Cowdray: a fortified medieval house and part of its landscaped grounds
Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number: 1017500
Date first listed: 16-Jan-1935
Date of most recent amendment: 27-Sep-1999
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
County: West Sussex
District: Chichester (District Authority)
County: West Sussex
District: Chichester (District Authority)
National Park: SOUTH DOWNS
National Grid Reference: SU 89008 21718
Reasons for Designation
Fortified houses were residences belonging to some of the richest and most
powerful members of society. Their design reflects a combination of domestic
and military elements. In some instances, the fortifications may be cosmetic
additions to an otherwise conventional high status dwelling, giving a military
aspect while remaining practically indefensible. They are associated with
individuals or families of high status and their ostentatious architecture
often reflects a high level of expenditure. The nature of the fortification
varies, but can include moats, curtain walls, a gatehouse and other towers,
gunports and crenellated parapets.
Their buildings normally included a hall used as communal space for domestic
and administrative purposes, kitchens, service and storage areas. In later
houses the owners had separate private living apartments, these often
receiving particular architectural emphasis. In common with castles, some
fortified houses had outer courts beyond the main defences in which stables,
brew houses, granaries and barns were located.
Fortified houses were constructed in the medieval period, primarily between
the 15th and 16th centuries, although evidence from earlier periods, such as
the increase in the number of licences to crenellate in the reigns of Edward I
and Edward II, indicates that the origins of the class can be traced further
back. They are found primarily in several areas of lowland England: in upland
areas they are outnumbered by structures such as bastles and tower houses
which fulfilled many of the same functions. As a rare monument type, with
fewer than 200 identified examples, all examples exhibiting significant
surviving archaeological remains are considered of national importance.
The fortified medieval house of Cowdray survives well, despite some subsequent alteration and disturbance, retaining substantial portions of its original buildings, associated structures and landscaping. It constitutes a particularly fine example of this type of monument, incorporating some of the most up-to-date architecture and highest quality building work of the period. The monument lies about 280m to the north west of a motte and bailey castle on St Ann's Hill, which formed the original focus of the medieval estate. The close association of the earlier castle with the later fortified house provides evidence for the general development in high status medieval dwellings away from mainly defensive, military forms to great houses geared towards comfort and display.
The monument includes a fortified medieval house and part of its landscaped
grounds, situated on the banks of the River Rother immediately to the north
east of the town of Midhurst. The monument survives in the form of ruined and
reused buildings and structures, earthworks and associated buried remains, and
lies within the western sector of the landscaped park surrounding Cowdray
House, a 19th century country mansion situated around 1.2km to the east.
Cowdray Park is included in the Historic Parks and Gardens register at
The main buildings range around a NNE-SSW aligned quadrangular courtyard,
constructed in at least two main phases during the late 15th and early 16th
centuries. The main courtyard was designed on a particularly grand scale,
resembling the contemporary royal palace of Hampton Court. The buildings are
faced with sandstone ashlar decorated with contrasting, lighter coloured stone
dressings, and are topped with crenellated parapets. The wall cores, surviving
chimneys and some facing, and subsequent repairs and alterations also contain
substantial amounts of red brick.
The eastern range survives mainly in the form of foundations represented by
low modern walls, and housed the main domestic apartments, including a
centrally placed hall, served by an adjoining chapel with an apsidal eastern
end. At the southern end of the range, separated from the hall by a screens
passage, are service rooms and a projecting, hexagonal corner tower surviving
to its full height of three storeys, which contains a ground floor kitchen. To
the north was the parlour with a great chamber over it, and further domestic
The ruined, three-storeyed northern range is lit by tall bay windows and
contained a first floor gallery. Documentary evidence suggests that most of
the eastern and northern ranges were built by Sir David Owen from around 1492.
The southern range of the main courtyard also survives largely in the form of
foundations marked out by modern walling, and contained further service rooms.
The western range incorporates more substantial ruins, including a central
gatehouse with a four-centred carriage archway flanked by octagonal, three-
storeyed turrets, pierced by gun loops. The southern and western ranges were
constructed by Sir William Fitzwilliam, later Earl of Southampton, who bought
the estate in 1529 and was granted licence to crenellate in 1533. The
buildings of the main courtyard were severely damaged by a fire in 1793, after
which the house fell into disuse. The buildings of the main courtyard are
Listed Grade I.
