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Blog and News

Parham in times of adversity

Lady Emma Barnard recounts how this Elizabethan family home has survived two world wars and centuries of tumult to become a symbol of hope.

8th April 2020

Parham in times of adversity

As I write, in early April, it seems very strange to be at Parham and to think that this year we will not be opening to visitors in a few days’ time, on Easter Sunday.

It is 72 years since my great-grandparents Clive and Alicia Pearson first opened the House and the Garden on Saturday 17th July 1948, so I am sad that this year it is not to be. However, there have been a few years since then when Parham remained closed, so this is not the first time.

When we are able to open again, the pleasure in sharing Parham will be all the greater.

Just after the Second World War, when there was still so much to mend in the world and the days were still dark, the Pearsons were wondering whether to move back into the whole house or simply to stay in the half they had lived in during the war years.

The War Department had taken it over on 2nd June 1942 and had sent Canadian soldiers to Parham; the officers had been billeted in the rooms now open to the public.  Everything was formally handed back on 30th July 1946.  My great-grandfather, then a director of Southern Railway, brought in some recently demobbed workmen from the company, which was not yet quite ready for them, and they set to work repairing and making good the damage that inevitably had occurred.

When a friend suggested that the Pearsons should open it to visitors, they were at first horrified.  This was not a Great Treasure House, and people would not be interested!  But the idea took off, and a couple of years later Parham became one of the first private houses in England to open formally to visitors.  My great-grandparents didn’t need the money to mend the roof; they simply wanted to share it.

I think they would be rather amazed to think that they were pioneers of an activity that centres on that great jewel in the crown of Britain’s glory, its heritage.

I think, too, that there are links to be made to the situation of crisis we are living through today. Parham, whose foundation stone was laid in 1577, had survived the War. It had also weathered the First World War, the Civil War and all the tumult thrown up by the nearly four centuries it had lived through.  It was then, and is now, a great survivor, and there is a strange comfort to be derived from this thought.

I believe that my great-grandparents recognised this, and after the terrible griefs and deprivations which people had endured in those sad war years, they saw that places like Parham could be emblems of hope, of continuity and of the quiet triumph of the human spirit. They wanted to give their visitors the chance to come, to be interested, and to enjoy its beauty. Perhaps, too, they hoped that their visitors would be inspired, and proud, and would find a little escape here, for Parham is a very tranquil place.

When this is all over, when we are allowed out again, and when it is deemed safe and right once again to open Parham’s doors, it will, I hope, fulfil these worthy aims once more. Luckily, we don’t have to repair and renew in the way they had to in 1946; although there is always much to do to maintain the House, and the Garden, and things are quietly ticking on as best we can under these peculiar circumstances.

In the meantime, we are lucky – and happy – to be able to share it online with our visitors and those who are interested.

No visitors will be here this Easter, but we wish everyone calm, safety, happiness and good health for this weekend, and for all the coming weeks.