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The Glory and Beauty of Wakehurst

Wakehurst Place (now known as Wakehurst) is a country estate and botanical garden located near Ardingly in West Sussex, England. It is leased from The National Trust and managed by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and serves as a satellite location for its renowned Kew Gardens in London. Let me start this paper by briefly introducing some key aspects before moving on to in-depth detail. Except for pictures captioned with details, all others were taken by me on a visit in early June 2023.

Wakehurst has a rich history, primarily dating back to the 16th century. It was originally a deer hunting park and hunting lodge owned by Sir Edward Culpeper[2]. Over the centuries, it changed hands several times until it was purchased by Gerald Loder, later Lord Wakehurst, in 1903.

Wakehurst is not only a beautiful destination for nature lovers and garden enthusiasts but also plays a crucial role in plant conservation and research through its association with the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

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Gardens and Grounds
Wakehurst encompasses approximately 465 acres of land, including extensive gardens, woodlands, and a nature reserve. The gardens are known for their diverse plant collections, featuring plants from around the world. Notably, Wakehurst is home to the Millennium Seed Bank, which houses a vast array of seeds from a wide range of plant species (see below).

Millennium Seed Bank
The Millennium Seed Bank Project is an initiative by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, aimed at conserving global plant diversity by collecting, storing, and studying seeds from as many plant species as possible. The seed bank at Wakehurst is the largest wild plant seed bank in the world, housing over 2 billion seeds from around 39,000 plant species.

Wakehurst’s wild botanic garden on the High Weald of West Sussex has over 500 acres of beautiful ornamental gardens, woodlands, a nature reserve[3] and, of course, a magnificent Mansion.

The Mansion
The Mansion at Wakehurst is an Elizabethan-style house built in the 16th century. It has served as the residence of the estate owners in the past but is now open to the public for guided tours. The Mansion boasts impressive architecture, beautiful gardens, and a stunning walled garden.

Caption: A stitched panoramic 2×5 image of Wakehurst Place Mansion in West Sussex, England. Taken by David Iliff.
Attribution: Photo by David Iliff. License: CC BY-SA 3.0. CC BY-SA 3.0 <;, via Wikimedia Commons
Page URL:,_West_Sussex_-_Aug_2009.jpg

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The Mansion was built by Sir Edward Culpeper in 1590. It originally formed a complete courtyard before being altered various times, and currently has an E-shaped plan. Wakehurst was bought in 1694 by Dennis Lyddell, comptroller of the Royal Navy treasurer’s accounts and briefly MP for Harwich. His son Richard Lyddell, Chief Secretary for Ireland and MP for Bossiney, was obliged by financial pressure to pass the estate to his younger brother Charles.[4]

The gardens were largely created by Gerald Loder (later Lord Wakehurst) who purchased the estate in 1903 and spent 33 years developing the gardens. He was succeeded by Sir Henry Price, under whose care the Loder plantings matured. Sir Henry left Wakehurst to the nation (the National Trust) in 1963, and the Royal Botanic Gardens took up a lease from the National Trust in 1965.[5]

In 2022, the Mansion was closed for an extensive renovation, predicted to last at least two years.[6]

Other Features

Wildlife and Nature Reserve
Wakehurst is situated in a picturesque landscape, offering a habitat for a variety of wildlife. The estate includes a nature reserve called “The Loder Valley,” which provides a protected environment for numerous plant and animal species.

Visitor Attractions
Wakehurst offers a range of attractions and activities for visitors. In addition to exploring the gardens and woodlands, visitors can enjoy guided tours of the Mansion, visit the Millennium Seed Bank, discover interactive exhibits, participate in educational programs, and enjoy various events and exhibitions throughout the year.

Accessibility and Amenities
The estate provides facilities such as visitor parking, a visitor centre with a cafe and gift shop, wheelchair access, and accessible paths throughout the gardens. It is open to the public, and tickets can be purchased on-site or online. Parts of the gardens are dog-friendly. Large areas of the gardens are flat and level and suitable for wheelchairs and mobility scooters.

Evolution of Wakehurst from Mesolithic Times[7]
Wakehurst has a rich and diverse history that has shaped its landscape and contributed to its significance as a site of conservation and scientific research. Wakehurst Mansion, an Elizabethan Grade I listed Mansion, sits within 535 acres of biodiverse landscape. The area has a long history, with evidence of Mesolithic occupation dating back to 10,000 – 8,000 BC. Flint tools discovered in Tilgate Wood and near rock shelters indicate ancient hunting activities.

During the Bronze Age (3,300 – 1,200 BC), ditches and pits, possibly used for pottery production, were found in the Millennium Seed Bank area.

In 43 AD, the Romans constructed a military road passing through the present Wakehurst car park.

