FolkestoneJack's Tracks

Fake history

Posted in England by folkestonejack on June 25, 2017

A little outing for a Saturday afternoon brought us to Nymans, the country gardens and home of the Messel family at Handcross, Sussex. The formal gardens attached to the house cover 33 acres and include many rare species brought back by plant hunters from expeditions as far flung as Chile and Tasmania. However, for me it was the house that was the most intriguing element.

The house at Nymans gives the appearance of a long ruined late Gothic/Tudor style stone manor house but this turns out to be way off beam. The house was actually built in the 1920s by Leonard Messel and the deception was enhanced by the purchase of old oak furniture and tapestries that gave the place a medieval feel. It must have been a pretty good illusion as the late Antony Armstrong-Jones (Lord Snowdon) once said that it was not until he was 16 that he realised the house was a ‘complete fake’.

Nymans House

The lifespan of the house was sadly far shorter than you would ever imagine upon first sight – just twenty years. A devastating fire in 1947 left very little of it untouched. Today, you can admire the ruins of the house from the gardens and take a look at the handful of small rooms on the ground floor that survived the fire. The surprisingly cosy and comfortable rooms have something of a feel of a country cottage about them and this is largely how they were left by their last occupant, Anne Parsons (née Messel), Countess of Rosse, when she lived here from 1979 until 1992. The library looked an especially lovely space to settle down and read a good book.


To get to Nymans we took a train to Crawley and connected to the 271/273 bus for the short run to Handcross. The timings of the return buses proved to be a little awkward, giving us a choice between too little time or too much (we opted for the latter). Admission was covered by our National Trust membership.


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