As I wandered around the gardens at every turn it seemed another lovely view called to me, begging me to explore further. I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t visited this magical garden before. When I was invited to visit the Arts and Crafts Festival at West Dean near Chichester, I had no idea just what a treat it would be to explore the gardens and the house, as well as the festival itself.
West Dean Gardens
One of the greatest restored gardens in England, West Dean Gardens, dates back to 1622 when the original manor house was built by James Lewkenor. In the 19th century, when the current house was built, the gardens were enlarged and altered and many of the now mature trees including limes, beeches, horse chestnuts and cedars were planted.
The hurricane in 1987, which ripped through the south of England toppling thousands of trees, destroying homes and lives, had a huge impact on the gardens (with 60 trees uprooted in the 170-metre wooded strip that lined the main road alone).
Today, the 90 acres of gardens have been beautifully restored and retain many early features, including the lovely 100 metre Edwardian Pergola, the walled kitchen garden, the Victorian glass houses and St Roche’s Arboretum.
West Dean House & Edward James
This striking flint-faced manor house and estate was inherited by Edward James in 1912, when aged just four years old. He went on to become an influential patron of the arts, most notably, the Surrealist artists Salvador Dalí and René Magritte during the early stages of their careers. A walk through the house doesn’t just allow you to see the magnificent wood panelled rooms and beautiful stained-glass windows but also a gives you a glimpse of items from the Surrealist movement including a rare example of Salvador Dalí‘s Mae West Lips sofa commissioned by James.
Below: a reproduction of the helmet Dalí wore while speaking at the first International Exhibition of Surrealism in 1936. Unfortunately, he began to suffocate and tried to remove the helmet which was bolted down. Thinking this was all part of the show the audience applauded. Luckily, Edward James realised what was happening and managed to remove the helmet with the help of a billiard cue!
West Dean Arts & Crafts Festival, June 2018
This is the only time of year when the house is open to the public and it is well worth a peak inside. My sister and I had a fabulous time looking around the house, the extensive gardens and chatting with the exhibitors. We were really impressed by the quality and range of exhibits, as well as the friendliness of all the artists. There were also numerous workshops although we didn’t get a chance to join in. Here are just a few of my favourite artists from the festival.
Hester lives in the Yorkshire Dales National Park where she finds her inspiration. She uses multiple plates, painted textures and intricate cutting in her collagraphs with the aim to draw attention to everyday occurrences that go unnoticed or are soon forgotten. Hester’s work has inspired me to try screen printing and collagraphy for myself.
Contemporary handmade glass beads by Penny Carter.
Art and designer textiles using hand printed silk with quilting and hand embroidery, inspired by nature and the natural environment.
Porcelain and stoneware in light, tranquil colours inspired by local landscapes.
West Dean Chilli Fiesta, August 2018
From Friday 10th through to Sunday 12th August, this award-winning festival sees everything chilli fill the grounds of West Dean. Live Latin music, dance workshops and demonstration, gardening and cooking theatres, hundreds of food, gift and plant stalls, a vintage fair and fireworks are just some of the attractions that make this family-friendly event one the hottest festivals in Sussex each year! Find out more by visiting West Dean Gardens’ website or read our review of the 2018 Chilli Fiesta.
West Dean College
Concerned that many traditional craft techniques would be lost, James founded the West Dean College of Arts and Conservation in the 1960s. The college is now internationally recognised as a centre of excellence.
The many courses held here include degrees, diplomas and short courses in traditional arts and crafts, instrument making and playing, as well as conservation.
I couldn’t imagine a more tranquil and inspirational location to study. What a fabulous legacy Edward James has left behind.
Find about more on their website, West Dean College.
Good to know
West Dean Gardens is 6 miles north of Chichester on the A286 towards Midhurst.
The gardens are open to the public from 1st February to 24th December each year.
Entry costs £5.75 in February, November and December and £9 the rest of the year with no charge for children under12. However, during the annual Arts and Crafts Festival held in early June and the Chilli Festival in August, tickets to the events must be purchased.
Up to date opening times and prices can be found here, West Dean Gardens.
Regular events and evening concerts are held throughout much of the year. Full details of forthcoming events can be found here, Events at West Dean Gardens.
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Disclaimer: Our entry to the Arts and Crafts Festival was complimentary for review purposes.