Uncovering a stained glass masterpiece in the heart of Sussex

Blue Badge Tourist Guide, Tanya Williams explores a fine country house hotel in Sussex.

My acquaintance with Ashdown Park Hotel happened when in conversation with a friend, a contemporary stained glass artist she mentioned Harry Clarke, an Irish stained glass Master, whose works could be seen in the chapel of the Ashdown Park Hotel.

I immediately fell in love with the hotel’s grounds, but when I entered the chapel I was really stunned! 8 windows created by the genius Master! What a discovery!  

During his short life (1889 to 1931), Harry created over 160 stained glass windows for religious and commercial commissions throughout Ireland and England, and as far a field as the USA and Australia. There is a long and exciting story behind his work here in Sussex – here are some of the highlights;

Ashdown Forest was initially enclosed under the decree of 1693 (William III and Mary II).

In about 1822 a large house was built in an area called Ashdown Park. At some point the house was demolished and a new one in Victorian Gothic style was built and this now forms the central section of the four-star hotel.

In time the estate passed to C.K.T. Fisher, a noted water-colourist. This respectable gentleman fought and was sadly killed in the WWI. Before going to war, he bequeathed Ashdown Park to be used as a Recovering Home for Belgian officers.

In 1920 Ashdown Park was purchased by a religious order, the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur (Belgium).

The first Sisters of Notre Dame, together with 33 Novices arrived at Ashdown Park and soon the Chapel of Our Lady and St Richard was built.  In 1924 they commissioned Harry Clarke to create the windows for the Chapel dedicated to the life of The Virgin Mary.

The Nuns stayed in Ashdown Park for almost 50 years.

In 1971 the estate became a branch of the University of California, the chapel was transformed into a conference hall and the rooms were converted for lectures.

In 1993 Ashdown Park was bought by the Small Luxury Hotels Group, and became the Ashdown Park Hotel (now an Elite Hotel) a real gem hidden in the depth of Ashdown Forest – within an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty that inspired A. A. Milne with his Winnie The Pooh stories.

Here – less than an hour from London, you can find a great escape from hectic urban life, relax in the spa, have a game of golf or just wander through 186 acres of beautifully landscaped grounds. It is also a great place for the afternoon tea, romantic dinner or big family event.

For me the windows of Harry Clarke are still the biggest attraction of the place. No matter how hard I try, I can’t verbally reproduce the beauty of the windows and the 36 shades of blue that Clark used in his artworks.   We are so lucky to have this treasure here, in Sussex!