Who we are

West Dean College of Arts and Conservation is part of The Edward James Foundation, a registered charity which also comprises West Dean Gardens, West Dean Estate and West Dean Tapestry Studio.


The Foundation's mission is to provide, through West Dean College of Arts and Conservation, the highest quality education in arts and conservation and be internationally recognised as a centre of excellence.

You can read our ten year vision (Vision 2027) here.

Through our work we aim:

To inspire creativity, champion traditional art and craft practices and advance the care of heritage objects.

Underpinning this is a commitment to:

  • Celebrate our heritage and Edward James' legacy to inspire and teach; using the house, archives and collection, gardens and estate.
  • Preserve an inspiring, creative and peaceful environment; for our students, visitors, guests and staff.
  • Be a great place to work where people share a common goal and feel respected and cared for; we listen, involve, communicate and develop.
  • Collaborate with partners who share our vision to enable each other to achieve our goals; including academic and cultural partners, donors, suppliers and clients.
  • Be resourceful and efficient in all areas to secure a sustainable future for the College; through stewardship, innovation, excellence and enterprise.
  • Be inclusive by ensuring we are welcoming to all; offering public access, bursaries and scholarships.

Whole Estate Plan

The Whole Estate Plan explains the context and history of West Dean Estate, it provides an audit of its assets and it also describes its current operation. Perhaps, most usefully though, the Plan enables a better understanding of the Estate's rich natural capital and how this might be conserved and developed in a sustainable and sensitive way. It seeks to do this with clarity and transparency, in order to help deliver the objectives of Vision 2027 while preserving and enhancing the special qualities of this part of the South Downs National Park for all who live, work, visit and learn here.

Read the Whole Estate Plan

Board of Trustees

The Edward James Foundation which runs West Dean College of Arts and Conservation and Gardens was established in 1964. It is a charitable company limited by guarantee registered in England and Wales. Company no. 6689362 and Charity registration no. 1126084.

The members of the Board of Trustees are:

The Hon Peter Benson LVO MA FCA, Chairman

Peter Benson has been a Trustee of the Foundation since 2002, and Chairman since 2009. A Chartered Accountant, his career with Coopers & Lybrand, now PwC, spanned some forty years, thirty of these as a partner in London.

Since retirement from PwC he has acted as non-executive Chairman or Director for a number of commercial enterprises. He has also been substantially involved in the charitable sector, concentrating to a significant degree upon theatre and the arts. He was a Trustee of the Royal National Theatre, Chairman of the Royal National Theatre Foundation, Vice Chairman of the English National Ballet School, and has recently retired as a Trustee of Chichester Festival Theatre. He is currently on the Council of RADA, and a Trustee of the Nuffield Theatre in Southampton and Theatre 503 in Battersea.

Lady Caroline Egremont

Lady Egremont is a garden designer working in the UK and continental Europe. Married with four children, she lives at Petworth House where she is involved in the management of a large agricultural estate and the care and conservation of works of art.

She has been a Trustee of the Foundation since 1982 and is also on the board of the Garden Museum, and the Heritage of London Trust, chairman of the Cobbe Collection Trust and involved with the National Council for the Conservation of Plants and Gardens

Caroline Griffith

Caroline moved to the UK from Australia when she married, and read for the Bar at the Inner Temple as a mature student. For many years she sat as a magistrate working in the adult and family courts. She has been a Governor for both secondary and tertiary education boards and has a lifelong interest in art and the creative crafts. Caroline Griffith became a Trustee in 2014.

Professor Nigel Llewellyn PhD FSA

Nigel Llewellyn is an expert in Art History and taught at the University of Sussex for 25 years, during which time he also served as Dean and Pro-Vice-Chancellor. This was followed by time at the Tate as Head of Research, leading on research projects across all four Tate sites.

Nigel is a published author of several books, articles and scholarly essays. He is involved with several other organisations including the Association of Art Historians and the Arts and Humanities Research Council and is a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries.

Professor Paul O'Prey CBE

Professor O'Prey is Vice-Chancellor of Roehampton University, which has gone from strength to strength under his leadership. In his previous role as Director of Academic Affairs at the University of Bristol, he played a major part in the development and implementation of academic strategy in both research and education.

