Police raids in Yorkshire have recovered more than £1 million worth of Sevres and Meissen porcelain stolen from Firle Place in West Sussex in 2009. Lord Gage told The Times that he was ‘absolutely thrilled’ to be reunited with the missing articles. Firle Place is closed this year for restoration but will celebrate its reopening in 2012 with the reinstated treasures in pride of place.
The Gage family who still live in Firle Place and run the estate, are descended from a Norman Baron who arrived with William the Conqueror in 1066. The family came to prominence under Sir John Gage (1479-1556), who was variously Governor of Calais, Vice-Chamberlain to King Henry VIII, Knight of the Garter and Constable of the Tower of London, where he was charged with the imprisonment of the future Queen Elizabeth I. He built a Tudor House at Firle in 1473.
In the 18th Century one of his descendants Sir Thomas Gage entered military service and served alongside George Washington. He served as commander in chief of the British forces in North America where his actions played a role in igniting the American Revolutionary War. Sir Thomas led British forces into a famous defeat at the 1775 Battle of Bunker Hill.
Another Sir Thomas Gage (1781-1820) was a horticulturalist who introduced the greengage plum to the British Isles. His brother, John, was a Roman Catholic priest who lived near Paris. He purchased “Reine Claude” trees from the monks at Chartreuse. Sending them to England, their labels were lost; the fruit was subsequently named greengage after Thomas.
Some other Firle Facts:
Sir William Gage challenged the Duke of Richmond to one of the earliest recorded cricket matches at the Dripping Pan in Lewes in 1730. Firle Cricket Club, one of the oldest in the country was founded in 1758.
The writer Virginia Wolfe visited nearby Lewes in December 1910 and decided to relocate in Firle, where she rented a house and renamed it Little Talland House. Pointz Hall, a fictional manor from her novel Between the Acts, is believed to be inspired by Firle Place. Her sister, painter and interior designer Vanessa Bell moved to Firle in 1916 taking residence with her lover Duncan Grant in Charleston Farmhouse, which subsequently became a regular haunt of the Bloomsbury Group. Vanessa Bell, her son Quentin Bell, and Duncan Grant are all buried in the churchyard of St Peter’s, Firle.
South of the village lie the South Downs and Firle Beacon, which reaches a height of 217 m. The beacon was once a lighting beacon used as part of a warning system during the Spanish Armada’s threatened invasion of Queen Elizabeth I’s Protestant England in 1588.