Herstmonceux Castle is one of the most fascinating and awe-inspiring sites to behold in East Sussex, England. Surrounded by a moat and nestled in 600 acres of manufactured woodland, this fifteenth-century Tudor phenomenon stands as a witness to history and testimony to architectural ingenuity. Since its preliminary construction in 1441 by Sir Roger Fiennes, Treasurer to King Henry VI, the castle has undergone a series of modern alterations, beginning with the deliberate demolition of its interior structures by then-owner Robert Hare-Naylor in 1777. Naylor’s destruction left, primarily, nothing but the exterior walls and converted the structure to a deliberate “ruin.” This fact was reversed in the early twentieth century first by Col. Claude Lowther in 1913 and, more extensively, by Sir Herbert Paul Latham in 1933. Modifications to the interior structure and surrounding landscaping continued throughout the twentieth century under subsequent owners, most notably the Royal Greenwich Observatory and, more recently, Queen’s University’s Bader International Study Centre.
Preliminary archaeological analysis of the area substantiates the presence of a substantial modern brick building of roughly the dimensions suggested by extant photographs of Little Manor.
Aside from these tantalizing brick and stone remnants, buried beneath vines and leaves in the nearby treeline, documentary evidence of Little Manor comes to us through a few printed sources. The first is written descriptions provided by Mrs. Verily Anderson (1911 – 2010), who was the daughter of the Vicar of nearby All Saints Church, and who spent an idyllic childhood playing on the estate. Anderson’s descriptions, provided in her ultimate memoir, The Castellans of Herstmonceux, includes anecdotal and photographic evidence of Little Manor, as well as her recollection for why and when the building was first erected:
“Oh yes,” said Mother. “They’re living in Claude Lowther’s Little Manor he built in the park to stay in while he started to restore the castle…”. (Castellans, 14)
Anderson’s recollection is remarkably precise in that she also recalls the occupants of the dwelling. In the quoted passage, she is speaking of a local family, the Battines, who stayed at Little Manor during a visit in 1916. Later, she recalls that a subsequent occupant was “a young artist, who collaborated with [Verily’s] father on a spoof book of poetry…”. (Castellans, 15).
The alterations to the Castle extend equally to the broader property and to a series of now absent ancillary structures, one of which poses a fascinating mystery for modern visitors: the now-absent “Lowther Manor” or “Little Manor.” The foundations of the Little Manor may still be found be astute explorers of the grounds. Lidar (light detection and ranging) imaging reveals the remaining contours of a foundation or building debris, clearly visible to the naked eye beneath the extant tree line, in the very location identified on a 1929 Map of Herstmonceux (discussed below) as the site of Little Manor (see Figure 1).
Aside from these tantalizing photographs from a bygone era, a survey map also confirms the placement of the missing manor house. It dates to 1929, and quite clearly places and labels the “Little Manor House” due west of the castle and East of Church Road, in the location indicated by Lidar and visual inspection, and further confirming the placement suggested by contemporaneous photographic evidence.
This 1929 map appears to be based loosely on the twenty-five-inch ordnance survey map from 1898/9, as it preserves the same plot numbers. The ordnance survey map of 1898/9, and also that of 1908, however, notably do not include Little Manor – confirming that the building was not there at the turn of the century, and supporting Verily Anderson’s assertion that Col. Lowther had it built during his castle reconstruction project (Figure 7).
Now, if Little Manor was still standing in 1929, it did not remain standing for very much longer. Subsequent ordnance surveys, including those from the 1930s and 40s, do not contain the structure (Figure 8).
The elimination of Little Manor from the property is confirmed by a photograph also taken for Country Life in November 1935, following the completion of reconstruction of the Castle and its estate by Sir Herbert Paul Latham (Figure 9).
So, as far as the evidence suggests, Little Manor stood overlooking Herstmonceux Castle sometime after 1910 and prior to 1935. It was present at the start of and during Col. Lowther’s reconstruction and likely placed there by him as a temporary home. It was most certainly gone around the time Sir Herbert Paul Latham completed his reconstruction of the castle. A local legend provides an amusing narrative to explain its removal. According to this unconfirmed narrative, Sir Herbert Paul Latham’s mother-in-law, Lady Kathleen Pellham Burn Moore, once stayed in Little Manor and liked it so much that she suggested it would make an ideal permanent residence. So horrified was Sir Paul at the thought of his mother-in-law moving onto the estate that, when she left from her visit, he had the building demolished. Whether or not this explains the sudden disappearance of Little Manor is impossible to know!
Verily Anderson (née Bruce) was born the fourth of five children on 12 January 1915 in Birmingham. She moved to Herstmonceux with her parents and siblings in 1923. Her father, the Rev. Francis Rosslyn Courtenay Bruce, was a prominent naturalist from a distinguished English lineage (he was the grandson of the Irishman Sir James Bruce, 2nd baronet, who had fought at Waterloo). When he took up the incumbency of All Saint’s Parish near the castle, Verily lived most of her formative years in and around the environs of the castle, which enabled her to “enjoy and retain a very up close and personal perspective on the owners and stewards of Herstmonceux and their visitors”(Castellans, 1). These included Claude Lowther, whom she remarks lived in Little Manor at one point, and Sir Herbert Paul Latham.
Written by Peter del Rosso