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Life Experience

Nymans National Trust House and Gardens Story

Nymans HouseThe story of Nymans is very unusual

Nymans is a National Trust house and gardens situated in mid Sussex a few miles south of Crawley.
Most National Trust Houses are ancient mansions, castles and estates that have belonged to the rich and powerful of hundreds of years ago. Nymans appears to be another ancient home though on a smaller scale than most. It appears to be a medieval manor house with an extensive Gothic part that is so old it has fallen into decay.
In fact, the Nymans estate only began to be developed in 1890 when the land was purchased by a wealthy German stockbroker, Ludwig Messel. He had a great interest in trees and plants and began the development of Nymans’ tree planting and collection of shrubs and flowers. He developed the wall garden, the heather garden and the pergola walk.


It was Ludwig’s son, Leonard, who inherited the property in 1916, who was an even more enthusiastic plantsman than his father and added greatly to the Nymans collections.

Nymans House
Nymans House

The house and family

It was Leonard who built a new house in the Tudor and Gothic style. So the house which appears to be medieval and which we see today is little over 100 years old.

Why the ruin?

In October 1947 a disastrous fire swept through most of the property creating the burnt out shell we see today at the southern end.
The house was partially re-built after the fire and became one of the homes of Anne Messel, Leonard’s daughter who married Ronald Armstrong Jones. Their son, Anthony, married the Queen’s sister, Princess Margaret, in 1960 and became Lord Snowdon in 1961. For many years he lived on the Nyman’s estate.
Anne’s brother, Oliver Messel, became a famous theatre designer.
Leonard gave Nymans to The National Trust in 1954 but the house continued to be lived in by the family.

Nymans cedar tree and ruin
Nymans House seen from the south, across the main lawn
Anne with her son Anthony. National Trust photograph
 Anne Messel

Anne’s second husband was the Earl of Rosse and Anne lived with her husband mainly in Ireland in Birr Castle, but she often came to live at Nymans. Anne was one of the founders of The Victorian Society which aimed to preserve the (then unfashionable) art and architecture of the Victorian period.
Anne was also a keen gardener and took a hand in Nymans’ continuing development. With her husband she added rhododendrons, camellias, hydrangeas, hypericums, agapanthus, hardy fuschias and more roses. In 1979, following the death of her husband she returned permanently to Nymans to spend her final years here. She was Director of the Garden until1987. She died at Nymans in July 1992 aged 90.
When the house re-opens it is her home that visitors will be able to see. Meanwhile there are the extensive gardens.

An interior view of Nymans, National Trust Photograph


Members of The National Trust – admission free
Non-member adult (aged 18+) £10.00
Non-member child (aged 5-17) £5.00
Non-member family (2 adults max 3 children)£25.00
Non-member family (1 adult max 3 children)£15.00
Booking essential till the end of August
To book call 0344 249 1895
Dogs are not allowed in the gardens but are welcome in the woods


Nymans, Staplefield Lane, Handcross RH17 6EB

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David Roberts

Writer, publisher, music promoter

Born in 1942, I now have time to enjoy life more widely and reflect on my experience, interests, and contemporary events.

David Roberts

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