Brambletye House

I have an interest in a local ruin, often called Brambletye Castle, but more correctly Brambletye House. The current building (what's left of it) dates from about 1631 and was built by Sir Henry Compton. The facts of its history are often confused with fiction, most notably from a novel written by Horace Smith which was only lightly based in fact. You can read a short article I wrote about Brambletye further down the page, here. For now, here are some of the pictures from my collection. Brambletye House is situated on private land near Forest Row and East Grinstead, West Sussex.

The decoration that appears above, either side of the page title, is from a plaster frieze on the second floor of the west tower at Brambletye.

From a book frontispiece, a watercolour by E. Evans (after Lambert c.1782). Most of the face still existed at this time, as did the grand gate entrance.
Early 1900s postcard (Harding of East Grinstead), photo showing the 1782 depiction of the ruin by Lambert (though dated 1820 here).
This sketch appeared in The Mirror in 1827, featured due to the popularity of Horace Smith's recent novel, and is based on the Lambert painting.
Unusual pencil sketch of Brambletye in (perhaps imaginary) flooded surroundings, c.1820s.
From a drawing by Maria Carr, c.1830. If you know Marske Hall in Yorkshire, still in use, you may note striking similarities with Brambletye House.
Print from mid-1830s, drawn and engraved by Robert Bremmel Schnebbelie (1780-1849).
A rear view from R. B. Schnebbelie, clearly showing the exposed basement arches that exist under the ground floor.
Sepia watercolour of Brambletye ruins (in the distance!) dated 1837 and by a 'Mr Bourne' - almost certainly the Rev. James Bourne (1773-1854).
Detail of the 1837 Bourne watercolour.
This Kershaw print is dated 1840 and is pretty much the ruin you can see today. Almost the exact angle as the 1959 photograph.
Detailed pencil drawing by 'AP', undated. From foliage and state of decay I'm thinking c.1840s or 50s. Could be as late as 60s.
Engraving from a sketch by John Timbs that appeared in The Illustrated London News August 1850.
Here is fairly crude pencil sketch drawn on a ready-coloured background with a scratch-away surface, dated 1865.
This is a print of a drawing from 1868, just 3 years after the previous sketch.
Richard Henry Nibbs was a Brighton artist (1816-1893) who drew this unusual rear view for 'Antiquities of Sussex' in 1874.
Nicely illustrated scene from an 1880 book that also features a detail from this on the cover, in gold stamp.
The famous Frith series of postcards shows this graphically strong front view from the path. I would guess this was 1904-5 from the foliage shown.
This Photochrom postcard that shows a view from the rear, circa 1905.
Slightly closer in than the Photochrom, but still showing the water. Date and publisher unknown, c.1904-5.
Another rear view of the ruin, this time from a 1906 Valentine postcard. There is also a hand-tinted version of this card.
Not an unusual view, but of interest as it's by a local publisher, R P Smithers of Forest Row. Compare the foliage with the next Frith.
Similar view to the 1907 Harding (next) but from 1905, with a figure leaning against the ruined wall.
Wide rear-view, lots of foliage obscuring the ruin. Harding Photo 1907.
Rare photograph of the back of the east tower. The clothes of the clamberers would suggest 1900s, but the card may be later.
Stereographic photograph (one half) - a lovely composition of a woman at the ruined gate, c. early 1900s?
A romantically hued watercolour by C. Essenhigh Corke (1908) from Lady Hope's 'English Homes & Villages - Kent & Sussex'.
Lovely watercolour by Ernest Marillier, painted in 1911 for 'The Wonderful Weald' - published by Mills & Boon!
'Brambletye Castle - East Grinstead'. Date unknown.
Postmarked 1916, this Sayers Bros. (Photo Series 982) gives a great view of the gatehouse before it was augmented with supporting brickwork.
Another view of the gatehouse ruins, from a postcard postmarked 1923.
Postmarked 1925 and locally published by A G Wheller of Dormansland, the ruin seems more tree than stone here.
Martin's Series (2260), possibly mid-late 1920s.
An interesting P&A press photo from 1928. The gentleman in the picture is James Hobbs, who used to live in the ruined house.
Postmarked 1931.
In 1931 The Sussex Archaeology Society produced this front elevation drawing that included the missing sections. By now all the creeping greenery had been cleared.
This Frith (FRW.24) front-side view is far enough back to show the gate on the left. Unknown date, probably 1930s.
Frith colour postcard, postmarked 1956 (the serial number, 83753, indicates a 1931 card) - another nice long shot of the side of the ruin and the farm buildings behind it.
This photograph comes from a 1959 book that implies the ruin was built in 1070. 1631 is the true date, but a manor certainly existed on the land of 'Brambertie' as detailed in The Domesday Book.
And here is Brambletye as it appears today (photo taken Sept 2005).