1066 AD saw the intrusion of Willam the Conqueror, and the Norman way of life changed most things British. In 1205, William de Wakehurst, a Norman forester, purchased 40 acres of land. Over the following two centuries, the Wakehurst estate shifted its focus from agriculture to forestry, coppicing, and charcoal production. Ironwork activities during this period are suggested by the presence of a cofferdam in the Horsebridge Woods area.

Edward Culpeper, a descendant of William de Wakehurst, completed the grand Elizabethan Mansion in 1590, using sandstone from nearby Ardingly. The estate was subsequently sold to the Lyddell family in 1694, who continued ironworking and agricultural practices.

Wakehurst is home to the largest growing Christmas tree in England, a giant redwood. The tree stands 35 metres (115 ft) tall and has around 1,800 lights from Advent until Twelfth Night.[8]

Caption: The Largest Christmas Tree in Britain, Wakehurst Place, West Sussex.” by Jim Linwood is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

By the 1820s, Wakehurst Mansion was largely deserted, and the estate transformed from a centre of agricultural economy to a fine house with successive owners leaving their mark on the landscape. In 1869, Caroline, Dowager Marchioness of Downshire, made significant alterations to the Mansion and landscape, including tree planting and the creation of romantic landscapes.

The Weald of Sussex owes much to several pioneering plantsmen who travelled the world searching for rare and exotic species to populate their estates. Among them were the Loder family – until 2010, descendants of the Victorian expeditionists owned Leonardslee Lakes & Gardens, whilst another offshoot cultivated High Beeches near Crawley, an estate also boasting rare and beautiful flora. In 1903, Sir Gerald Loder bought the estate now named Wakehurst, but its history dates back to the medieval period -In the 14th century, William de Wakehurst bought 40 acres of land from Phillip de Crauele (the local baron after whom Crawley is named).

Sir William and Lady Boord, who acquired the estate in 1890, added rock terraces near the Mansion Pond. Gerald Loder, later Lord Wakehurst, inherited the land in 1903 and began transforming the gardens into a botanic collection, including the development of the renowned rhododendron and Pinetum collections.

Sir Henry and Lady Price, the subsequent owners from 1936, further contributed to the ornamental areas near the Mansion. During World War II, the Canadian army requisitioned the Mansion and camped on the lawns. The Wakehurst Place Relay Station Archaeological Investigation, British Resistance Archive, has some useful information concerning World War II, affirming that Wakehurst Place was the headquarters for the Advanced Headquarters of the Canadian Corps between 27th January 1942 and 23rd October 1943[9].

In the 1960s, Wakehurst began hosting open days for the public and was gifted to the National Trust in 1963, entrusted to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, in 1965. The creation of the Ardingly Showground occurred in 1967, and the construction of Ardingly Reservoir followed in 1972. Scientific innovation took centre stage as the first Seed Bank freezer was installed in the Chapel in 1976. Wakehurst’s landscape evolved, including the creation of the Asian Heath Garden and the recovery from the Great Storm of 1987, which resulted in the loss of 20,000 trees. Most of Wakehurst’s trees and shrubs date from the 19th and 20th centuries, but gardeners have found one yew tree to be more than 600 years old. Research in 2011 showed the tree dated back to about 1391. In 2010, an archaeological dig revealed that a 14th Century house once stood on the estate[10].

In the new millennium, Wakehurst opened the Millennium Seed Bank, a repository of incredible biodiversity, which reached the milestone of banking its billionth seed in 2018. Scientific research thrives on-site, with projects such as the American Prairie and Nature Unlocked, a research initiative launched in 2021.

These endeavours, along with the evolving landscape, mark Wakehurst’s new direction, combining critical conservation, innovative horticulture, and research opportunities. Today, Wakehurst stands as a testament to its rich history and its commitment to conservation and scientific advancement.

The History of Wakehurst by Harry Townsend tells us that Wakehurst sits on one of the highest ridges of the Sussex Weald. It has a mixture of sandy, well-drained soils grading into bands of heavy clay, but benefits from the availability of natural springs and faces the warm southwest. A few years ago, Chris Potter, the history master at nearby Ardingly College, found charcoal and flint fragments beneath the turf of the slopes overlooking the school playing fields. The arrangement of the charcoal and slight traces of trenches indicate primitive hearths for Iron Age Man. A flint arrowhead has been found in Bethlehem Woods, whilst flint remains have been found in the Paddock Hurst Woods just across the nearby Ardingly Brook in the Wakehurst field called ‘The Sarrups’ and in many other areas around Ardingly (McLean 1996).[11]

