2022 is a momentous year, as it marks the 100th anniversary of the acquisition of Parham by my great-grandparents Clive and Alicia Pearson. After many months of preparation and negotiation, they took final possession in the late Spring of 1922. Their daughter, my great-aunt Veronica Tritton, wrote that they had been looking for “a lovely house that needed their loving care and my father’s engineering skill…a house that needed help – an orphan child”. Parham was in a very sorry state; the Pearsons immediately embarked on a meticulous programme of restoration and conservation to save this beautiful Elizabethan house and bring it back to life.
They supervised and directed everything themselves. Clive brought the brilliant engineering skill and incisive attention to detail he had inherited from his father (1st Lord Cowdray) and Alicia a wide-ranging academic understanding, innate sensitivity and exquisite aesthetic sense.
Neither knew much about interior decorating or buildings when they started, but, as Veronica said, “they had a great feeling and understanding for what was right, and they spent their lives putting Parham together again and filling the house with things that it liked and needed”.
Parham was so lucky to get them, at that desperate time just after the First World War, when so many old houses were struggling in disrepair or simply being demolished. The Pearsons had the energy, they had the means and they had access to the best. The family firm, S Pearson & Son, was one of the world’s greatest engineering firms thanks to Clive’s brilliant father, with whom he worked very closely. “Do it with thy Might” was Lord Cowdray’s motto, and Clive was certainly a chip off the same block. He and Alicia researched extensively, cut no corners and saved no expense. Everything was kept firmly under their control, to exacting standards.
What is perhaps most remarkable is that they did all they did not for themselves, but for Parham itself. Veronica often spoke of it, and this ethos also comes out time and time again in letters and documents, and in the manner of how they built their collection after the major works had been finished. Despite their position and obvious abilities (they inspired awe and affection in equal measure in all those who knew them or worked for them), both Clive and Alicia were very shy. Even after the house opened to the public (a bold step for private owners in 1948) they never wished to be in the public eye personally. They would be amazed to think that in fact they were pioneers in the field of Britain’s heritage, and perhaps not a little gratified that the Parham they saved is still such a treasure, a very greatly loved family home.
Veronica inherited Parham, lovingly continuing in her parents’ footsteps. It is now owned by a charitable trust, and those of us responsible for it now always keep before us the examples of excellence they set. We honour the traditions the Pearsons started, constantly asking ourselves “is this what Clive, Alicia and Veronica would have done?” It is a great responsibility, and a joyous one. I hope they would think we are doing a good job, and I heartily thank them and salute them, as we open for the 2022 season.