There are two houses called Wakehurst Place: one, the original house in West Sussex; the other a replica in Rhode Island completed in 1887 under the supervision of the American architect Dudley Newton for the sportsman and politician James J. Van Alen from plans designed by the British architect/designer Charles Eamer Kempe, and now owned by Salve Regina University who use the mansion for classrooms and faculty offices and as a hub for student activities and campus events.
Our Wakehurst Place was built by Sir Edward Culpeper in 1590, though the plan changed over the years from a courtyard to an E-shape. The substantial woodland gardens around it were mainly created by the barrister and politician Gerald Loder (later Lord Wakehurst) after he purchased the estate in 1903 and then reinforced by Sir Henry Price who bought the property in 1938. Henry Price is notable as being the businessman who set up a factory to manufacture suits for men who could not previously afford them, selling them through his shops called ‘Fifty Shilling Tailors’ which, eventually became John Collier. I remember John Collier’s shops well and indeed bought suits there in my youth and, through the different acquisitions through the years could be said to be one of the large family within the history of the modern Burton Group.
Today we see a partnership at Wakehurst between the National Trust, to whom the house and gardens were donated in 1963 and the Royal Botanic Gardens who have held a lease from the National Trust since 1965 with recent developments including the Millennium Seed Bank in the Wellcome Trust Millennium Seed Building.
There is a well-planted walled garden at the rear of the house and beyond that there are a variety of different gardens and woodlands focused on particular geographical and other themes such as the Southern Hemisphere Gardens, the Wetlands, the Himalayan Glade and the Pinetum, while at the furthest end of the gardens away from the house is the calm reflective Westwood Lake. Surprisingly, some of the rhododendrons are still in bloom, while the ponds are a blaze of colour with Japanese Irises. Wakehurst’s oldest tree, a yew dates back to 1391.
Currently under development is a new garden – the American Prairie – on an area which was badly damaged in the great storm of 1987. It is astonishing to realise that the gardens lost something like 20.000 trees during that storm.
These are extensive gardens which need repeat visits as they are so large and extensive which, reading the dedication on the different benches for seating, many people enjoy and are a welcome respite from the stresses and strains and the modern world, even though the buildings are closed due to the current coronavirus situation.