Buxted Park dates back to the 12th century and has been enjoyed as a seat of power and prestige for many of those 900 years.
The present house was built almost 300 years ago by Thomas Medley, whose family had been keepers of the Privy Purse in the reign of Henry VIII. Clearly even in those days there was money to be made in tax collection.
Buxted Park became the country seat of the Rt Hon Cecil Jenkinson Bart when he married Thomas Medley’s granddaughter. Under his tenure a number of additions were made to the house, including the wonderful Victorian Orangery, still in daily use today. He did not enjoy having the peasants living so close to him, so he ceased maintaining their properties, forcing them to move from the estate across the valley. The only remaining sign of its existence is the 13th century Buxted parish church, where Cranmer’s book of common prayer was first introduced.
As befitting the country seat of such an important family of Georgian and Victorian society, Buxted Park played host to many dignitaries including the Prince Regent and the great queen herself. It is mentioned by the great bard, Wordsworth, in a letter to his brother, then the rector at the church on the estate. This tradition of hospitality has carried on through the centuries, with musicians and stars of small and silver screen visiting this wonderful place.
At the beginning of the 20th Century the house was purchased by the renowned designer of the Savoy in London, Basil Ionides. He and his wife were great entertainers and good friends of George V and Queen Mary, who were regular guests at the house.
In 1940 disaster struck, when much of the house was destroyed by fire. The top storey was lost and the shortage of materials during the war meant it was not possible to replace it. For Basil, who is reputed to still reside at the house, the war was not all bad news. The blitz meant he was able to restore Buxted Park with some of the finest architectural pieces at little or no cost. Basil visited bombed out buildings salvaging covings, cornices, chandeliers and beautiful show doors, all of which you will see around you today at Buxted Park.
Following the death of Basil and his wife the Rt. Hon Nellie, the house was purchased by Kenneth Shipman, the owner of Twickenham Studios. He used it to entertain his stars, with guests such as Marlon Brando, Dudley Moore and Gregory Peck regulars at the house. He even built a cinema to view his latest productions, which is still in use today. This period also saw a return to the house of Sir Winston and Lady Churchill, who had also been regular guests in the time of the Lonides.
In 1987 the house was sold to the Engineering and Electrical Union, who were first to open it as a hotel. The day contracts were exchanged was the day of the great storm, possibly an omen for the union. They lost over 200 ancient trees on the estate that day and it was soon clear that the juxtaposition of the union’s own philosophy and the grandeur and opulence that Buxted Park represents were never going to be comfortable bedfellows. The house then went through a number of unhappy marriages before its phoenix-like revival under the present owners Hand Picked Hotels.
The restoration also includes the grounds where many of the statues and ornaments sold off or removed by the union are being replaced. The original rose gardens at the end of Queen Mary’s walk are also being restored.