Our plan was to visit Petworth House but not before a post office or bank for some cash. We ignored the signpost for the house and turned into the town, not realising that almost in the town centre the house could be entered on foot.
Cash, good coffee and a croissant at the excellent Hungry Guest cafe still left us time for a short walk. What a delightful walk it was too: cobbled street, various architectural styles and even a peek into some courtyard gardens, then the church. A small hoarding for the Elizabeth Iliffe celebration in Petworth House directed us to reception, but first we had to retrieve the car from its one-hour parking bay and drive to the road entrance. That done, and after a morning in the house hunger redirected us out into the town again in search of lunch.
Another time and we would book a meal at the Hungry Guest; there were no available tables, to show how popular it is. Very few alternatives seemed on offer, even the pub was closed until later. We found an attractive courtyard surrounded by shops and a delicatessan so settled there.
There was a good florist nearby as well as an upmarket clothes shop and, as might be expected, an antique furniture shop. An art gallery showing some good paintings and prints was in the first street we had walked through, so there is plenty to enjoy apart from the house and its many acres of grounds. There is also a town museum. Not far away is a museum of working life.
We noticed several ‘refugees’ with National Trust stickers so we were clearly not alone in seeking alternative ways to pass the time and recharge batteries. It is instructive to explore the environs of a stately home to place it in context. We certainly found that of value back inside the house in considering the many staff past and present as well as the extraordinary Elizabeth Ilive, who had borne numerous children to the third Lord Egremont before marrying him and then leaving after giving birth to three more who died. (He did at least give her an income and set her up in her own establishment, and declare her children his heirs.) In her own right she also found time to make several important scientific discoveries, for one of which she was awarded a silver medal and twenty guineas (625 pounds today) by the Royal Society.
In all, a worthwhile diversion from the demands of visiting one of the most demanding of stately homes.