Autumn is a wonderful time of year to visit Sheffield Park in East Sussex. Dressed in their glorious reds, oranges and purples, the trees are grouped to show off their colours to the best effect. And even on a dull day, their reflections in the lakes are magical. Enjoy an autumn walk around the four lakes and marvel in the glorious scenery.
Sheffield Park is open all year round and is free to visit for National Trust Members.
It is 17 minutes east of Haywards Heath via A272 and A275, 38 minutes from Brighton and 2 hours south of London.
Sheffield Park was owned by the De La Warr family in 1292 and passed through several hands before it was sold to John Baker Holroyd in 1769. Holroyd commissioned James Wyatt to redesign the house and ‘Capability’ Brown to update the parkland.
In 1789, further alterations were made to the landscape by Humphry Repton. Holroyd was created Baron Sheffield in 1781 and Earl of Sheffield in 1816. Lord Sheffield was succeeded by his son in 1821 and his grandson in 1876. It was the 3rd Earl who laid out the bones of the current garden.
However by the early 1900s, Lord Sheffield had run up massive debts. One of the Earl’s creditors was Arthur Gilstrap Soames who ran a successful brewing business in Grimbsy. Soames asked for first refusal if the estate was ever sold and after the Earl’s death in 1909, he was able to buy it. Soames updated the house but his passion was for gardening. Corresponding with many of the leading horticulturists of the day, Soames experimented with which trees would produce the best Autumn colours. He also created several Kalmia hybrids and indulged in his passion for rhododendrons, azaleas and roses.
Soames died in 1934 and after a protracted legal battle, his nephew Arthur Granville Soames inherited the estate. Canadian troops were stationed at Sheffield Park during the War and inflicted so much damage on the house and land that in 1953, Soames gave up restoring the estate and sold it in two parts.
The ornamental gardens were bought by the National Trust while after changing hands several times, the house was finally bought and converted into fifteen apartments by Period Homes. At the same time, the Arundel Estate Sussex Ltd built a ‘housing court’ on the site of the formal gardens.
I used to live ten minutes away from Sheffield Park but am ashamed to admit that this was my first visit to the gardens. With the COVID restrictions, I had to book my ticket in advance so there was no guarantee that the weather would be fine. At least it didn’t rain!
Turn left out of the ticket office and walk along Church Walk towards the first lake, Ten Foot Pond. The house which is not open to the Public can be seen on your left.
There are several ways to zig-zag your way between the two lakes,
each route with spectacular views.
If you have time, take the Shant Path up to Flint Road and keep north-east to Walk Wood. Having walked around the wood, exit at the south corner and walk down to Upper Woman’s Way Pond. Up on your right is the Cricket Pitch.
Return via the Queen’s Walk and over the bridge dividing the Upper and Lower Ponds. From here, take Birch Grove, Nyssa Grove, Conifer and Auklandii Walks back to the Ticket Office.
Marked by signposts, there are further areas to explore the other side of the drive. The River Ouse lazily meanders to the west and south of South Park with a playtrail in Ringwood Toll.