Village feature: West Dean

WHAT it lacks in size, West Dean certainly makes up for in character.

Nestled in the Lavant Valley to the north of Chichester, the village is especially well-known for the college, house, rolling grounds and walled gardens of the West Dean estate.

Early morning mist shrouds the valley at West Dean.'''Picture by Louise Adams C131340-5 Chi West Dean

Early morning mist shrouds the valley at West Dean.'''Picture by Louise Adams C131340-5 Chi West Dean

Run by the Edward James Foundation, the estate attracts thousands of visitors every year. It has been made particularly popular by events such as this autumn’s harvest event called Grow!Cook!Eat and the Chilli Fiesta.

The vision behind the Edward James Foundation came from Edward James himself, who gave his estate to a charitable educational trust in 1964. The aim was for the foundation to support a college dedicated to the arts.

“What West Dean does is unique,” said Peter Pearce, chief executive of West Dean.

“There is nowhere else which teaches what we offer in such a matchless setting. We see it in our alumni 
who love the place. There is such a network of people who keep communications with West Dean.

“It is all very much what Edward James wanted to create. There really is nothing like it in the whole of Sussex, even England.”

Much of the village’s land is owned by the estate, which covers more than 6,000 acres.

Neil Careswell is a familiar face around the village, having recently taken over the running of the village shop from his parents-in-law, Tony and Jean Budd.

“It’s a lovely village,” said Neil. “We have plans to extend the shop – we want to make the most of it. We will still be a convenience store, but we are also a tearoom. It’s a good family venture.

“The main plan is to keep it as a community hub, we want people to keep coming.”

Not only is Neil at the centre of village life, he also rears Tamworth pigs for his business Forest Hogs and has spent the summer involved in the new series for BBC2’s Tudor Abbey Farm – filmed at the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum in Singleton.

Further up the road from the village shop is the Dean Ale and Cider house, which was taken over by landlord Lee Howard in 2012 and has been fully refurbished. It dates back in the village more than 200 years and is a good spot for cyclists and walkers, who work up an appetite by the time they reach the end of the Centurion Way route.

West Dean Primary School also plays a huge part in village life, despite most of the school’s children living outside the catchment area.

Gill Moss, headteacher, said: “We enjoy close links with St Andrew’s Church, West Dean College, The Dean pub and the village shop.

“Although the parish is currently without a vicar, we have been well-supported by the clergy of Southbourne parish, who have generously given their time to come into school and take assemblies each week.

“The family-run village shop is a great support for the school, is the perfect place to sit in the sun and enjoy a coffee and a chat, and the children love to pop there for treats after school, especially on a Friday!

“The Grow!Cook!Eat! event this weekend at West Dean College will be the school’s biggest fundraising event, and the whole school community is busy preparing jams, chutneys and cakes to sell, alongside the children’s games and activities.”

The pupils at West Dean also held a successful summer fete, where they celebrated the opening of the pavilion.

“This attractive building has given the school the extra space it so badly needed,” said Mrs Moss.

The whole school has been involved with projects on human rights, collaborating with other schools in the area. Children and families have celebrated the outcome of years of campaigning when work to improve the safety of junction on the A286 – by introducing a 30mph speed limit and safer pavements – was finished this year with the help of school governors and parish councillors.

Fondly thought-of as the county’s most famous conservationist and wildlife writer, Richard Williamson is one of the best-known West Dean residents.

Also a popular Observer columnist, Richard has just brought out a new book, The Birdwatcher’s Year, equipping budding birdwatchers with all the information they need before heading into the wild.