Professor O'Prey read English Language and Literature at Keble College, Oxford and gained his PhD from Bristol. His publications include several books and articles on writers of the nineteenth and twentieth century, notably Graham Greene and Robert Graves and his circle, as well as translations of Spanish literature. Professor O'Prey joined the Board of Trustees in 2015.

Francis Plowden FCA

Francis Plowden is a chartered accountant and was a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers until 2000. Since then he has been a Board member in the private, public and voluntary sectors, including eight years as Chairman of the Greenwich Foundation for the Old Royal Naval College. He is a Trustee of the Anna Plowden Trust, which promotes skills in and awareness of conservation of the moveable heritage. He has also been Chairman of the National Council for Palliative Care, a Commissioner of the Judicial Appointments Commission and a Board member of the Serious Organised Crime Agency, as well Boards in the private sector. Francis Plowden became a Trustee in 2014.

Mike McCart

Director of Development and Policy at Southbank Centre, whose cultural offering exemplifies London's global relationships, attracting world-class artists and 10 million visitors to its summer festivals programme alone.

David Seddon

David is from an Anglo American family and trained as an Occupational Psychologist, spending much of his career working in New York, San Francisco and Tampa.

With a keen interest in hand tools and building David has in recent years built a barn from green oak and a clapboard deck house. He also restored a medieval house in Chichester, a project which was filmed by The Discovery Channel and won a Heritage Award from the City Council.

David who is a fellow of the Institute of Management Consultants, joined the Board as Trustee in 2013. He is also a Trustee of Chichester Festival Theatre.

Martin Ashley MVO RIBA

Martin is an architect in private practice specialising in historic building conservation. Based in Twickenham, Martin's Practice of architects and surveyors assists clients and occupiers in the conservation and management of significant historic building estates, advising and enabling the repair, adaption, and development of historic properties to serve the ongoing needs of client organisations in the 21st century. Martin and his Practice are privileged to have worked over many years with The Royal Household, The Crown Estate, Royal Parks Agency, Historic Royal Palaces, The English Heritage Trust, and City of London Corporation amongst other government and local government agencies and charitable trusts.

Martin Ashley is Surveyor of the Fabric to the Queen's Free Chapel of St George in Windsor Castle, to the Old Royal Naval College Greenwich, and to St Bartholomew the Great in the City of London. Martin is a member of Historic England Conservation Committee, and an active Liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Masons.

Alison Richmond

Alison Richmond was formerly the CEO of Icon (the Institute of Conservation) where she transformed the organisation into the leading membership body and voice for conservation of cultural heritage in the UK. An Accredited Conservator-Restorer (ACR), she is also a Fellow of the International Institute for Conservation (FIIC). Alison was a Senior Conservator at the V&A for almost two decades.

Passionate about the future of conservation, she aims to help overcome the financial challenges she sees for people looking for a career in the conservation sector. Alison joined the Board as Trustee in December 2018.

Executive Management

The Foundation is run by a senior management team led by the Chief Executive. Together they take personal responsibility for every aspect of the smooth day-to-day running of the organisation. This includes teaching and research, student and staff welfare, financial management, hospitality, marketing and fundraising.

Alexander Barron ACA, Chief Executive

Alex was appointed Chief Executive in July 2015, having worked with or for the Foundation for over 10 years, most recently as Director of Finance & Enterprise. He is a Chartered Accountant.

Francine Norris BA (Hons) MA FRSA, Director of Education

Francine is a designer and academic with extensive experience of higher education both as a teacher and at senior management level. She is responsible for the College including all programmes of study, short courses, research, library and collections, student support and academic quality assurance.

Ian Graham, Director of Estates

Ian ensures all our students and visitors are well cared for in every aspect of their visit and is responsible for the care and upkeep of our historic buildings and gardens.


Across both the School of Arts and School of Conservation, the role of research is essential in underpinning the college's academic ambitions, helping West Dean to be at the forefront of the specialisms it supports, positively impacting it as a teaching and learning environment. Research projects are key to establishing new and innovative practices, emphasising the importance of skills-based making and conservation, as well as demonstrating the value and scope of interdisciplinary collaboration. Research at West Dean College not only benefits students, staff and specialist audiences but also wider academic communities and the public.

The College is privileged to be on a site of historic significance, both in relation to the heritage of the West Dean Estate and its more recent associations with the life and work of its founder Edward James.

You can find out about the specific research groups here.

