Press Release: New documents uncovered about the history of West Dean House and Gardens

Conservation Studies students have 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 West Dean and its gardens, and its development over the last 50 years as West Dean College of Arts and Conservation.   

Amelia Johnson, Christina Perkins and Leszek Knyrek, Graduate Diploma Conservation Studies students specialising in Books and Library Materials, 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 has 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”. 

    West Dean College of Arts and Conservation has an international reputation for excellence and is a full partner of the University of Sussex. Students regularly work with material from the College’s amazing Collection and Archive, as well as objects from museums and private collections, due to the College’s extensive links with the heritage sector. For Conservation and Fine Art study opportunities, see Applications for Conservation Studies specialisms including Books, Ceramics, Clocks, Furniture and Metalwork are open now for September 2022 or 2023 study. Find out more on an Open Day in November – register online now

    West Dean College of Arts and Conservation can be found on Social Media: 

Notes to Editors:

  • West Dean College of Arts and Conservation was founded in 1971 by the poet and Surrealist patron, Edward James, recognised by BBC Arts as the ‘the greatest patron of art of the early 20th century’.
  • The College is part of The Edward James Foundation (Charity No. 1126084), also comprising West Dean Gardens, West Dean Estate and West Dean Tapestry Studio.  
  • All photography is free to use for editorial purposes.
  • West Dean College is situated on the A286, six miles north of Chichester and within easy access of Portsmouth, Guildford, Brighton and London. 


For all media enquiries please contact:
Email: [email protected]
Telephone: 01243 818300

West Dean College of Arts and Conservation, Chichester, West Sussex, PO18 0QZ