"Arty, classy: in the Downs and on the up"
Petworth is proof that pretty and traditional doesn’t have to mean stuck in the past. The immaculate selection of historic houses – brick, stone and whitewashed, medieval, Georgian and Victorian – that fan out from the market square would grace any box of fair trade high-cocoa chocolate truffles. The haughty National Trust pile of Petworth House gazes grandly across the tiled rooftops, the surrounding South Downs countryside is enchanting and unspoilt (and kept that way under the protection of the Leconfield Estate and national park status) and the antique shops that used to be the only reason to get out of the Volvo on the way to Goodwood are still in plentiful supply. They have been joined by new galleries and food shops, while interesting community groups and initiatives are springing up all the time.
The Hungry Guest is a first-rate deli – top independent retailer for southern England and London at the Great British Food Awards 2018 – that sells everything from own-baked bread and cakes to homemade jam and muesli (£8 for 1.2kg). It has spawned a cafe and butcher, and its cousins the Angel Inn and New Street Bar & Grill have elevated drinking and dining to optimum laid-back-but-classy level, with local produce to the fore (beef from Goodwood, Nyetimber wines, tomatoes from Nutbourne Nursery). There’s a helpful bookshop, card shop, ultra-stylish florist and expert cobbler, all flying the independent flag in a town where the big names are conspicuous by their absence.
“A lot of good places have opened up and it’s become a fascinating place,” says Claire Penhallurick, managing director of the Augustus Brandt art, antiques and interiors gallery. “It has an interesting cast of characters, and there’s a lot of local support for the town.” She loves exploring the countryside with her dogs: “To walk through Petworth Park or the Shimmings Valley when the sun is shining is an amazing experience, then you can go into town and stock up on amazing foods.”
Matthew Spriggs, 50, moved here in 1991 and now runs the florist’s, living above the shop in a building with a pretty walled garden that dates back to 1560. “Apart from the Co-op and the chemist, it’s all independents, and that’s what people want,” he says “There’s a great sense of community in Petworth. It still has character, but seems to have attracted people from all over the place.”
That sense of hearty, happy fellowship is visible in countless ways, from regular knit-and-natter sessions and a thriving community garden to the many projects organised and inspired by the energetic local action group Petworth Vision, which has organised computer classes for the elderly, mentoring for children and family fun days, sports days and heritage days. Volunteers are giving the cricket club a new lease of life and there’s a regular not-for-profit film show in Leconfield Hall. Everyone is included. Petworth is as dog-friendly a place as you’ll find: they’re welcome almost everywhere, and there are free dog biscuits on the bar at the Angel.
The jewel in the crown, though, is the Petworth Festival, a summer jamboree of international-class classical music that has spawned its own fringe (Petfringe) and an autumn literary festival. Already confirmed for this summer are the pianist Imogen Cooper, opera singer John Tomlinson and comedian Julian Clary. The festival celebrated its 40th anniversary last year and, with plans in the pipeline to expand the beautiful Leconfield Hall into a major arts hub for the county, seems to be growing in ambition – much like Petworth itself.
Get connected There’s no station, not good for convenience, though it adds to the charm, because everyone who lives here wants to be here, rather than get somewhere else. Many do commute, from Pulborough (a 10-minute drive) and Haslemere (20 minutes), where trains take about an hour to reach London Victoria or Waterloo. Chichester is a half-hour drive and the sea at West Wittering, 10 minutes more.
Broadband Good superfast coverage in the village, with fixed wireless broadband as an option, too.
Insider view “It’s got genuine character. There are so many independents – when you walk into a shop you can be confident that the owner will be serving you,” says Kathryn Mandry, manager of the antiques market.
Education Petworth CofE primary, a forest school, officially requires improvement, though a recent inspection reported that “work is well under way to ensure the school is judged good at its next inspection”. Outstanding Midhurst Rother is the state secondary of choice. Independent Seaford College is four miles away.
Air quality No reported issues.
Caveat emptor Mobile signal can be patchy.
Best address You’ll need to move fast if a town-centre house comes on the market – and probably find £750,000 or more for a four-bedder. Otherwise, look at picture-perfect villages such as Lodsworth or Lurgashall, where a farmhouse with a couple of acres fetches £2m-£3m.
Why we love it Arty, classy: in the Downs and on the up.