Laura’s London: Exploring Goodwood House in Sussex

While London is gripped with Olympics fever I thought I’d step out of the city (just for a few hours) to the tranquility of the Sussex countryside and the Goodwood Estate to take a tour of Goodwood House, a 17th century English country house, and partake of a cream tea.

You definitely need to take a house tour to fully appreciate the State Apartments, the paintings, and the fine English and French furniture acquired over centuries. The Tour Guides are theatrical and knowledgeable and will include lots of fun asides to make the visit seem less overwhelming.

And why would you not stop for tea when it is served in the Ballroom with homemade scones accompanied by Goodwood cream and fruit preserve (jam) made from Estate fruit with prices starting from only £4.

Goodwood House Ballroom. Photo credit: Mike Caldwell

Goodwood House Ballroom. Photo credit: Mike Caldwell

About Goodwood House

Goodwood is one of the truly spectacular English country estates, set within the Sussex Downs. The 1st Duke of Richmond bought Goodwood House in 1697 as a hunting lodge and a country retreat away from Richmond House,  his town house in London. With a long heritage as an aristocratic family home, Goodwood also welcomes guests to enjoy the House for tours, weddings and other special occasions, plus award‐winning dining and a range of sporting activities from golf to world class vintage car and horse racing.

Goodwood House combines the opulent grandeur of a great English country house with the warmth of a family home. The Earl and Countess of March live in this elegant Sussex house that provides a dramatic setting for one of the most significant private art collections in the country.

Goodwood House. Photo credit: Clive Bournell

Goodwood House. Photo credit: Clive Bournell

The Family

I’ll admit, I found following the aristocratic titles somewhat confusing during the house tour, especially as many of the family have had more than one title. Thankfully, the official website has explanations of the family line and I’m going to have a go at summarising it here.

The key thing to know is that it all started with an English king and his French mistress in the 17th century. King Charles II had no legitimate children but did have many descendants from his multiple mistresses. The French mistress was Louise de Keouralle and their son, Charles Lennox, was made Duke of Richmond (in Yorkshire, not London) and Duke of Lennox (the family name), as well as Seigneurie of Aubigny, a title bestowed by Louis XIV of France on Louise de Keroualle. Not to be outdone, King Charles II also bestowed on his son the titles of Earl of March and Baron Settrington, Earl of Darnley and Lord of Torbolton in Scotland.

This many titled chap married Anne, daughter of Lord Brudenell and granddaughter of the Earl of Cardigan and they produced Charles, 2nd Duke of Richmond, Lennox and Aubigny (1701-50).

The 3rd Duke (1735-1806) had an incredible list of achievements including founding the Royal Ordnance Survey, to map the whole of Britain at one inch to the mile. He had no legitimate children and was succeeded by his nephew. In 1789, the  4th Duke (1764-1819) married Charlotte, eldest daughter of Alexander, 4th Duke of Gordon which is how, in 1856, the 5th Duke (1791-1860) inherited the vast Gordon estates in Scotland, and why in 1876 Queen Victoria bestowed the Dukedom of Gordon, by now extinct, on the 6th Duke (1818-1903).

The 7th Duke (1845-1928) – we’re now talking about: Charles, 7th Duke of Richmond, Lennox, Gordon and Aubigny (just checking you are keeping up) –  gave great house parties at Goodwood for the races, and every year insisted on travelling to Gordon Castle in Scotland on a private train with all his family, the day after Glorious Goodwood ended.

The 8th Duke (1870-1935) followed the family’s military traditions but contracted polio so couldn’t serve in WWI. The 9th Duke (1904-1989) was the only Duke not to be called Charles as his first Christian name (but it was his second), and he inherited the title following the tragic death of his brother, then Lord Settrington, in WWI in 1919.

The 10th Duke now lives at Molecomb, a house on the estate, with The Duchess. They have five children, including one son, the Earl of March, who has managed the Goodwood Estate since 1994. Lord March is the founder of the Goodwood Festival of Speed (1993) and reopened the Goodwood Motor Circuit in September 1998 – the only circuit in the world dedicated to historic motor racing. In 2010, he organised the first ever celebration of British design, music and fashion festival, Vintage at Goodwood.