The Wealds
The Weald is an area of South East England between the parallel chalk escarpments of the North and the South Downs. It crosses the counties of Hampshire, Surrey, Sussex and Kent. It has three separate parts, or four if you include the “Sussex Weald”: the sandstone “High Weald” in the centre; the clay “Low Weald” periphery; and the Greensand Ridge, which stretches around the north and west of the Weald and includes its highest points. The term is still used today, as scattered farms and villages sometimes refer to the Weald in their names. It is worth noting that there are other places in Britain with similar names that derive from the Old English word “wald” or “weald”, meaning “wooded land” or “forest.” These include:

  • Located in western Gloucestershire, England, the Forest of Dean is a notable woodland area known for its ancient trees, scenic beauty, and diverse wildlife. It is considered one of England’s surviving ancient woodlands.
  • The area in Hampshire, England, sharing similarities with the landscape of the Weald in southeastern England, is commonly known as the “Hampshire Downs” or the “North Hampshire Downs“, forming a large area of downland in central southern England, mainly in the county of Hampshire but with parts in Berkshire and Wiltshire. They are part of a belt of chalk downland that extends from the South Downs in the southeast, north to the Berkshire and Marlborough Downs, and west to the Dorset Downs.

The High Weald
The High Weald is characterised by its rolling hills, woodland areas, and traditional small-scale farming. It is known for its extensive areas of ancient woodland, which have been preserved for centuries and support a diverse range of plant and animal species. The area is also marked by hedgerows, scattered farms, and historic villages that contribute to its rural charm. In addition to its natural beauty, the High Weald holds historical significance.

It has a rich heritage of ironworking, evidenced by the remains of ironworks and furnaces found throughout the area. The medieval landscape, with its distinctive patterns of small fields, sunken lanes, and ancient trackways, reflects centuries of human interaction with the land.

The High Weald is a cherished landscape that offers opportunities for outdoor activities and serves as an important habitat for wildlife, including several rare and endangered species. The High Weald covers 1461 square kilometres and is England and Wales’ fourth largest Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). The area’s unique combination of natural and cultural features has led to its designation as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, ensuring its protection and conservation for future generations.

The Low Weald
The Low Weald is the term used to describe the southern part of the Weald region in southeastern England. It is the section of the Weald that lies to the south of the High Weald and extends into parts of West Sussex and East Sussex. Compared to the High Weald, the Low Weald has a relatively lower elevation and flatter terrain. It is characterised by a mix of agricultural land, woodlands, and open spaces. The landscape of the Low Weald is generally less hilly and more gently rolling than the High Weald.


The Low Weald has a history of agriculture and has been traditionally used for farming purposes. It is known for its fertile soils and has supported various agricultural practices, including arable farming, pastoral farming, and orchards. While the Low Weald may not have the same level of dramatic landscapes as the High Weald, it still possesses its own unique charm and natural beauty. The area is dotted with picturesque villages, historic sites, and expansive farmland, offering a more open and spacious feel compared to the densely wooded areas of the High Weald.

Overall, the Low Weald forms an integral part of the Weald region, complementing the High Weald with its different landscape characteristics and contributing to its overall diversity and appeal.

The Sussex Weald
The Sussex Weald refers to a specific part of the larger area known as the Weald, located in the southeastern part of England. The Weald is an ancient region with rolling hills, woodland areas, and agricultural landscapes. The Sussex Weald specifically encompasses the portion of the Weald that falls within the county of Sussex. It covers a significant area of East Sussex and West Sussex, extending from the northern parts of the counties to the South Downs.

The Sussex Weald is known for its diverse landscapes, which include ancient woodlands, heathlands, and areas of farmland. The region has a long history of human habitation, with evidence of human activity dating back thousands of years. The landscape is dotted with historic villages, medieval churches, and manor houses, reflecting the area’s rich heritage.

The Wellcome Trust Millennium Building and the Millenium Seed Bank
The Wellcome Trust Millennium Building, which houses an international seed bank known as the Millennium Seed Bank (run by Kew, not the National Trust), was opened in 2000. The Millennium Seed Bank aimed to collect seeds from all of the UK’s native flora and conserve seeds from 25% of the world’s flora by 2020 in the hope that this will save species from extinction in the wild.[12]

Caption: Millennium Seed Bank building.
Attribution: Diliff, CC BY-SA 3.0 <;, via Wikimedia Commons
Page URL:,_Wakehurst_Place,_UK_-_Diliff.jpg

This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

The Millennium Seed Bank Partnership (MSBP or MSB), formerly known as the Millennium Seed Bank Project, is the largest ex situ plant conservation programme in the world[13] coordinated by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. After being awarded a Millennium Commission grant in 1995, the project commenced in 1996 and is now housed in the Wellcome Trust Millennium Building situated in the grounds of Wakehurst, West Sussex. Its purpose is to provide an “insurance policy” against the extinction of plants in the wild by storing seeds for future use.[14] The storage facilities consist of large underground frozen vaults preserving the world’s largest wild-plant seedbank or collection of seeds from wild species.

