It was my wedding anniversary on the 3rd August , we have been married ten years. One of the places we revisit as it has so many happy memories for us of when we were ‘courting’, taking Orla there as a baby and toddler, is West Dean Gardens. I include here an article I wrote for UK Handmade about West Dean, some images and a slide show. We went to Cornwall for our anniversary this year, but we are going to West Dean next month for the Apple Affair.
Twelve years ago I met my husband Luke when I was working at a local University. He was fairly new to the UK, having recently arrived from South Africa, and had seen little of the UK, or any local attractions. So, one of our earliest ‘dates’ took us to West Dean Gardens in Singleton in late May, 1999, a short drive from Chichester.
It was a lovely late spring day, warm and temperate, and perfect for an outing. The West Dean estate then as now, consists of landscaped gardens, including little paths, shrubberies, a brook, with an ornamental bridge, walled gardens, an arboretum, hot houses, the college (a former stately home), plus the lands of the estate itself which are quite extensive, including 2,590 hectares. At the time of our original visit, most of the landscaped gardens were still being plotted and constructed.
The grounds are mentioned in Domesday, and the estate was owned originally by the Earls of Arundel and Dukes of Norfolk for almost 500 years, and subsequently passed into various ownerships, including the Sussex families of John Aylwin of Lewes and Richard Lewkenor, who built a Jacobean manor house on the Estate. In 1738, the estate was owned by the Peachey family, who commissioned the architect James Wyatt to build the current flint mansion that stands today.
In 1892 the estate passed to the James family, who extended the house and built the 300ft long Pergola. The family entertained extensively and the estate was visited by King Edward VII. In1912, the estate passed in trust to Edward James, who was then only five years old, and gained full control of the estate at 25. Edward James became a lifelong patron of the arts.
“He is best remembered for his patronage of painters, particularly the Surrealists, Dalí, Magritte, Tchelitchew, Fini and Carrington, amassing reputedly the finest private collection of Surrealist art in the world. He established the Edward James Foundation in 1964, a charitable educational trust, which today supports and teaches artists and craftspeople. The flint mansion was converted and opened as West Dean College in 1971. Edward died in 1984 and is buried in the Arboretum.”
Today West Dean estate is known internationally as a centre for conservation and arts, farming and forestry, and includes a modern and contemporary gallery.
The college runs Diploma and Masters Degree courses, as well as many short courses and workshops in arts, crafts, writing and music.
“West Dean College – a centre to study traditional and contemporary arts, crafts, writing, gardening and music. The College was set up in 1971 in response to Edward James’s vision of establishing ‘an educational foundation where creative talents can be discovered and developed, and where one can spread culture through the teaching of crafts and the preservation of knowledge that might otherwise be destroyed or forgotten’.
West Dean College offers MAs and diplomas in Visual Arts and Conservation Studies, and programmes over 700 short courses per year in arts, crafts, gardening, music and creative writing.”
“West Dean College is an internationally renowned centre for conservation, making and the visual and applied arts including musical instrument-making and tapestry weaving. The West Dean Estate is engaged in property management, farming and forestry. The College and related buildings are heated by woodchips from Estate-grown timber, one of the largest biomass heating schemes in the country. Income from West Dean Estate and the conference activities supports the Edward James Foundation’s charitable objectives. Visitors can also enjoy West Dean‘s award-winning gardens, featuring some of the finest Victorian glasshouses in the country, and the West Dean Gallery, which showcases work by internationally renowned and emerging artists as well as tutors and students of West Dean College.”
We fell in love with the place, for the grounds are delightfully sculpted, and the estate a picturesque landscape. The original walled kitchen gardens with their diverse and varied apple and pear trees are gorgeous and fascinating with their whimsical and quirky names. The lovely hot houses containing the amazing Orchids amongst other exotic beauties, a positive feast for the eyes and an inspiration for many artist, plus a valuable source of subject matter to budding photographers like myself, as are the walled gardens, and walks.
Since then we have been back many times, and in fact make a little pilgrimage each year, usually around my birthday or our anniversary, and we take our daughter too, who is now six. She took her earliest steps there in the beautiful arboretum and gardens, and for this reason too, makes it a treasured place to visit.
Here are a series of photographs set to the music of Gluck that I took a year ago.
If you are interested in purchasing any original pieces, postcards and prints then please visit my ART SHOP.