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The first record of Withdean, ‘Whita’s Valley’, dates from the early 12th century when it was referred to as Wictene

The Manor of Withdean was the property of St. Pancras’s Priory at Lewes until 1537 when it was surrendered to King Henry VIII. The following year it was granted to Thomas Cromwell, his Chief Minister.

When he was executed in 1540 it passed on to Anne of Cleves as part of a grant on her divorce and since then it has been owned by many people.

The Hamlet by the London Road formed part of the parish of Patcham but by the 18th century enclosures and the concentration of land had resulted in its depopulation and the establishment of a single farm.
The Roe Family:

In 1794 the manorial estates of Withdean Cayliffe and Withdean Court were purchased from the Western family by William Roe who was a distinguished civil servant in the reign of George III. The whole estates of Withdean Cayliffe seem to have extended from Blatchington and Hove to Hollingbury or even Moulscombe.

Over the next 50 years or so Roe planted many of the trees in the area, including those around Varndean, which existed in 1750 as a plantation. From 1853 William Roe’s heiress, Elizabeth Ogle, began to sell land in London Road to the south of Withdean, for development.

This was encouraged by the removal in 1854 of the turnpike tollgate from Preston to a hundred yards north of Withdean. In the middle of the 19th century the hamlet consisted of Withdean Farm, Withdean Court and a number of farm houses and outbuildings grouped around the bottom of Peacock and Tongdean Lane. The site of Withdean Farm, demolished in about 1934, is now occupied by Bourne Court.

Withdean Park, covering 38 acres of farmland, was acquired by the Corporation in July 1933, chiefly through the efforts of Sir Herbert Carden, to prevent its development for housing. The buildings at the bottom of Peacock Lane, including the Old Manor House, were demolished in 1936 and the new park was kept in an informal state until the Second World War when it was given over to food production.

History of the National Lilac Collection and the Friends of Withdean Park
After the war the park was initially used as allotments, before reverting to parkland.

In 1960 the late Mr. Roy Evison O.B.E V.M.H. Director of Parks and Gardens, designed and planted Withdean Park to hold a series of comprehensive plant collections that would tolerate a thin alkaline soil. These collections included Viburrnam, Hebe and Rosa, with smaller collections of Sorbus, Quercus, Fagus, Flag Iris and Floribunda and Old Fashioned Roses.

These were all secondary to the main collection of Lilacs, which were collected from all over Europe. In 1982, when Mr. M. Griffin was Director, this Collection was designated as a National Lilac Collection by the National Council for the Conservation of Plants and Gardens (NCCPG).

Cut material from the Collection was used at the NCCPG’s Chelsea Flower Show display in 1985 and was awarded a Banksian Silver Gilt Medal.

The quality of the Collection was acknowledged by the International Lilac Society in May 1986 when Brighton Council was presented with the President’s Award. At this time the collection numbered over 270 shrubs.

In 1987 following the hurricane, vast numbers of trees were lost that formed a shelter belt for the Lilacs and at least 12 bushes were ruined and many damaged. Although the Lilac Collection was a scientific collection which needed a set budget and specific attention, this was not made available and only basic weed control and pruning were carried out.

In 1993 following threats from NCCPG to remove the National status, concerted efforts were made to rescue the Collection. In 1994 the plants were renumbered (584 individual plants) and work restarted on the curation of the Collection. Many of the plants were showing signs of age and were much too tall to see the fl owers. As recommended by Kew Gardens they were pruned by chainsaw to invigorate them.

In 1996 Nottcutts Nursery undertook propagation, resulting in 900 young plants being raised at Stanmer Nursery, with a view to reviving the Collection. Following publicity efforts by the council, a meeting was held attended by 200 interested local residents, at which Director Mike Griffi n and Lilac Specialist Phil Williamson asked the public for help to try and save the Collection. The ‘Friends’ group was born.

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