Staff share what it is like to work at National’s Trust Petworth House

Petworth House celebrates its 75th anniversary with the National Trust this year, we find out what it is like to work there.

Petworth House is a late 17th-century Grade I listed country house nestled in the South Downs.

It joined the National Trust 75 years ago. The 700-acre deer park at Petworth had inspired painter JMW Turner on his visits to Petworth.

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The park, along with the Pleasure Garden, was transformed in the 1750s and early 1760s by the landscape designer Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown.

Visitor in the grounds of Petworth House and Park, West Sussex. SUS-220328-143215003

It currently employs 55 people and has 270 volunteers working in the house and grounds.

Sue Rhodes is currently visitor experience manager at Petworth House and has worked in a variety of different roles over 17 years.

She said: “Petworth House and Park is a very special place to work, it is so beautiful and I love watching the changes across the seasons, but my favourite time is summer; the grounds are an explosion of green, the trees are in full leaf and when the sun hits the West Front of the house in the afternoon it is magical. I can see why Turner painted the view from that spot.

“The collection within the house is really what makes my heart sing, even after so many years it still takes my breath away that tucked away in this house in Sussex are the most extraordinary paintings. The house is full of treasures, I still see details I haven’t noticed before and I am in awe of the skill of the makers and artists that created these objects.”

The Carved Room, with the four paintings by Turner restored to the panelling, looking South at Petworth House and Park, West Sussex. The carvings are by Grinling Gibbons. Henry VIII portrait hangs over fireplace. SUS-220328-143226003

In her current role she is focused on the visitors and ensuring they have a really great visit, covering everything from volunteering and community engagement, working with local community groups and heritage sites and welcoming people at receptions and events.

She said: “No day is ever the same, which is what I love. It is quite hard to describe what my job is and what exactly I do, but what I can say is that I am never bored.

“I feel really proud to play a small part in this house’s story, it has been here for centuries and thanks to the support of National Trust members and visitors it will be here for hundreds more and that is quite something.”

Inspired by the Baroque palaces of Europe, Petworth House has an extraordinary 900-year-old history, and visitors can explore the grand state rooms that showcase exquisite collection items, including the earliest English globe in existence, dating back to 1592.

Sue Rhodes, visitor experience manager

Rooms of note include the Carved Room that is home to carvings by Grinling Gibbons that surround four paintings by JMW Turner, including two of Petworth Park itself, which were commissioned by the 3rd Earl of Egremont.

The impressive North Gallery houses a large collection, including artworks by William Blake and sculpture by John Flaxman.

The extensive collection here reflects a journey of survival through the Tudor Reformation, the Gunpowder Plot, the Napoleonic Wars and the consolidation of the British Empire.

Michelle Dellar has been senior collection and house officer since 2019. In this role she has to maintain the balance between visitor access and care of the collection.

Michelle Dellar, senior collection and house officer

She does this by managing a dedicated collection team, which includes the support of collection volunteers, who provide the daily preservation and care required.

She said: “I do not think I can choose a favourite object from our collection, in my role I believe in valuing and understanding the significance of all the collection objects.

“That said, I would like to highlight a painting called Fête in Petworth Park, by William Frederick Witherington, RA (1785-1865). This visually attractive picture with its lovely blue sky and bright colours is from 1835, and beautifully captures a celebratory event set in front of Petworth House. The 3rd Earl Lord Egremont (George O’Brien Wyndham, 1751-1837) is also featured elevated on horseback greeting those attending seemingly enjoying a day at Petworth.”

Petworth House is home to one of the largest collections of sculpture and paintings in the care of the National Trust, with works by artists such as JMW Turner, Gainsborough, Reynolds and Van Dyck.

Michelle said: “It is amazing working at Petworth House. I believe we all work tirelessly to achieve a collective aim which is to provide a consistently rewarding visitor experience. It is important the collection here remains relevant today and sharing our fabulous collection with visitors ensures we can keep investing in conservation and preservation.”

To mark its anniversary with the National Trust it is hosting a number of events, including a number of Petworth Late openings, such as A Turner Art Escape on July 1, and summer solstice on June 21 where you can watch the sunset at the pleasure garden.

Other events include a watercolour landscape patining workshop on Friday, May 20, Wednesday, July 13, Saturday, August 13 and Wednesday, September 7.

There will be children’s activity stations from Saturday, July 23 until Sunday, September 4 where children can come and explore the garden and complete different activity stations from hopping, skinning and jumping to balancing, target practice and stretching tall like a tree. This event is included in normal admission price and no booking is required.

On Friday, July 22 and Friday, August 5 it will be open from 6.30pm until 8.30pm for its House of Art event. Visitors will be able to experience an evening atmosphere of art and culture.

There will be the chance to explore the rooms with its vast art collection, including works by J.M.W Turner and Thomas Gainsborough, along with carvings by Grinling Gibbons. Enjoy a drink on arrival, the music of a string duo, highlight talks and watch the sunset over Petworth Park. Pay-for bar also available. Booking essential.

An outdoor workshop will take place on Friday, June 3, Saturday, July 2 and Wednesday, August 24.

Led by Helen Kelly, an experienced and friendly tutor from Aspire Sussex. Amongst the ancient trees in Petworth Park you will learn how to choose a suitable subject and how to plan and draw out your composition. You will be shown a wide range of drawing and watercolour techniques.

The park is today home to 700-800 fallow deer, along with breath-taking ancient trees, with one tree nearly 1,000 years old.

Spend a day in Petworth Park on this photography workshop led by an experienced tutor from Aspire Sussex on June 18 and August 12.

For ultimate tranquillity on July 23 and 30, August 20 and 27 and September 3 you can experience a yoga session in the park where the experienced tutor from Aspire Sussex will provide a gentle and restorative practice. Please bring a yoga mat with you.

For more information and to book events, visit nationaltrust.org.uk/petworth-house-and-park

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