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The History of Petworth

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Petworth is a small town in the south of England in the county of West Sussex. The town has been settled since at least Norman times and it is mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086. The town is host to the magnificent Petworth House . The gardens of this stately home are known as Petworth Park and are the work of world-famous landscape artist Capability Brown . Petworth House and Park have been in the care of the National Trust since 1947.

The Percy family acquired Petworth in 1151 and Henry de Percy built a fortified manor house there. The family subsequently gained the earldom of Northumberland in 1377 but later their fortunes declined and they lost control of Petworth. The ancient manor house was originally on the site of the present Petworth House and was extended and repaired in the 16th and 17th centuries by the 8th, 9th and 10th Earls of Northumberland. The house was then completely rebuilt in rebuilt in 1688 by Charles Seymour, 6th Duke of Somerset, and subsequently altered in the 1870s by Anthony Salvin. Of the original Percy home, only the 13th century chapel and undercroft - an expansive vaulted cellar - still survive.

The house has a long history of association with art and is famous for its collection of paintings and sculptures. The renowned English artist artist Turner painted a large number of works there and 19 of his oil paintings are now at the house. The 700 acre Petworth Park is now one of England’s best known formal gardens and it is now home to the largest herd of fallow deer in England.

Petworth House enjoys a place in early tennis history as the Percy family had a long interest in the game. An entry in the household records dating from 1588 shows a payment of £4 2s 2d for the plastering and paving of a tennis court. Eventually, as many as six tennis courts were present at the house and one even served as Petworth’s law court in 1795. This tennis court was then taken down stone by stone in 1797 and moved to a new site at the north end of the house.

Petworth has had a market square since at least 1541 and some historians suggest it was there for at least 300 years before that. Leconfield Hall, which was built in 1794, stands on the site of a former covered market. A street fair dating back to 1189 in Petworth is still held annually on 20th November. The fair wasn’t held in 1666 because of the plague, at this time the fair was a nine-day affair!

The railway came to Petworth on 10 October 1859 and the line was then extended westwards to Midhurst in 1866. The original main station building was rebuilt in wood around 1892. The station was closed to passengers by the Southern Region of British Railways in 1955 and finally to freight in 1966.

Although bereft of heavy industry or military bases, Petworth was bombed in World War II . On the 29 September 1942 German Heinkel 111 approached from the south over Hoes Farm and aimed three bombs at Petworth House. The bombs all missed the house but one of them landed on Petworth Boys School in North Street. Headmaster Charles Stevenson, assistant teacher Charlotte Marshall and 28 boys were tragically killed in the incident.

A former Leconfield estate workers cottage in the High Street at Petworth has been converted into a museum. Petworth Cottage Museum is now set out to resemble how it would have been in 1910 when it was occupied by Mrs Mary Cummins who worked as a seamstress on the estate. Petworth prospered in the 20th century, even if it didn’t expanded significantly. It is still a relatively quiet rural market town and it has retained many ancient and historic buildings and is now well known for its wealth of antique shops .

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