financially for any suitor. Charles Seymour, the 6th Duke of Somerset, becomes her third husband, they are probably the wealthiest couple in England. 

The Duke wasn't going to be outdone by his rivals in England or Europe and set about building a palatial home to match his status. Inspired by the remodelling at Versailles, his determination and some say arrogance completed the house in 1702. The 6th Duke of Somerset was not surprisingly known as 'The Proud Duke'. 

Fashions changed rapidly, and only 50 years later, the formal 'French style' gardens stripped away to accommodate a refreshingly new idea. The romantic and picturesque landscape promoted, but not invented by Lancelot' Capability' Brown. That famous English landscaper is at it again, turning Britain into an enhanced version of biblical scenes with temples, trees, lakes and rolling hills. 

Petworth's golden age
The Petworth golden age occurred during the mid 18th Century when the 3rd Earl of Egremont inherited Petworth in 1763. He collected and was a patron of British art. JWM Turner (1775-1851) visited and painted Capability Brown's landscapes, many of which hang on Petworth House's walls. The famous English artist John Constable (1776-1837) was invited as a guest of the 3rd Earl of Egremont and called Petworth the 'house of art'. It certainly was and is packed with the best and most extensive collection of fine art in any National Trust Property. 

The interior of the house is a reminder that it was built to display taste, wealth and royal connections. The staterooms are not for everyday living, but for showing off, to put it mildly. There is a succession of rooms with high ceilings and densely hung paintings. 

Features of the House
The grand staircase is a spiralling work of art; the painted surface of the ceiling and walls depict the story of Prometheus and Pandora, painted by Louis Laguerre (1663-1721). 

Pandora's box
Prometheus's job was to create man from clay; he cherished his creation and wanted to give them a gift of protection, which was the ability to make fire. Zeus King of the Gods strictly forbade it. Fire is only for the gods, Zeus had spoken. Prometheus gave man fire anyway, against Zeus' wishes. As punishment, he was chained to a rock. This was not enough; the gods required further punishment. Therefore, Zeus created Pandora with attributes of beauty, kindness, generosity and curiousness. He gave her a box as a wedding gift, and told her never to open, which she did and released all the world's evils upon man. In the centre of the painted ceiling, you see Pandora opening the box.

It is a magical depiction, what was the 6th Duke trying to tell us?

Grinling Gibbons carving
Grinling Gibbons, the famous woodcarver, created the Carved Room. His limewood use enabled him to build three-dimensional festoons of fruit, foral and animal displays in wood. The room here at Petworth could be his best work. In this room, you will see Turner's paintings of the Petworth Deer park mounted strangely at a low level. The positioning is necessary when used as a dining room because the pictures would be at the perfect height. One direction you would see the painted versions of the grounds and then you would turn your head toward the windows and see the real version. 

The Gallery
The gallery is the crowning glory of Petworth House. The gallery is top-lit and packed with world-class sculpture and paintings. Artist included are Turner, Gainsborough, Reynolds, and Fuseli. The sculpture collection includes antique and neo-classical pieces; artist included here are Carew, Westmacott, Flaxman and Rossi.

England's Sparkling Wine Region
Petworth sits in the middle of England's burgeoning sparkling wine industry (England's Wine Country), why not include English Wine Tasting and lunch at a local vineyard.

Touring and accommodation
Please think about including Petworth on your next tour of England. We feature the town in our suggested Great Gardens of the South Tour - visiting the sublime gardens on the rolling sparkling wine region of England. Nearby is the fantastic gardens and stately home of Duke's of Norfolk, Arundel Castle, which is a highlight of touring the South Downs National Park.

If this is your first time to England, we would recommend a custom version of our Town and Country Tour; it covers the famous places and allows you to utilise your private driver-guide by getting-off-the-beaten-path. Our Classic tour of Ireland is a good place to start for the first trip to Ireland, and we suggest the Classic tour of Scotland for your first trip to the bonny Highlands. Merging Wales with England makes for a dynamic experience of mountains, stately homes and cosy country pubs.

We recommend South Lodge Hotel and Spa a luxury hotel and spa in Sussex, only a short hop from Brighton, Gatwick airport and Arundel CastleAmberley Castle is another outstanding hotel nestled in the hills and on the edge of the delightful village of the same name. There is a great local pub, and Arundel town is a five-minute drive.  There is a wide choice of accommodation in the around London. Manor House HotelsGuest Houses and Britain's Finest Hotels.

Town and Historic House as One

Enjoy the Antique Shops, Deer Park, the House of Art and Pub Lunch

  • Expert Antique Shopping Available
  • See the Sculpture Gallery
  • Turner Collections of Paintings
  • Walk the Deer Park and Gardens
  • Explore Petworth's Independent Shops
  • Sparkling Wine Tasting Available

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