Cowdray House, Midhust, West Sussex title banner, a history of a magnificent 16th Cent house, destroyed by fire in the late 18th Cent
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Cowdray was built in three phases that took about twenty-two years to complete. Subsequent small alterations and additions were made over the following two centuries. The coloured key on the plan illustrates the phases of construction.

Sir David Owen started Cowdray between 1520-30 after he had cleared the site of the earlier building. He only completed half the work, but it seems likely that the roughly square plan with the quadrangular court that was later finished was park of his design.

The man responsible for the completion of Cowdray was Sir William FitzWilliam. He bought the house in 1529, though Sir David was allowed to stay there until his death in 1535, after which Sir William moved in and finished the house. In 1532, he had been granted a special licence by Henry VIII to, “empark 600 acres of land, meadow, pasture and wood lying in Easebourne and Midhurst, ‘to be called and named the park of Cowdray for ever,’ ” and “to build, make and construct walls and towers with stone, lime and sand, around, upon and within their manor of Cowdray... and to enclose that manor with such walls and towers and also to embattle or fortify, crenellate and machicolate those walls and towers.”

Sir William's building programme fell into two parts, the first in 1535-39 when he completed the basic structure and plan of Cowdray and the second between 1539-42 when he made many additions and alterations. These probably came about because he had been made Earl of Southampton in 1537 and on several occasions he had the honour of entertaining King Henry VIII at Cowdray. So the alterations were 'home improvements' to honour his Royal visitor as well as to signify his higher status.

On Sir William FitzWilliam's death in 1542, the estate went to his half brother, Sir Anthony Browne and it is with this family that Cowdray remained until its destruction by fire in 1793. A full list of the owners of Cowdray is given in the appendices.

When complete, Cowdray house occupied about one acre in the southwest corner of its 600-acre park. A grand 400-yard long raised causeway, once lined by a double row of trees reached it. It ran from North Street, Midhurst, to the stone bridge over the River Rother, fifty yards from the front of the house.

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