Uppark is a pleasant-enough house and grounds to spend a couple of hours or so, but it does not seem to compare quite so well with other similar National Trust properties.
The house is beautifully situated on top of the Downs commanding magnificent views to the south towards Chichester Harbour, Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight, and some lovely grounds and gardens surround it, especially at this time of the year with spring flowers starting to make their mark. As with many a house styled in the Georgian period with an emphasis on symmetry, it is flanked by two smart pavilions, originally serving as stables and kitchens to the house but the latter serving appropriately as the visitor restaurant and the National Trust shop.
The house itself is fairly small (by stately-home standards) and this quickly become evident as the rooms fill up very quickly with visitors, making the visit at times less than comfortable. What compounds this situation is that the house opens to the public at a relatively late hour (12:30pm) by which time there are plenty of people waiting for the doors to open.
The rooms in the house are very fine with some wonderful pieces of art in each room and all decorated beautifully, generally in the Georgian style. The servants’ areas in the basement are also very interesting and are well presented. The first floor rooms are not open to the public, being the private apartments of the family who still live at Uppark.
When viewing the house, what immediately becomes clear is the woeful lack of information; in each room, there is a board with a little information about the room plus some leaflets explaining minimal information about the paintings of furniture, but there are precious few of these, and it is consequently difficult to put the house or individual rooms into historical context.
What would overcome this deficiency is a good guidebook. On our visit, we purchased one before entering the house; asking for a guidebook, we were offered one type of book, a fairly large formal book for £5.50. Nothing necessarily wrong with that, but this book was a poor companion to viewing the house: much of the first half of the book is written as a long history of the family as much as of the house, all intertwined together so it was very difficult to find such basic details, such as when the house was originally built. It was less of a guidebook, rather a book about the history or the house and family. (the second half of the guide did have sections on individual rooms, but again it was not easy to use when viewing the house)
It was only later that we discovered that there was a smaller more informal guidebook that wasn’t offered to us but which would have been a much more appropriate purchase for viewing the house. In addition, the copy I had (and I suspect all the others on display) had clearly been exposed to water as all the pages were in poor quality (with hindsight, I should have returned it and asked for another copy).
What this house is perhaps most famous for is the fire that almost destroyed it in 1989. Since then, it has meticulously been rebuilt to as close as possible to its original state. When the fire broke out in 1989, the house was open and both National Trust staff and visitors helped to rescue as much of the furniture, artwork and wall coverings as possible, and what you see in the house now is pretty much as it was before the fire. There is an interesting display and film in one of the rooms in the basement that explores the fire and the rebuilding efforts and which really allows you to appreciate the work that was done on restoring the house.
In summary, Uppark does have its merits: it's a lovely house with some stunning views, all set in some beautiful Sussex Downland. However, I'd recommend that you plan your trip well but not going at weekends or public holidays as its lack of size means that you will be swamped by other visitors and you cannot really appreciate the house. Also be aware that there is a lack of information around that would otherwise help to put the house in some sort of historical context.
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