Victorian society was carefully divided by class. In large country homes, those in the lower orders were literally beneath their “betters”, situated at the bottom of the house. At Uppark House this separation provided inspiration to one of the world’s most famous authors, HG Wells.
Wells’ connection to Uppark comes via his parents. His mother Sarah was a maid, his father a gardener, and they married in 1853. Although she initially left service, she returned as a ladies maid as the family needed money. Although not permitted to live with her, Wells did visit as a boy and spent the winter of 1887/88 convalescing there, by which time his mother was the housekeeper.
The application Sarah made for her son to attend grammar school is kept in the Housekeepers room.
But it’s the tunnels that are of the greatest interest to any Wells’ fans. You may have seen secret doors, corridors, and stairwells for servants to use in other houses, but I’ve only seen these tunnels at Uppark. They were designed so staff could move between different buildings without being seen by their employers and presumably ruining the view!
If you’re familiar with “The Time Machine”, you’ll probably have an idea of how Wells’ experiences here influenced this classic work. In the book, the central character travels forward in time and finds that the human race has split into two very different species.
Above ground, the beautiful, vapid and uneducated Eloi live a carefree life. Below them, the monstrous Morlocks exist in dark caves. It’s easy to pick which one you’d prefer to be – until darkness falls and we see the Eloi herded below ground, food for the cannibal Morlocks. It’s a twisted if logical conclusion to the class split of the Victorian age encountered by Wells. The tunnels of Uppark provided the memorable home for the Morlocks. “Eat the rich” indeed.
It’s also thought that his discovery of a telescope in an attic allowed Wells’ to stare into the night sky and ponder just who was out there – sowing the seeds for “The War of the Worlds”.
Interestingly, there are echoes of the class divide even today. I wasn’t allowed to take photos in the upstairs rooms but could snap away as I wished in the servants quarters.
The grounds of Uppark are good to wander around and there’s a great view over the South Downs so it’s certainly a good place for a picnic. But for me, the best bit is how it reminds me how everything we experience in life can become inspiration.
Have you ever visited Uppark? Or are you a fan of HG Wells? Let me know in the comments if you enjoyed this post.
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Very enjoyable post Rachel. I knew about H.G Wells’ connection to Uppark via his mother and that he was permitted to use the wonderful library there, but nothing about the tunnels. It’s fascinating to imagine him wandering through them, and later using that experience in his creative writing. You really brought this to life and I have put Uppark House on my list of places to be visited soon.
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Thanks! The tunnels are my favourite part, they’re very atmospheric and you can definitely see how they would have stuck in the memory of an imaginative child.
Love your posts and photography. Very beautiful.
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