Petworth House was for centuries the southern home for the Percy family, the Earls of Northumberland. In the 1680s it passed to Charles Seymour, 6th Duke of Somerset, who married Lady Elizabeth Percy, heiress to the estate. He rebuilt the house in 1688, and it is largely this building that we see today.
Like most great houses, the original manor house was built next to the parish church, and the village grew up nearby.
In due course, in most cases either the great house was rebuilt on a more remote site, or the village was swept away and the villagers moved elsewhere; at Petworth neither happened. You can walk from the town, through door and straight into the Servants' Quarters.
The house and deer park were given to the nation in 1947 by Edward Wyndham, 5th Baron Leconfield in lieu of Death Duties. They are now managed by the National Trust. For opening times, admission prices, etc. please see the Trust's official site.
I have to admit that, for me, the interior of the main house was a bit of a disappointment. If you are a lover of Old Masters then it is an absolute gold mine as Petworth is famous for the art collection started by George Wyndham, 3rd Earl of Egremont. It includes paintings by artists such as Van Dyck, Reynolds, Titian, Blake and Turner, together with a large number of classical and neoclassical sculptures.
If, however, like me you prefer to visit old houses to gain an insight into what it might have been like to live there, the almost total absence of domestic furniture leaves the place feeling about as lived in as a municipal art gallery.
Except that is the North Gallery which has an excuse. It was built in the 1870s solely to show off the art works and statuary. Not many people have a dedicated art gallery in their home.
The Servants' Quarters
In contrast to the house, it is far easier to imagine life in the Servants' Quarters.
Housed in a separate block, they were built in the mid-18th century and are connected to the main house by a tunnel. They are presented as they were in the early twentieth century.
I found it interesting that in the Kitchen, right next to a coal range of a design that had barely changed since the middle ages was an early electrical warming cupboard presaging things to come.
The Pleasure Grounds and the Park
Along with its art works, Petworth's other great treasure is its Park. This was completely transformed in the 1750s and early 60s by Lancelot 'Capability' Brown, and is considered to be one of his finest surviving works.
It covers a vast 283 hectares (700 acres) and has the largest fallow deer herd in England.
The Pleasure Grounds on the rising ground to the north of the house, are rather less spectacular. However, there are good views from the rotunda, which was added at the suggestion of Capability Brown.
Mainly noted for its trees, it is perhaps at its best in the spring when the leaves are down and the flowers can flourish.