After the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1540, Henry VIII granted the manor of Parham, which had belonged to the Abbey of Westminster, to a London mercer called Robert Palmer. Parham’s foundation stone was laid in 1577 by Robert’s two-year-old grandson, Thomas; it was considered lucky to have this duty performed by the youngest member of the household. His mother Elizabeth was god-daughter to Queen Elizabeth I, and there is a legend that the Queen visited Parham.
Thomas Palmer sold the house in 1601 to Sir Thomas Bysshopp, who came from Henfield. For 320 years Bysshopp descendants lived at Parham. In 1826 Sir Cecil, 8th Baronet, became the 12th Lord Zouche, and in 1922 the 17th Baroness Zouche sold the Parham estate to the Hon. Clive and Alicia Pearson. Clive was the second son of Weetman Dickinson Pearson, the 1st Viscount Cowdray.
War time at Parham
With the outbreak of war in 1939, Parham became home to 30 evacuee children from Peckham in south-east London. Most had never been to the country before, and Clive Pearson built them a small wooden house in which to play. To persuade them to eat vegetables, he divided a section of the walled garden into vegetable plots and gave the children tools and lots of seeds. The resulting competition to produce the best crops was a great success, and meant that everyone finished everything on their plates!
In 1942 the children were re-housed in Storrington. Parham was in the middle of the South Downs Training Area and half the house was then requisitioned for billeting Canadian officers. The Family continued to live in the other half, taking in old governesses, relations and other friends stranded by the war. Soldiers of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Canadian Infantry Divisions were stationed in Nissen huts in the Park.
When in 1947 the Pearsons were considering what they should do for Parham, a friend, Rupert Gunnis, suggested that they should open it to the public. Their daughter Veronica recalled their amazement in her memoir: ‘“But we couldn’t do that!”, they protested, “this is not a Great House, nor do we have Fabulous Treasures.” “Rubbish!” cried Rupert, and before we knew what was happening we were preparing feverishly to do just that.”’
On 17th July 1948 they opened the doors, and 61 visitors, paying 2/6d for adults and 1/6d for children came in. Parham has welcomed visitors ever since.