It’s not all surprising that an English manor house dating back four centuries would have some interesting associations with royalty, both aristocratic and literary. Case in point, Possingworth Manor, which can boast connections to both Virginia Woolf, author of “Orlando” and many other highly esteemed writings, as well as newly crowned Queen Camilla. The East Sussex manor, about 1.5 hours from central London, was first recorded around 1281, though the current house is thought to have been completed in 1657 by Thomas Offley, whose initials appear along with that date above a doorway to the house.
The connection between Woolf, Queen Camilla and Possingworth Manor was Violet Trefusis, whose mother Alice Keppel was Queen Camilla’s great-grandmother and the long-time mistress of King Edward VII. Mrs. Keppel engineered Violet’s marriage to Denys Robert Trefusis to stifle gossip about her daughter’s affair with writer Vita Sackville West, who was later (and scandalously) romantically involved with Woolf. Their affair was featured in “Orlando,” where the character of Princess Sasha is based on Violet. Back then, being the king’s mistress was fine; being a lesbian not so much. The Keppels rented Possingworth as a home for Violet during World War I.
After the Trefusises left the manor, the 3rd Baron Strathcona purchased it. In 1921 he reconstructed one wing using the builders of Claridge’s Hotel in London. Lord Strathcona refurbished many of interior features, including the 14th-century fireplace in the hall and, as a nod to his family’s connection to Canada, added decorative lead gutters that depict a beaver.
In 1939, the author, critic and journalist Dame Rebecca West rented Possingworth Manor for the summer, visiting Virginia Woolf and her husband, writer and political theorist Leonard Woolf, whilst working on her book “Black Lamb Grey Falcon” and during WWII, the estate was used to house Canadian troops. After the war, the house was taken on by Major Pat Reid, author of the Colditz stories, made into popular 1950s movies based on Reid’s escape from the German POW camp Colditz.
The Jacobean manor — “Jacobean” refers to the reign of King James, “Jacob” being the Latin for James — is now being sold by the children of Sir Roger and Lady Neville, who bought the house in 1990, but have both passed on. Phillippa Dalby Welsh at Savills is representing the estate, which is asking $5.3 million. Included are 17 acres of land, the 8,754 square foot main house with 11 bedrooms and 4.5 bathrooms (along with a two-bed/1-bath guest or staff apartment off the kitchen), a swimming pool, a walled garden, and a barn used as a gym.
Since the house is in an elevated position, the manor’s principal rooms and bedrooms boast far-reaching views over the gardens. The ground floor includes an impressive 45-foot long and 19-foot wide drawing room with a magnificent open fireplace, a wood-paneled reception hall with another massive open fireplace, and a 41-foot long dining room with not one but two carved stone fireplaces. A more cozily proportioned study showcases beautiful linenfold paneling along with a fireplace almost large enough to stand in. There are six bedrooms and three bathrooms on the second floor, including the main suite, while above that are five more bedrooms, a bathroom and several storage rooms for linens and out-of-season clothes.
Outside, a stone terrace provides views over the gardens to the pasture and woodland beyond. And, yes, there is a ha-ha! With walls, even! There is also a walled garden straight out of a Frances Hodgson Burnett novel, with a revolving summer house and a variety of fruit trees, including apples, pears, plums, damsons, and quince. Other features include a former grass tennis court, pasture, a woodland copse and a pond.