Cowdray Castle - once a great and important building, now a curiosity linked to a strange story

The Ruins of Cowdray Castle

at Midhurst, West Sussex

Most people associate the name of Cowdray with polo, but it has long been a major estate on the edge of Midhurst, West Sussex. The sombre ruins of the original Cowdray Castle are clearly visible close to the town, looking a little like the setting for a horror film.
The building of Cowdray Castle started during the early 16th Century. In 1542, following the Dissolution of the Roman Catholic Church, Henry the Eighth awarded the castle to one Sir Anthony Browne, Master of the Horse. This was a little strange since Browne was a staunch Roman Catholic. Browne died in 1548.

Cowdray Castle saw its heyday in the time of Browne's son, Sir Anthony Browne the Second. An important man in the court of Queen Elizabeth the First, he was highly trusted by the Queen and sent by her on missions overseas to act on her behalf. Browne entertained the Queen at long parties held at Cowdray in her honour, parties that lasted for days with great banquets and entertainment.

But all was not well for - some might say - the family was living on borrowed time.

At the time that the first Anthony Browne had been awarded Cowdray he took control also of Battle Abbey (in East Sussex). After razing many of the church buildings to the ground he evicted the monks and, as a result, was cursed by the last monk of Battle Abbey who said that his family line would perish by fire or water.

Just over 250 years later in 1793 the 8th Viscount Montague, descendant of the Browne family, was drowned in a boating accident - trying to shoot a waterfall on the River Rhine. A week later Cowdray burned to the ground, leaving the ruins we see today. (An alternative account puts events in the other order - that the house was burned down by workmen preparing for the homecoming and wedding of Viscount Montague, and that he died abroad one month later immediately after receiving a letter telling him of the fire).

The Cowdray estate passed to the Viscount's sister who married and had two sons. They were drowned in a boating accident in 1815.

Coincidences - or something more?
This Memorial Temple lies in the Cowdray estate a short distance outside Midhurst - at Benbow Pond on the road towards Petworth.

Built in 2000, it was erected in memory of the late Viscount Cowdray the Third.

It is surrounded by an arboretum, and public access will be allowed once the arboretum has grown.