One of West Dean’s most cherished landmarks has been given a new lease of life thanks to a community project.
The cemetery’s lychgate has been repaired and spruced up after West Dean Parish Council spearheaded its restoration with support from a number of village organisations.
The cemetery holds a very special place in the heart of the village, as it is where West Dean College founder Edward James’ family are buried.
A blessing was performed last Thursday by Father Richard Woods, which was attended by Edward James’ granddaughter Venetia Worthington and great-grand daughter Sarah Matthews.
Built in 1930, the lychgate was a memorial to James’ mother Evelyn – widow of William James, who acquired the West Dean estate in 1891. The traditional oak-framed structure was paid for by her five children and contains carved commemorative words.
Craftsmen who worked on its restoration included carpenter Joe Thompson from the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum, mason Duncan Williams from the West Dean estate, blacksmith Matthew Howard and tiler Darren Stignant.
The project cost £4,500 which included grants from West Sussex County and Chichester District councils plus contributions from the Edward James Trust, the Edward James Foundation and the parish council, while the open air museum donated some sawn oak.
Parish council chairman Dick Hill said: “It’s very worthwhile because it’s very about getting the community involved and there is a very close relationship with the museum.”
Work involved removing overgrown foilage, replacing some of the wood and making new hinges for the bottom of the gate.
Mrs Worthington, who lives near Henley-on-Thames. said: “I’m absolutely delighted, it was getting so run down. I come here a lot so I’m very, very pleased.
“I come to the graves four times a year, and like to be involved with West Dean. I just adored my uncle and I’m so pleased to see the lychgate restored.”
Carpenter Joe Thompson said the project had been special and had been a ‘voyage of discovery’.
“I was very happy to play my part along with Matthew and Darren,” he said. “It’s a stitch in time, in another few years the gate would probably have fallen off the hinges.”
Artist blacksmith Matthew Howard said: “Obviously it was a privilege. Any historic job is of importance for the future generations. Things like this deserve to be taken into account and restored. Before long if this hadn’t been taken on, one of the gates would have fallen off and someone would have walked off with the gates for firewood, so it’s good to see them restored and secured again.”