Page 7, 21st September 1984

21st September 1984
Page 7
Page 7, 21st September 1984 — Leslie Brooks explores famous Catholic houses of Tudor times

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Leslie Brooks explores famous Catholic houses of Tudor times

Half-timbered havens

64UOLD ME, dread

Sovereign, excused" wrote Sergeant Edmund Plowden in reply to Queen Elizabeth's offer of the Lord Chancellorship.

"Your Majesty well knows, I find no reason to swerve from the Catholic Faith, in which you and I were brought up... I should not have in charge your Majesty's intent to continue the system of persecuting the displeasure, if it be your Majesty's intent to continue the system of persecuting the retainers of the Catholic Faith."

Sergeant Plowden, the famous lawyer, gave his daughter in marriage to Francis Perkins of Ufton in Berkshire who was the first of the five Francis Perkins who, in succession, headed the family, finding "no reason to swerve from the Catholic Faith" until the Last &awls died unmarried in 1740.

The great Tudor mansion of Ufton Court near Reading presents no less than nineteen gables to the visitor approaching through the downward sloping avenue from the village of Ufton Nervet.

In the small room entered only from what is still known as the Priest's Room, there are decorations with IHS and Maria Regina panels indicating possibly Preservation of the Blessed Sacrament.

Occupying the whole of the attics in a long South wing is the chapel. It is large enough to accomodate the majority of the 90 Catholics in the neighbourhood reported on a visit by Bishop Challoner.

Several hiding places are to be seen: some open into tortuous escape routes through the rafters, others into small dark chambers under floors or near chimney breasts.

Howard Bush, principal of the residential centre run by Berkshire County Council at the Court, delights to show visitors the "priest boles" with their highly ingenious wooden spring locks.

In the eighteenth century, Alexander Pope made famous the beautiful Arabella, of the notable Oxfordshire Catholic family of Fermor, who became the wife of the 4th Francis Perkins. Much to the lady's annoyance the poet turned a surreptitous clip of her hair by young Lord Petre into one of his most successful poetic works, The Rape of the Lock.

The Perkins family, as did most contemporary Catholic families, mixed freely with their equals and Arabella's son, Francis was to be frequently seen at the bowling club at the Hind's Head Inn, Aldermaston. English Catholics never lived in a ghetto.

The last of the Perkins at Ufton Court, whether by extravagance or by penalising fines, allowed the house to deteriorate. A priest was maintained at the Court even after the property was sold. A Franciscan, lived alone in the house until his death in 1803.

Near Guildford, Surrey is another great Tudor house with long Catholic history — Sutton Place, home of the Weston family until early in the present century.

Sir Richard Weston, granted the Sutton estates by Henry VIII, played his part with others of the 'king's men' in ensuring the dynasty of the Tudors and for he was lavishly rewarded. From a shrewdly amassed fortune Sir Richard was able to build one of the first great houses to be created without a moat or other fortification. Its mellow brickwork is embellished in contrasting terra cotta.

Sir Richard, deeply immersed in service of his sovereign, managed to keep his Catholic faith. His grandson and heir, Henry Weston, favourite of Elizabeth J, outwardly conformed but may have retained some slender hold under the influence of his wife Dorothy of the firmly Catholic family of Arundell of Laherne and Wardour.

The Sir Richard who held Sutton Place from 1613 to 1652 just escaped ruin after sequestation of his estates. Forced into exile for a time, he made a study of rotation of crops and navigation of canals in the Lowlands.

On return he employed men, 200 at a time, to render navigable the River Wey from Guildford to its junction with the Thames at Weybridge, completing ten of the fourteen miles within nine months.

Little remains to be seen today of the chapels in the house opened from time by successive Weston descendants. The Church of St Edward in the park was built by the last of them, Francis Henry Salvin, with money left by his sister. St Edward's Dutton Park became a parish in 1920.

The rather forbidding Captain Francis Salvin, holding the estate from 1857 to 1904, was noted far his bachelor eccentricities which included the training of a pig to follow at heel whenever he walked abroad.

At the church there can be seen a fascinating collection of relics from Sutton Place collected by Fr Gordon Albion, parish priest from 1949, the predecessor of the present Fr John Stapleton.

The house, recently purchased from Paul Getty by a charitable trust is open all the year on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Tours are arranged from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and visitors should telephone the booking secretary (0483) 504455 for inclusion in the nearest available tour. Sutton Place is signposted on the A3, 2 miles north of Guildford.

Ufton Park is also only to be viewed by appointment. MT Howard Bush should be contacted — Burghfieid Common 3117 — by parties or individuals for the privilege of being shown the house at times when he is available.

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