A Brief History

The House

1086 - West Dean is mentioned in the Domesday book as one of the manors listed under Singleton, or Silleton. The Earls of Arundel and Dukes of Norfolk held the land for almost 500 years before it passed into various ownerships, including the Sussex families of John Aylwin of Lewes and Richard Lewkenor, who built a Jacobean manor house on the estate.

1738 - West Dean Estate entered the possession of the Peachey family. Sir James Peachey, 1st Lord Selsey, commissioned architect James Wyatt to rebuild the manor house, creating the core of the flint mansion you see today. He expanded the estate and landscaped the park and arboretum, enhancing the house's setting.

1891-1964 - The James family acquires the estate and appoints Ernest George and Harold Peto as architects, tasked with making substantial changes to both the exterior and interior of the house. By the time the east wing has been added and a second storey created, the house has become one of the largest flint faced buildings England. Major changes are also made to the gardens, where Harold Peto designed the 300ft pergola, the first stone of which is laid in 1911 by a four year old Edward James.

The James Family

The foundations of the James family fortune were laid by Edwards James' great grandfather who emigrated from Britain to the USA at the end of the 18th century. His eldest son Daniel expanded the family business, returning to Britain in 1830, where Edward's father William James was born in 1854. William and his two brothers, Frank and Arthur, were keen hunters and explorers; some of their game trophies can be seen at West Dean today.

After Frank was killed by an elephant in West Africa in 1890, the other two brothers decided to marry and settle down. William married the society beauty Evelyn Forbes whose father was a close friend of Edward, Prince of Wales. In 1891 they acquired the 8,500 acre West Dean Estate.

"The champion of Surrealism."

"… the greatest English patron of art of the early 20th Century - supporting, at one time or another, Salvador Dalí, Rene Magritte, Max Ernst and a host of more minor artists, and publishing John Betjeman's first works of poetry while they were still at Oxford."

BBC Arts Online, April 2017

Edward James © The Edward James Foundation

Edward James & The Edward James Foundation

Edward James

Edward James (1907 - 1984), a poet and a lifelong collector of art, is particularly remembered for his patronage of painters, notably the Surrealists, Dali, Magritte, Tchelitchew, Fini and Carrington.

He provided space for his artist friends to develop their creative practice. Dali, Tchelitchew, Magritte and others were given studio space during extended stays in Edward's homes at West Dean and in London. He supported them further through commissions and collaborations, building one of the finest collections of Surrealist art in the world.

Edward's own work spans writing, painting, sculpture, design and architecture. During the 1960's he spent the majority of his time in Mexico, working on an extensive building project high in the jungle at a natural beauty spot, Las Pozas. It's widely held that this was Edward at his most creative and fulfilled, actively involved in working with materials, crafting the structures intuitively as a response to the place, while drawing on references and motifs from his childhood, poetry and travels.

Recent exhibition partnerships with objects from the collection

A number of items from The Edward James Collection at West Dean College have formed part of major international exhibitions:

The Edward James Foundation

Edward's vision for transforming the West Dean Estate into an educational institution came several decades before its foundation. He first spoke of his plans to convert the estate into a college in 1939, in a letter to his friend, the novelist Aldous Huxley, where he expressed his concern for preserving certain arts and crafts he feared would be lost during WWII.

"I want to establish an educational foundation where creative talents can be discovered and developed, and where one can spread culture through the teaching of crafts and the preservation of knowledge that might otherwise be destroyed or forgotten." Edward James.

In 1964 he established the Edward James Foundation a charitable educational trust, to fulfil his desire to nurture music, traditional crafts and the visual arts. West Dean College was opened in 1971 as a centre for education and training in conservation and in the visual and applied arts.

From 1972 full-time programmes were available, the first of which were furniture making and conservation, followed by tapestry and clock courses, both supported by Yehudi Menuhin, a trustee of the Foundation from 1971-1975. Edward knew Menuhin as his second wife, Diana Menuhin, was a ballerina and an understudy of Edward's dancer wife Tilly Losch. Yehudi Menuhin was also very involved in developing the Making of Stringed Musical Instrument programme in 1982.

Edward died in 1984 and is buried in St. Roche's Arboretum.

Help preserve our future

West Dean is part of a registered charity and relies on the support of generous donors, friends, legacies to help us deliver world-class education in conservation and the creative arts and maintain our award-winning gardens.

Find out how you can help support us