History and Edward James
Though West Dean is mentioned in the Domesday book as a hunting ground, Richard Lewknor (c. 1589 - 27 May 1635) built the first significant house here in the 1620s, next to the medieval village church. In 1738, Sir John Peachey (c. 1680 - 1744) acquired the West Dean estate. It was then inherited by Sir James Peachey (1723 - 1808), a courtier and confidant of George III who made him Lord Selsey in 1794. A peerage required a grander house, so in the early 19th century architect James Wyatt designed a suite of grand rooms and tall towers to give West Dean the appearance of a castle, thereby creating one of the largest flint-faced buildings in the country. The gardens were also enlarged at this time, and the park was laid out.
The Estate stayed within the Peachey family until Caroline Harcourt (née Peachey) died in 1871 when it was acquired by Fredrick Bower. William Dodge James purchased West Dean Park from Bower in 1891 and preceded to modify, modernise and furnish the house. The present State Room furnishings represent the period of extensive re-design of the building by Ernest George and Harold Peto. The interior re-design was guided by the prestigious furnishing and decorating specialists, Charles Mellier & Co. of Cavendish Square, London, encapsulating the grand and opulent Edwardian country house.
William James (1854 - 1912) was a son of a self-made American millionaire. He and his brother Frank (1851 - 1890) were well-travelled explorers, photographers and sportsmen. Evelyn James (née Forbes) (1867 - 1929), was the daughter of a Scottish baronet whose estate bordered Balmoral. She became a great society host, and was a close family friend of Edward, the Prince of Wales. In 1907, after four daughters, Evelyn and William James had a son named Edward Frank Willis James (1907 - 1984); his godfather was by then King Edward VII and a regular visitor to West Dean.