Chosen by Emma O’Driscoll, House Steward, and Sarah Hughes, Research Assistant, West Dean College
This vellum-bound manorial ledger is one of the earliest documents concerning West Dean House and Estate, and reflects the socio-political climate of 350 years ago. The left-hand page, written at the time of Oliver Cromwell’s death in 1658, is in English. The right-hand page, written after the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, is in Latin. West Dean College is in the process of conducting more research into this document, including conservation and material analysis by students and staff.
The West Dean estate has had a long and varied history. A very early reference to the estate is found in the Domesday Book in 1086; it was held by the Earls of Arundel and the Dukes of Norfolk until 1572 when the 4th Duke of Norfolk was accused of treason and beheaded. In 1603 the first manor house was built, replaced by a Jacobean Manor house in c 1622.
In 1738 West Dean came into the possession of the Peachey family. Sir James Peachey, 1st Lord Selsey took the radical decision to rebuild the old manor house, and in 1804 commissioned famous architect, James Wyatt, to build the mansion which survives today. Sir James Peachey’s son, Sir John Peachey, was responsible for laying out the beautiful parkland and arboretum.
By 1871, the Peachey line was extinct and in 1891 West Dean was purchased by William Dodge James, son of a wealthy American merchant. James made extensive alterations to the house which played host to grand house parties attended by the then Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII).
Perhaps the most famous inhabitant of West Dean was Edward James, only son of William and Evelyn Dodge James. He inherited the West Dean estate at the age of 4 on the death of his father. Edward James went on to become a famous patron of the arts, particularly the Surrealist movement. He supported many artists, most notably Salvador Dalí and René Magritte, in the early stages of their careers and developed what would become one of the largest collections of surrealist works in the world.
In 1964, James gave the House and Estate to a charitable trust, the Edward James Foundation, with the aim of supporting and teaching artists and craftsmen. In 1971 the Foundation established West Dean College, which today offers a range of full-time and short courses. To find out more about the college, please visit their website.