Conservation students uncover previously unseen documents

Conservation Studies students recently made exciting discoveries while working on previously uncatalogued material found in West Dean’s gardens and workshops. Their discoveries have revealed new information about the history of the College and gardens, and its development over the last 50 years as West Dean College of Arts and Conservation.   

Graduate Diploma Conservation Studies students specialising in Books and Library Materials, Amelia, Christina and Leszek started by sorting through and cataloguing old plans and drawings of the house, workshops and gardens from the 1900s to 1990s. Among the new documents discovered were: 

  • Original plans of the historic house and gardens. One of these shows West Dean House and gardens in the 1900s before the pergola was built by Harold Peto for William and Evelyn James in 1911. Another plan shows how the house was laid out when it was Wispers School, an independent boarding school for girls, in 1969. It reveals that the rooms in the house were used very differently for teaching and boarding pupils and ties in with memories that the College has been recently collecting from former pupils. The plans also show that the current books workshop, where the students working on the project are based, was previously a classroom for teaching art. 
  • Architectural plans and hand-coloured elevations show the conversion of the stables and courtyards at the East end of the building for the new College workshops. Another set of plans show the innovative biomass heating-system installed in the 1980s. 
  • An extensive herbarium of ferns donated to the Edward James Foundation in 2001 by a fern specialist who had collected them for over 30 years.  

The two-week preventative conservation project resulted in this material being assessed, sorted, catalogued, cleaned and digitised. All the items have now been transferred to archival storage where it can be accessed for research and interpretation in the College Archives

Of the project, Christina said, "I have enjoyed working on the garden archives project. My favourite part of the project was figuring out the history behind the architectural and garden drawings. Being involved in a little sleuthing and a lot of documentation made these hidden gems available again”. 

Study Conservation

Join an upcoming Open Day to discover more about our Conservation Studies programmes, at Graduate Diploma and Masters level; including specialising in Books, Ceramics, Clocks, Metalwork and Furniture.

Wednesday 2 November (Virtual) or Friday 25 November (In-person). Register your place here.