It's rare to visit a stately home because its connection to someone who lived downstairs and not upstairs, but that's exactly what brought me to Uppark House near Petersfield in West Sussex. It was here that H.G. Wells' mother, Sarah Neal, worked as a ladies' maid for Miss Frances Bullock and where she met her future husband, Joseph Wells, the resident gardner. The couple eventually moved to Kent and went on to have four children, including Herbert George, or Bertie, in 1866. When the Wells fell on hard times, Sarah returned to work as a housekeeper at Uppark and unusually, young H.G. was allowed to stay with his mother and even granted access to the library. It was here that he got his first taste of the classics and he would go on to use in the house in two of his novels, Time Machine and Tono-Bungay.
The downstairs is connected through a series of underground tunnels so that the servants could remain out of sight while going about their work. Wells later drew on this subterranean world in Time Machine, with the Morlocks, a subhuman species who operated the below-ground machinery which makes the world of the beautiful, surface-dwelling Eloi possible.
Set in the beautiful South Downs, Uppark boasts sweeping views of the surrounding countryside and on a clear day you can see as far as the coast (or so I'm told). In Tono-Bungay, the house features as Bladeswell, which is 'up on the Kentish Downs', and represents a 'seventeenth-century system' that is 'the clue to all England'.
In 1881, his mother sent him to work at a chemist in nearby Midhurst, where he also attended the local grammar school. It was here that Wells really came into his own and eventually earned a place at the Royal College of Science in London.