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Royal visits span the abdication crisis in untold Highdown history

Released: Tuesday, 24 September 2019

The secret history of Highdown Gardens will be revealed as part of a project to preserve the world-famous landmark.

The story of the famous visitors who travelled to marvel at the gardens created by Sir Frederick Stern and his wife Lady Sybil will be part of the story told thanks to a grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund to owners Worthing Borough Council.

Pictures, some never seen before, of Royal visitors to Sterns' home, Highdown House, during the 30s will form part of a permanent exhibition at the gardens to be housed in a new visitors' centre.

They reveal private visits to the Sterns from among others Edward, Prince of Wales, in 1933, just three years from his abdication of the throne which plunged the Royal Family into crisis.

Photo: Edward VIII, Prince of Wales, pictured outside Highdown House

PR19-135 - Edward VIII, Prince of Wales, pictured outside Highdown House

During that period Elizabeth, Duchess of York and her husband Prince Albert, soon to assume the throne from his disgraced brother, also visited and are pictured in the garden.

Other stories include visits from Queen Mary, the Queen Mother who planted a hornbeam tree which is now a magnificent specimen, and former Prime Minister David Lloyd George who was a friend of Sir Frederick and with whom he went to the Versailles Peace Conference in the aftermath of World War One.

Photo: Queen Mary visits to plant a hornbeam in the gardens

PR19-135 - Queen Mary visits to plant a hornbeam in the gardens

Photo: David Lloyd George pictured with his daughter Megan in the gardens

PR19-135 - David Lloyd George pictured with his daughter Megan in the gardens

Sir Frederick became obsessed with his battle to grow native and exotic trees and plants on the chalky soil of Highdown Hill, even though experts told him it was hopeless. Despite writing much about his horticultural experiments very little is known about his personal and social life.

The glimpse of a fascinating period in the history Highdown Gardens was discovered in the West Sussex Records Office by Adur & Worthing Councils' Head of Communications, Michael Gilson, while researching for an MA in Garden and Landscape History at the University of London.

Discover 'The Hidden History of Highdown Gardens', with Michael Gilson, below...

Cllr Edward Crouch, Worthing Borough Council's Executive Member for Digital and Environmental Services, said:

"We all know that Highdown is a vitally important garden, home to hundreds of rare exotic species and a living example of horticultural triumph over adversity. That is why Worthing Borough Council, thanks to the National Lottery Heritage Fund, is taking steps to ensure we preserve its legacy.

"These stories from the social side of Highdown will be just as fascinating to many people and are a crucial part of the rich history of the place. Certainly I was fascinated by the stories which will form part of the story we tell visitors when the new Highdown opens."

The Heritage Fund award of £800,000 will help save the exotic rare plants that grow there and enhance the visitor experience. The cash injection will enable garden experts to catalogue, preserve and propagate the hundreds of rare species that grow on the slopes and the old garden bungalow on the site is to be remodelled and turned into a visitors' centre, new walkways are to be created and the full astonishing story of the house and gardens to be told. A new wheelchair accessible sensory garden will also be created.

Work on the project will start next year with a finish date in 2022.

Photo: Artist's impression of the new visitor centre

PR19-135 - Highdown Visitor Centre


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