Historic records and architectural histories: Sussex Sales Particulars

By Tim Hudson (guest blogger)

What types of historic documents do architectural historians use? Continuing with our guest written series, the once Editor of the Sussex Victoria County History and co author of the updated Pevsner guide to West Sussex, Tim Hudson, will be exploring the types of records used when researching built heritage. Each blog, Tim will look at a significant West Sussex building through a variety of historic documents available at the Record Office.

Today we look at Sales Particulars.

Little Thakeham: south front from the air, 1986 (SP 1559). Copyright Knight Frank.

Nowadays when buying a house or other property one might look first online for possibilities and offers.  In the past, printed sale particulars would be your guide.  These began to appear in the C18, either as advertisements in local or national newspapers, or else separately printed by agents or auctioneers. Sometimes they would be posted up at the property concerned. 

The West Sussex Record Office has a large collection, especially in the series SP, now numbering over 4,000 items.  With the passage of time particulars became more detailed and elaborate.  Illustrations and plans or maps began to appear in the C19, latterly in colour to further encourage potential buyers.

Little Thakeham, one of a group of middling-sized country houses designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens before the First World War (and described by him as ‘the best of the bunch’), has been for sale more than once since. Sale particulars of 1986 (SP 1559) comprise a glossy colour folder and a five-page A4 insert with descriptions of all the rooms in the house. The house is currently on the market again, but a purchaser today would need more than £5 million to make an offer.

Little Thakeham sale particulars, 1986 (SP 1559). Copyright Knight Frank.

Sale particulars at the time of the First World War could already be very lavish.  Those for the Peppers estate in Ashurst from 1914 (SP 364) run to 32 pages, including detailed accounts of farmhouses and other buildings on the estate of 1,094 acres as well as the timber-framed Peppers itself.  The latter is fully described and illustrated. 

Newbuildings Place, Shipley. Copyright Elizabeth Williamson.

The sale particulars for Newbuildings Place in Shipley from 1890 (SP 376) are on a less extravagant scale.  The illustrations, at this date when photography was prohibitively expensive, were in the form of engravings. Details in these older documents can’t always be trusted, as here a house of 1677 and later is optimistically labelled ‘Elizabethan’.

Newbuildings Place, Shipley, sale particulars, 1890 (SP 376).
Lavington Park sale particulars, 1892 (Mitford MS 1054).

When sale particulars of different dates survive for the same property the architectural historian can derive useful information about a building’s history.  The Record Office has two particulars for Lavington Park near Petworth, now Seaford College public school.  In this instance the documents are in a private collection, the records of the Mitford estate centred on Pitshill in Tillington.

The kernel of the house, replacing a C16 original of which part survives nearby in the grounds, was built in 1790-4 to the design of James Lewis, architect of what’s now the Imperial War Museum in London.  This is the house that was offered for sale in 1892, with an estate of nearly 2,000 acres (Mitford MS 1054). 

Having been bought by the whisky magnate James Buchanan, Lavington Park was greatly enlarged in the early C20 in two stages, first by the Arts and Crafts architect Detmar Blow and subsequently by his former assistant Owen Carey Little. The story is given, with a ground plan, in the account of the house in the newly published ‘Pevsner’ volume The Buildings of England: Sussex, West by Elizabeth Williamson, Tim Hudson and Jeremy Musson.

These additions are described, with illustrations, in the second particulars of 1937 (Mitford MS 1060). The purchaser on this occasion was Captain Euan Wallace, MP.  Since he was married to Lutyens’s daughter Barbara, it’s unsurprising that the present north entrance portico and lobby at the house were designed by the architect.  The building became a school in 1946, since when there have inevitably been yet further architectural changes at the site.

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