The College holds historic collections and archives relating to the West Dean Estate, its former owners and the College. The legacy of Edward James, an influential patron of the arts, these collections include artworks, manuscripts and letters of prominent 20th century artists and cultural figures. Among the items from this period are paintings by his close friends Leonora Carrington, Salvador Dalí, Leonor Fini and René Magritte and furniture and fabrics commissioned from leading interior designers. Edward James’s personal archive of correspondence and papers reflects his creative involvement in fine art, music, ballet, interior design and architecture in Europe, the USA and Mexico. A poet and novelist in his own right, James left hundreds of drafts of his works, published and unpublished.
The West Dean Estate Archive, dating from the 15th century to the creation of the Edward James Foundation in 1964, comprises manorial records, title deeds, maps and plans, correspondence and accounts. Significant pre-20th century object collections include furniture, tapestries, decorative art, clocks, paintings, prints and drawings. These were largely the acquisitions of the James family who moved to West Dean in 1891. The extensive travels of Frank and William James (uncle and father of Edward) in the 19th century resulted in a collection of objects, taxidermy, journals and photograph albums chiefly relating to Sudan and Somalia.
The Collection and Archives are used extensively for teaching and learning within the College and frequently consulted by external researchers. Items are regularly requested by institutions for loan to international exhibitions.