In collaboration with other biodiversity projects worldwide, expeditions are sent to collect seeds from dryland plants. Where possible, collections are kept in the country of origin, with duplicates being sent to the Millennium Seed Bank Project for storage.

Major partnerships exist on all continents, enabling the countries involved to meet international objectives such as the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation and the Millennium Development Goals of the United Nations Environment Programme.

The Wellcome Trust Millennium Seed Bank laboratories and offices are in two wings flanking a wide space open to visitors housing an exhibition and also allowing them to watch the work of cleaning and preparing seeds for storage through the large windows of the work areas. There is also a view down to the entrance to the underground vaults where the seeds are stored at −20 °C (−4 °F).[15] In 2001, the international programme of the MSBP was launched.

In April 2007, it banked its billionth seed,[16] the Oxytenanthera abyssinica – a type of African bamboo. In October 2009, it reached its 10% goal of banking all the world’s wild plant species by adding Musa itinerans, a wild banana, to its seed vault. As estimates for the number of seed-bearing plant species have increased, 34,088 wild plant species and 1,980,405,036 seeds in storage as of June 2015 represent over 13% of the world’s wild plant species.[17]

The Loder Valley Nature Reserve
The Loder Valley Nature Reserve is a 150-acre reserve within the Wakehurst estate. It is home to various plant species, as well as wildlife, such as dormice, badgers, kingfishers, and butterflies. The reserve offers opportunities for wildlife spotting and is known for its beautiful woodland and river landscape.

Currently (June 2023), the reserve is closed due to the necessary work being carried out to address the impact of ash dieback, a deadly fungus affecting ash trees in the UK. Wakehurst is undertaking a significant felling operation to remove infected trees that pose a risk to the public.

Caption: Loder Valley Lake from the Hanging Meadow
Attribution: AndyScott, CC BY-SA 4.0 <;, via Wikimedia Commons
File URL:

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Sources and Further Reading

Other References:

Journal Article



CAUTION: This paper is compiled from the sources stated but has not been externally reviewed. Parts of this paper include information provided via artificial intelligence which, although checked by the author, is not always accurate or reliable. Neither we nor any third parties provide any warranty or guarantee as to the accuracy, timeliness, performance, completeness or suitability of the information and materials covered in this paper for any particular purpose. Such information and materials may contain inaccuracies or errors and we expressly exclude liability for any such inaccuracies or errors to the fullest extent permitted by law. Your use of any information or materials on this website is entirely at your own risk, for which we shall not be liable. It shall be your own responsibility to ensure that any products, services or information available through this paper meet your specific requirements and you should neither take action nor exercise inaction without taking appropriate professional advice. The hyperlinks were current at the date of publication.

End Notes and Explanations

  1. Source: Compiled from research using information at the sources stated throughout the text, together with information provided by machine-generated artificial intelligence at: [chat] and
  2. Explanation: Sir Edward Culpepper was a Sussex lawyer and a wealthy landowner in Elizabethan England. He rebuilt for himself Wakehurst Place (now, simply Wakehurst) near Ardingly, West Sussex, England in the late 16th century. Sources: [1] Mousley, J.E., “The Fortunes of Some Gentry Families of Elizabethan Sussex’, The Economic History Review, New Series, 11: 3 (1959), pp. 467-483, and [2] Christine Stockwell, ‘Wakehurst Place: The Culpepper Connection’ <; [accessed 26 December 2007]. Cited at:
  3. Source:
  4. Source: “LIDDELL, Richard (?1694–1746), of Wakehurst Place, Suss”.(sic) History of Parliament Online
  5. Source: “Wakehurst Place: The Culpeper Connection”. Cited at:
  6. Source: Cited at:
  7. Source: Various, including the author’s research, information at: and
  8. Source: “‘Biggest Christmas tree’ lit up”. BBC News. 26 November 2004. Cited at:
  9. Source:
  10. Source:
  11. Source: The History of Wakehurst Place by Harry Townsend, at:
  12. Source: Cited at:
  13. Source: “Banking the world’s seeds | Kew”. Cited at:
  14. Explanation: The Seed Bank houses over 2.3 billion seeds from 97 countries, representing over 39,000 different species of the world’s storable seeds and nearly all the UK’s native plant species.  It is the most diverse wild plant species genetic resource on earth. Source:
  15. Source: Millennium Seed Bank Exhibition Archived 2014-08-26 at the Wayback Machine page on website. Cited at:
  16. Source:
  17. Source: Cited at:

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