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Stansted

A Brief History of Stansted Park

Stansted Park first existed as a hunting lodge in the ancient forest of Arundel, built here about 800 years ago for Roger, first Earl of Arundel. In 1181 the first recorded dwelling on the site of the present chapel was built for Henry II. The buildings were restored in 1480 by the 12th Earl of Arundel but these buildings were largely destroyed during the Civil War in 1644.

Richard, Lord Lumley built the list house on the present site in 1688, probably employing architect William Talman, and cut the first great drive through the forest to his mansion. The estate then passed through descent to Lord Halifax who improved the Park.

The estate was sold in 1781 to the Indian Nabob, Richard Barwell, who summoned Capability Brown to redesign the park and James Wyatt to improve the house. In the 19th century the estate changed ownership several times to Lewis Way, George Dixon and his heirs the Wilders, before a calamitous fire destroyed the house in 1900. After the fire, the mansion was demolished, rebuilt and modernized in 1901-3, on the exact footprint of the 1688 house.

in 1924 Stansted Park was bought by Vere Ponsonby, 9th Earl of Bessborough. He was a popular Governor General of Canada in the 1930s. Stansted Park was enjoyed by the families of the 9th and 10th Earls, and still contains their family portraits.

Frederick, always called Eric, the 10th Earl set up the Stansted Park Foundation, to which the estate was gifted in 1983, with a remit for its preservation for the benefit of the Nation. He was a diplomat, Minister of State, a founder of Chichester Festival Theatre, and a Vice-President of the European Parliament. He lived at Stansted until he died in 1993.

The Collections

A fine collection of paintings, textiles and furniture in the state rooms upstairs illustrates the history of the Ponsonby family, presented as if the Earl was still at home. Downstairs, the fully-furnished Servants’ Quarters survive almost unchanged from the 1903 rebuilding, and were in use until the 1950s.

Stansted Park is now a popular venue for events, weddings, and exclusive corporate use. The award-winning House and Grounds are a popular tourist attraction, a valuable educational resource, sustainably managed for conservation and used all year round.

The Walled Gardens

A yew maze has been planted in the lower walled garden, near to the light railway that runs through the Arboretum, a great fun family attraction. A popular tea room, a farm shop and garden centre are open here all year round.

The Chapel of St Paul

The elegant Regency chapel stands on the site of the first great house and re-uses some of its 15th century masonry and locks. Its stained glass Windows ‘tripple-arch’d and diamonded’ directly inspired the poet John Keats who attended its consecration in 1819. The chapel’s unique east window illustrates the wish of its founder, Lewis Way, to re-unite the Jewish and Christian faiths.

This article is provided courtesy of Stansted Foundation who retains the copyright.