portrait of Elizabeth Fitzgerald

The Geraldine Ceiling

West Horsley Place has many stories and no story is more present in the fabric of the building than that of the ‘Fair Geraldine’. The Fair Geraldine, a sonnet written by Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey in 1537, was inspired by the young Elizabeth Fitzgerald, often called Fair Geraldine, a young member of the powerful and connected Fitzgerald family. She grew up at the Tudor court and was educated with the young Princess Elizabeth.

Geraldine’s story intersects with that of West Horsley Place when she married Sir Anthony Browne, a favourite at the court of Henry VIII. In 1547 Henry gifted West Horsley Place to Sir Anthony and he and Elizabeth took up residence.

One of the legacies of the Browne ownership of West Horsley Place is a small Tudor room on the first floor of the house.  It has a beautiful ceiling embellished with low, plaster reliefs with the initials ‘AB’ (Anthony Browne) and ‘EB’ (Elizabeth Browne). The ceiling was installed in 1547/8. We can be confident of this date because it must have been put in after the gift of the estate to the Brownes in 1547 but before Sir Anthony’s death just a year later. The ceiling is believed to be the oldest decorative plaster ceiling in England.

the geraldine roomThe Conservation Challenge

We are delighted to have made a healthy start in raising this much needed income. The Wolfson Foundation have awarded us £50,700, part of which will support this project (the grant will also support the repair and cleaning of the damask silk that lines the Red Drawing Room on the first floor of the manor house). The Pilgrim Trust have awarded us £25,000 towards the costs and we have received a further £8,000 grant from another charitable trust. We are tantalisingly close to reaching the goal needed and hope to be able to start works later this year. When works start, visitors will have the rare opportunity to see just how this type of specialist conservation takes place (did you know goat hair was a key ingredient for making plaster?).

We’re delighted to be well on our way to preserving and protecting this very special part of West Horsley Place.  Watch this space for more details!