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Day trips from London: Standen House and Garden

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A modest trip from South Grinstead can be found a large manor house that is particularly notable for its arts and crafts interior

The house was built in 1891-94 for the London solicitor, James Beale and family, and judging by the size of the house, he was a very successful solicitor. And the building is notable today in part thanks to the choice of architect – Philip Webb, who is sometimes called the Father of Arts and Crafts Architecture.

What was built is a large cottage-like manor house nestled into the hills with impressive views from the garden terraces. However, it’s the interior that became famous, as its arts and crafts run riot everywhere. The family moved in and their descendants lived there until 1972 when it was passed to the National Trust.

So this year marks the 50th anniversary of its being opened to the public.

The whole inside of the house was, and still is, decorated with Morris carpets, fabrics and wallpapers, with furnishings also by Morris. It’s a bit overwhelming at times, as there’s just too much decoration, too much colour, too much color – at least for modern tastes.

To mark the 50th anniversary, dotted around the house at the moment are objects that would have been familiar to the family in 1972, from toys to the latest in modern electronics. They’re not from the family though, as most of them came from the volunteers who staff the house and dug through their attics to add to the display.

One room felt odd as I walked into it and I checked with a guide, and yes, the floor is a “photocopy”, with a protective layer over the top that replicates what it’s protecting. A dining table cover reminded me strongly of the garish sunloungers that it felt like every house owned in the 1970s.

Do notice the raised bench in the billiards room so the family watching can get a good view of the match. There is a suspicion that it might have also been used as a mini-stage for family plays at Christmas. The kitchen had other visitors commenting that they used to own this or that, but all denied the wallpaper was their choice.

To visit is to be surrounded by the arts and crafts style when deployed by someone with seemingly copious amounts of money to pay for the craftsmen to make it.

There’s more though, as there’s a very large garden to explore with, in places, some exceptional views and vistas to enjoy. It’s a long walk around the estate, but worth doing as there are lots of nooks to explore and the gardens have been cleverly laid out.

Unfortunately the quarry garden, cut into the rock when they built the house is off-limits at the moment, but you can walk around it, which is pretty good. Although coming down wet stone steps in office shoes was maybe not my wisest idea. Managed it without slipping, but it was a tad worrying. Walk around the other side to avoid the steps next time.

I spent a good few hours exploring in total. There’s a cafe on site, and of course, a shop selling National Trust goodies.

Entry to Standen House is £15.40 for adults, £7.70 for children, or free for National Trust members.

Getting to Standen House

The house is about a 40-minute walk from East Grinstead station, which is itself about an hour from central London.

There is an occasional bus (Route 84) between the two, but it’s only roughly once every two hours, and runs Mon-Sat, with no service on Sundays.

Candidly, I’d walk if possible. Mainly because there are two things to see en route. I walked there via Saint Hill Manor, of which you can only see the gates, but it’s the home of the Scientologists, so take a few photos of the gates so that the security guard has to come out and watch you.

Heading back, turn right when leaving the House, as there is a really wonderful sunken road to walk along that is remarkably atmospheric.

If you want to make a longer day of it, next to East Grinstead station is the Bluebell railway.

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