The front lawn of the once magnificent Cowdray House in Midhurst, Sussex, lies waterlogged on Christmas Eve 2012. As the sun begins to set, rain clouds are once again gathering to further soak the ancient ruins.
A brief history of Cowdray House
The original house was a fortified manor built between 1273 and 1284. The later and much larger house was constructed by Sir David Owen in the 1520's. The name Cowdray came from the original manor house, which was named after a local hazel wood Coudreye.
The significance of Cowdray House in its prime is accentuated by the fact that Henry VIII, Edward VI and Queen Elizabeth I all visited the house at least once during their reigns. For over 200 years the house flourished and brushed up against several historic events. The last of the Plantagenets, Lady Margaret Pole was imprisoned there until she was taken to the Tower of London and later executed. Guy Fawkes was briefly employed as a footman at Cowdray, the Parliamentarians sequestered the house during the English Civil War and Capability Brown redesign the gardens
in the late 1790's.
The grand history of
Cowdray House came to an end on 24th September 1793 when during restoration work, a fire started in the carpenters workshop. The fire quickly spread throughout the house destroying nearly all of the houses collections. Cowdray House fell into decay through the 19th century until 1908 when the estate was purchased by Sir Weetman Dickinson Pearson. Later becoming the 1st Viscount of Cowdray he had the ruins fully surveyed and began restoration of the site. In 2007 following a major restoration project the ruins were opened to the public.
Cowdray and the River Rother
Cowdray House lies adjacent to the flood plain of the nearby River Rother which meanders between the house grounds and the English market town of Midhurst. Most of the year the Rother collects rain and spring water from the surrounding chalk downland
. Running cool and clear the river makes a picture perfect 'olde' English country scene.
Occasionally, during periods of heavy rain, the scene changes. Fast running water washes sand and mud from the heavily farmed fields into the myriad of streams and ditches that make up the Rother watershed. The silt quickly clogs the smaller waterways and drains creating dramatic flooding events. In the late Summer and Autumn of 2012 unusually heavy and persistent storms broke the banks of the Rother, flooding fields and parts of Midhurst town, including the grounds of the Tudor Cowdray House.
By December the rains had subsided somewhat and we were lucky to get a few days of sunshine during our visit. Despite the conditions underfoot the walk along the causeway from the Midhurst main road to the ruins was worth it. The late evening sunshine mixed with blue skies and the gathering rain clouds created a wonderful scene of light and colors. The image is a three exposure HDR image taken with my trusty Pentax K-r.
Standing in front of Cowdray House, which once rivaled the greatest houses of England, and was visited by King Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth I, it is easy to get lost in the rich bricks-and-mortar history of Midhurst town. But as this scene aptly illustrates, once in a while the River Rother reminds the locals that there are older, more permanent characters in the making of a town than people, buildings and ostentatious wealth.