Perched high on the Sussex Downs, Uppark was built in 1690 for Ford Grey, Lord Grey of Warke, an odious man by all accounts, though he created a beautiful house. In 1747 Uppark was bought by Matthew Fetherstonuhaugh, who took advantage of an inheritance to furnish the rooms in the latest European fashion, and installed the paintings that he had collected on the Grand Tour. Just two centuries later, the house passed to the National Trust. The particular quality of Uppark was that it was so unaltered; through the years furnishings had been repaired rather than replaced, contents left unmoved. This repose, however, was rudely shattered on the afternoon of 30th August 1989, when Uppark caught fire. Hours later it stood a desolate ruin. While the fire was fought, a salvage operation was mounted, rescuing a remarkably high proportion of the historic contents including much of the interior - panelling, carved wood, plasterwork, textiles and wallpapers. The National Trust faced the very difficult question of what to do with the house and its contents The ensuing debate was fierce, but the course of action emerged clearly.
Uppark had been thoroughly insured, and the money could only be used for reinstatement. The house could and would be saved, its contents repaired and returned in an unprecedented five-year programme. The result is a triumph of conservation over tragedy that has drawn on traditional crafts to match the exceptional quality of the house with new work, and seamless repairs to the old.
Christopher rowell is the Natoinal Trust;s Historic Buildings Representative responsible for Uppark, involved with the restoration of the house since the fire. John Martin Robinson is an architectural historian.