What a family, eh?

View of Whitehall from Richmond House by Canaletto

The House Tour

The 1st Duke of Richmond purchased this Jacobean house in 1697. The section at the back is referred to as the ‘old house’ and Roger Morris, the same architect who worked on Chichester Assembly Rooms, redesigned the Main Hall in 1730. This is the room where you will see two Canaletto paintings of London, produced in 1747. Young aristocrats would go on their Grand Tour of Europe and Canaletto realised they regularly bought Italian paintings with the incredible detail that he could create so he came to London to increase his sales. The 2nd Duke gave Canaletto his first commission outside of Italy when he painted the view from the family’s London residence, Richmond House, on Whitehall. The scene is busy and our Guide politely told us that at the time if ladies were not escorted then they were not ladies.

There is also an unusual painting of King Charles II in Whitehall Palace, by Henri Gascar (1635-1701)  that shows his French mistress, Louise de Keroualle, in the background. It is clear they were very much in love but it’s still not common to have such an open record of their unmarried relationship.

Richmond House in London burned down in 1791 and the art collection with brought to Goodwood House. The building has had additions and renovations and now looks like three sides of an octagon. The Regency State Apartments were added for entertaining from 1800 by the architect James Wyatt who also designed The Kennels, the building to house the Duke’s hunting hounds that became the first building on the Estate to have central heating. The Kennels have recently been restored to form the clubhouse for members of the various Goodwood sporting clubs. As you look across the grounds you may well spot a family member whizzing past in a sports car, or riding a thoroughbred horse, but do look at the trees which were a passion for the 2nd and 4rd Dukes, especially cedars and oaks and by the 1700s there were 10,000 cedar trees and 40 different oaks. The 12,000 acres Estate is maintained by a team of 20 gardeners and groundsmen.

Racehorses Exercising by George Stubbs

Even when you arrive in the Entrance Hall you can feel the grandeur from the Guernsey granite columns and hunting scenes by the artist George Stubbs who was introduced to the family by Sir Joshua Reynolds. He stayed at Goodwood for nine months and produced paintings of the hounds, servants and horses before he produced the book: Anatomy of the Horse.

The royal connections are on display throughout the House. In the Music Room you can see a lock of Charles I’s hair and a piece of his coffin and the room opposite has a letter written by Charles II to his French mistress. (See ‘Royal Goodwood: The Summer Exhibition’ below.)

Tapestry Drawing Room. Photo credit: Mike Caldwell

The 3rd Duke got a bargain when he bought the enormous Gobelins French tapestries when the King somewhat over-ordered for his needs. As it took a year to produce 2-3 sqm the size of these tapestries is even more magnificent. The Tapestry Room has also seen the most Royal Privy Council meetings of any private house.

The 19th Century Egyptian Dining Room. Photo credit: Clive Boursnell

The Egyptian Dining Room was restored just before the millennium as fortunately aristocrats do not throw anything out so the family could piece it all back together although the mummy case is now in the Sir John Soane Museum in London as it’s no longer the done thing to have a mummy in your dining room. Amongst the overt Egyptian imagery there is a large unassuming piece of granite that dates from before when King Tutankhamen took to the throne, used as a plant stand.

The Yellow Drawing room. Photo credit: Tim Imrie

The Yellow Drawing Room reminded me the most of Buckingham Palace with its silk lined walls and royal portraits including one of Lady Charles Spencer by Sir Joshua Reynolds, an ancestor of Lady Diana Spencer aka Diana, Princess of Wales. (Did you know? When Prince William becomes king, he will be the first descendant of Charles II to occupy the British throne.)

The 5th Duke returned home from the Battle of Waterloo with Napoleon’s campaign chair and subsequent generations have enjoyed using it at their writing desk in this room.