The Ruins at Brambletye

by Garen Ewing

This article was written for the local community magazine East Grinstead Living, September 2010
Please do not reuse or copy this article without permission from the author - thank you.

Poking your head through the foliage that lines the south side of Forest Way, about half a mile from its bisection with the A22 at Forest Row, you may find yourself confronted by three ancient stone towers rising above the trees that mask the still-humble River Medway on its route towards the Kent countryside. This is many people's first glimpse of a structure that provides much mystery and romance within the remains of its tantalising Jacobean architecture, but not a lot in the way of hard facts.

Some facts, however, can be extracted by studying the clues carved into the local sandstone that make up the honey-hued ashlar blocks. The date 1631 is accompanied by the initials C H M in a lozenge at the top of the central tower, and a weathered coat of arms above the door aides their interpretation - the house was the abode of one Henry Compton and his second wife, Mary Browne.

They married in the 1620s, not long after Compton came into ownership of the older double-moated manor at Brambletye by way of Richard and Edward Sackville, the 3rd and 4th Earls of Dorset respectively. They were brothers of Henry's first wife, Cecily Sackville, and his own step-brothers after his widowed mother married the 2nd Earl of Dorset (and creator of Sackville College) when he was 13.

The old manor at Brambletye had been one of the most important of the district, detailed in the Domesday Book, and handed down through the connected families of Montague, Aldham and Saintclare, ending up at the end of the 1400s with Richard Lewkenor, an East Grinstead MP, County Sheriff, and second husband to Elizabeth Saintclare. His building, surrounded by the moat which still survives 150 yards to the west, was very likely prone to dampness, and this may have been one of the reasons Compton built his house on a new site, and made sure it rose up from an impressive vaulted basement.

'Branbertei' in the Domseday Book (1085)

Henry Compton, half-brother to the 1st Earl of Northampton, was returned MP for East Grinstead on several occasions and also served as a ranger on Ashdown Forest and Assistant Warden at Sackville College (1628). One of his children, Henry, was killed in a duel with the 6th Baron Chandos in May 1652 at Putney, and seven years later another son, John, died in residence at Brambletye. The manor had survived the Civil War, and the last act of the Comptons at Brambletye was in 1660, the year of the Restoration, when Henry's third son, George, held court there. George had married Mary Biddulph in about 1648, and the Biddulphs would eventually become the new owners of Brambletye Manor, the land staying in their family until as late as 1866 before passing to the Larnachs.

However, the house had fallen into ruin long before then. In 1683 or 84 one Sir James Richards was made a baronet and described as 'of Brambletye House, co. Sussex'. It is commonly believed he abandoned the manor while fleeing to Spain on suspicion of treason, leaving the manor masterless and falling into disrepair. A drawing dated 1782 shows the building in ruins, though with the gatehouse mostly intact and two of the impressive finials still in place atop the towers. By 1830 it was pretty much the ruin we know today, with large portions of the stone having been dismantled for other building projects, including for repairs to the bridge at Edenbridge.

The house, or castle as it was sometimes overzealously known, enjoyed a flare of celebrity in the late 1820s when the popular novelist Horace Smith wrote his fictional account of the Comptons, 'Brambletye House, Or Cavaliers And Roundheads', which had the double effect of confusing its history and bringing the tourists, some of whom decided a little piece of the castle would make a very nice ornament.

The Larnachs, who made their money in banking, built the 'new' Brambletye house in 1896, just over half a mile north of the old ruin. In 1933 this became what is today the private Brambletye School.

By the early 1900s the ancient edifice seemed more tree than stone, but by 1930 the ivy was cleared, the building was stabilised and surveyed, and in 1953 it became a grade II listed structure. It currently resides on private land, and as of 2009 was included on the English Heritage 'At Risk' register due to general deterioration, though the air of mystery and romance, and perhaps a whiff of Horace Smith's fictional gunpowder - if the wind is right and the imagination flowing - will still greet the viewer who happens across this wonderful local gem.

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The images on this page, unless otherwise stated are originals from the the collection of Garen Ewing.
Please seek permission first if you would like to use them for any reason, thanks.