From the wide open spaces of the South Downs to the refinement of its market towns, West Sussex has been both home and an inspiration to a surprising number of famous figures in British life. From great poets and authors to Members of Parliament, the history of the area has some stellar names and genuine surprises. Here are some of the most notable names through the ages, along with some interesting historic places to visit in West Sussex:
Starting just a short distance from Park House Hotel & Spa, pioneering science fiction author HG Wells was a student and later a young teacher of science and Latin at Midhurst Grammar School. Although better known for works like The Invisible Man and The War of the Worlds, later novels such as Tono-Bungay are partly autobiographical and the fictional town of “Wimblehurst” is based on Midhurst.
Perhaps the county’s most celebrated literary figure is visionary romantic poet and artist William Blake however. He lived in Felpham, where his unorthodox, often radical views didn’t always make him popular. In fact, he was once tried but found not guilty at Chichester Guildhall (below) following an altercation with a soldier and allegations of sedition. His Blake’s Cottage at Felpham still exists, thanks to the work of the William Blake Society. It was here he wrote the opening lines (“And did those feet in ancient times…”) to his epic hymn Jerusalem.
Continuing the poetic theme, Lord Tennyson resided at Black Down, the loftiest point of the South Downs National Park, drawing inspiration from the solitude and spectacular views. It was a deliberate move to help him focus on his poetry and he was to write fondly that: “You came and looked and loved the view, long known and loved by me, Green Sussex fading into blue with one grey glimpse of sea.” Today, Black Down is National Trust owned and among visitors’ favourite places to visit in West Sussex (click here for further details of this site).
For Alfred Lord Tennyson, the South Downs provided solitude and inspiration
There are many other famous poets, novelists and playwrights who made West Sussex their home, including several more recent household names from the literary world. Residing in the village of Walberton, north of Bognor Regis, children’s fantasy author Rosemary Sutcliffe was especially smitten by the mythology and rich history of the area, which features heavily in her novels. Equally smitten with legends and the murkier corners of British history was Gormenghast author Mervyn Peake, who resided at School House in Warningcamp, near Arundel.
Museums and Historic Places to Visit in West Sussex
For any visitor interested in Sussex history and the arts, there are many places of interest to visit within easy reach of Park House Hotel & Spa. Our previous blog posts include various sites of note, including National Trust properties and a selection of our favourite West Sussex heritage sites and museums. We've had a few famous hotel guests of our own over the years, as the pictures over our bar testify. But we wouldn't want to spoil the surprise here, you'll just have to join us for a drink and see how many you recognise.