Conserving & Enhancing the Village | Registered charity no.1206340

The History of the Grange Garden

In 2005 The Grange gardens began its rejuvenation, having been left to “go wild” over the preceding years. Our intention was to provide a community garden for villagers and visitors, whilst reflecting The Grange’s varied history. Whilst known as a Lutyens/Jekyll garden, that is only part of its history.

Built as the village vicarage, The Grange garden initially was a Georgian design of rolling lawns surrounded by trees and occasional shrubs or hedges. Its vicar, the Rev. Hooker, turned part of the building into a school with the gardens as the playground. Rottingdean was a smuggling village and its vicar acted as outrider for them. The smugglers built brick-lined tunnels under the village travelling from the cliffs, up the High Street and round the village pond. Then spur tunnels linked the main tunnels to local pubs and houses, including The Grange, where smuggled goods could be stored until it was safe to transport them to London.

Rev Hooker sat in his study (now the Tourist Information office) with the trapdoor to the tunnel under his feet. The tunnel runs 14″ below the grass in the front garden to the road. After his death, the growing school moved onto the High Street becoming St Aubyn’s School, whilst The Grange continued life as the vicarage.

In the 19th century The Grange passed into private ownership. Sir William Nicholson, R.A., lived here (1909-1914), producing a number of downland and coastal oil paintings of the area. His artist’s studio which he had built in the grounds of The Grange, is now incorporated in the gardens of Whiteways Centre next door.

In 1920 its owners, Sir George & Lady Lewis, employed Sir Edwin Lutyens (1869-1944) to remodel and enlarge the house, with Gertude Jekyll (1843-1932) working on the garden design. Lutyens created the wonderful windmill vista from the North Walk by recognising the Acacias’ natural framing of the Rottingdean windmill. As a Lutyen/Jekyll design the garden is of strong architectural and horticultural interest. It exemplifies their classicising architecture of stairs and balustraded terraces, a combination of the formal with the informal – shown with brick paths and slate beds, softened by billowing herbaceous borders. Indeed the Lutyens’ design is an integral part of The Grange’s Grade II listed status. However, Lutyens took the unusual step of using slates turned on their side in his design of stairs and inset paving at The Grange – not clay tiles or bricks as he traditionally used. Jekyll created over 400 gardens in the UK, Europe and the USA and has been described as “a premier influence in garden design”.

During WW2 The Grange acted as an Officer’s Club for Canadian soldiers. They dug an Anderson shelter in the front garden for protection from bombing raids. After the war, The Grange’s ownership passed to Brighton & Hove Council who transformed the shelter into a fishpond, whilst The Grange became a toy museum.

In the late 20th century The Rottingdean Preservation Society took over The Grange and turned it into a museum, art gallery, library, tourist hub & tea garden. They still run The Grange for visitors and villagers alike.

As time corroded the front garden’s fishpond’s plumbing, it was changed into a sculpture bed to provide an outside space for the gallery.

The trees at The Grange had suffered from the years of neglect prior to renovation. Working closely with the council’s Tree Officers, we are carrying out a long term process of removing the damaging ivy, pruning diseased or damaged branches, or those who have overgrown thereby weakening the tree’s structure. The Holm Oak in the tea garden is over 200 years old. “Holm” is the ancient name for holly, hence why this tree is sometimes known as the Holly Oak. Originally from the Mediterranean, it was introduced here in the 15th century. Like several Mediterranean trees it drops many of its leaves in late spring to conserve water over the hot summer for its new growth. This is followed by its catkins which, when they fall, cover the beds underneath in fine yellow dust.

The Acacia trees in the NW corner of the front garden were described in 1900 by local poet, Aurelian Risdale, as “the ancient mother & daughter”. Generations of ivy has been removed from them in recent years and finally they flowered in 2016. Although native to Australia and Africa (and part of the pea family), they became a staple of elegant English gardens. Their wonderful gnarled barks have been captured by local artists and photographers.

In the lower long bed of the Courtyard stands a triangular headstone, which previously formed the top of the village pump (at the bottom of Nevill Road). It was erected in Victorian times by Major & Mrs Marshall Phillips upon their return from India where they sadly had lost a child, Silvanus, to stillbirth, so the headstone served as a memorial. Over the decades the pump was removed and the stones lost. During the restoration of The Grange garden the headstone was discovered again and incorporated into the courtyard as a piece of Rottingdean history.

The examples of flintwork standing against the north wall shows various techniques of building with flint – many of these styles can be seen whilst wandering through Rottingdean.