Sevres vases at Goodwood House

The circular Card Room, so named because Edward VII loved playing cards here, houses a collection of Sevres porcelain that many suggest is the finest in the world. The 3rd Duke visited the French Sevres factory in 1765 on his Grand Tour and showed them his book of bird illustrations. This was the first time a client had visited the factory to place an order and the first time a service featured real representations of birds from nature onto porcelain rather than the fantastical creations, which were the norm.

The tour ends in the Ballroom and the paintings hang (where each painting should be on the walls) was sketched by the 3rd Duke and hasn’t been altered. Do note the huge painting of King Charles I and family by Sir Anthony Van Dyk as the same painting hangs at Buckingham Palace. There is also a painting  of the beautiful French mistress, Louise de Keroualle, which brought the response at the time that she was “mostly in her undress all day”.

The Ballroom is now the Tea Room (dancing still happens regularly; they just use a different room)  and is a wonderful setting to rest and take in the splendour all around you.

Goodwood Ballroom. Photo credit: Clive Boursnell

Royal Goodwood: The Summer Exhibition

To celebrate Her Majesty The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, the summer exhibition, Royal Goodwood, looks at Goodwood’s royal heritage and how it is represented in the art collection as well as through royal visits, photographs, letters and royal gifts. It runs from 6 August to 15 October 2012.

The 1st Duke of Richmond was the natural son of King Charles II by his beautiful French mistress Louise de Keroualle and he bought Goodwood in 1697 as a hunting lodge.

King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra were both regular visitors for the annual Glorious Goodwood Race week. The house is currently managed by the Earl of March and he remembers these royal visits from his childhood:

‘It was a very exciting experience having the Royal Family to stay. Enormous energy went into the preparations and staff numbers seemed to zoom from three to thirty‐three. There was bustle and busyness everywhere, with everyone single‐mindedly trying to attain absolute perfection in whatever they did – nothing less would do. I saw most of the visit from the top of the stairs. There were red coats, white gloves and black shiny shoes everywhere. It was very exhilarating – even the helicopter was red. One of my earliest memories was my whole family standing in the Front Hall waiting for the great noise of the rotors, which signified the Royal arrival. For a small child the feeling of anticipation was overwhelming.’

Goodwood House Wedding. Photo credit: Ian Southworth

More Than Just a Grand House

The Goodwood Estate has a lot to offer and you would do well to spend a few days in the area just to take it all in. There is the Goodwood Hotel, The Waterbeach luxury health spa, the restaurants, golf courses, Goodwood Motor Circuit (the only classic motor circuit in the world to remain entirely in its original form), the aerodrome for flying lessons or flight experiences, the Sculpture Park and the organic farm, before I even mention the list of annual events such as Glorious Goodwood or the Goodwood Festival of Speed. When based at the Goodwood Hotel, you could explore West Sussex and neighbouring Hampshire further with these suggestions as well as visiting Chichester and Brighton.

If all of that sounds like too much time for your first visit then, after the House Tour, go to the farm shop. The Goodwood Estate organic farm and kitchen gardens supply the chefs of Goodwood House with fresh seasonal produce all year round and you can buy produce in the farm shop. As well as fruit and vegetables they also nurture rare and native breeds of cows, pigs and sheep.

Photo Gallery

Key Info about Goodwood House


Time: Goodwood House is open for tours from March to October each year, generally from 1pm to 5pm on Sunday and Monday.  From 5 to 30 August, the house is open Sunday to Thursday for the summer exhibition.

Address: Goodwood House, Chichester, West Sussex PO18 0PX

Phone: +44 (0)1243 755 000

Costs: Adult £9.50 / Student £4 /child £4 (aged 12-18 years) / under 12s free
Family ticket: 2 adult & 2 children (children 12-18 years) £22

Getting there: Train to Chichester (1.5 hours from London) and a short taxi ride (but too far to walk).

No Photography: No photography allowed inside the house, or of the front of the house.

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  1. avatarEdward Billington says

    Can you tell me why many of the houses around Goodwood/Midhurst are painted with the same yellow paint?