Finds of 13th century floor tiles and worked masonry among the ruins suggest
that the Tudor house may have been built on the site of an earlier manor
house, further traces of which are likely to survive as below ground features.
Adjoining the main courtyard to the south is a contemporary outer court,
formerly linked to the kitchen tower. This is represented by an `L'-shaped
range of buildings likely to have been in use originally as service
accommodation, stables, brewhouses, granaries and barns. The eastern range and
the eastern end of the southern range of the outer court have been
substantially modified and converted into dwellings. The western end of the
southern range is now occupied by later ancillary buildings and stables,
Listed Grade II. A small 17th century timber-framed granary built on staddle
stones within the central, open part of the outer court is also Listed Grade
Lying immediately to the south of the outer court is a contemporary, roughly
square, brick and stone-walled kitchen garden. The eastern garden wall is
constructed of red brick and survives to its full height of around 5m. It is
pierced near its northern end by a sandstone-dressed doorway headed by a
four-centred arch. The surviving courses of the western garden wall have been
incorporated within the rear wall of mainly 18th century stables, Listed Grade
II. At the south western corner is a small, square sandstone building with a
tiled, hipped roof, interpreted as a garden pavilion or gate lodge. This has
undergone some subsequent alteration, but retains in situ Tudor masonry,
including ashlar quoins and, in its eastern wall, a central doorway with a
four-centred arch. Stone footings situated around 10m to the east may
represent a matching, now ruined building.
The original approach to the house was from the west, across low-lying marshy
ground and the river. In order to provide dry access for carriages, a raised,
battered causeway around 380m long, up to 12m wide and 2m high was constructed
from the Easebourne road, now part of the modern A272. The river and a now
dry, subsidiary channel are spanned by stone, two and four-arched bridges,
interpreted as 18th century replacements of original, Tudor bridges, traces of
the foundations of which are likely to survive in buried form. The western end
of the causeway has been destroyed by the construction of a modern car park,
and this area is therefore not included in the scheduling. To the east of the
river is an 18th century stone gateway with wrought-iron gates, Listed Grade
II. These formerly stood at the western end of the causeway but were moved
prior to the construction of the car park.
The great house would have been surrounded by a planned landscape and formal
gardens, and a group of regular, roughly rectangular earthworks immediately to
the north west of the main courtyard may represent associated contemporary
terracing. From the 16th century, water was supplied to the main buildings via
an octagonal, stone-built conduit house, constructed 120m to the north. The
conduit house is Listed Grade II. Further below ground archaeological evidence
and environmental remains associated with the garden, grounds and water supply
can be expected to survive in the areas around the main courtyard.
To the south east and east, the monument is bounded by a ha-ha with a stone-
faced retaining wall approximately 1m high, flanked on its outer, eastern side
by a sloping ditch up to 8m wide. This has been dated to the mid-18th century,
and may have followed the course of an earlier boundary feature. The ha-ha
continues north-east towards Easebourne Priory, although this is not included
in the scheduling.
Laundry Cottages, the Conduit House, the 18th and 19th century stables, barns
and dairy on the south western side of the monument (except for in situ Tudor
masonry and brickwork within the walls of buildings not used as dwellings),
the 17th century granary, the 18th century gateway, the modern sports pavilion
and ancillary buildings, rugby posts, all modern sheds, outbuildings and
garden structures, walls, fences, gates, footbridges, tanks and paving, the
modern surfaces of all roads, tracks, paths and hard-standing are excluded
from the scheduling, although the ground beneath these buildings and features
MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.
The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.
Legacy System number: 29300
Legacy System: RSM
Books and journals
Bloe, J W, The Victoria History of the County of Sussex: Cowdray, (1953), 49-50
St John Hope, W, The Victoria History of the County of Sussex: Cowdray, (1953), 49-50
Cultural Heritage Consultants, Fowler, Darryl , (1997)
This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
End of official listing