Great Dixter Conservation and Education Project

In May 2009 the Great Dixter Charitable Trust raised sufficient funds to acquire the 60% share of the estate that remained outside of its ownership. This was thanks to the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Friends of Great Dixter and a number of other major donors. With a further generous donation from the Monument Trust we were able to buy Nathaniel Lloyd’s Dixter farm buildings.

At the same time, a major conservation and education project was launched to ensure a sound future for this spectacular garden, house and historic farm buildings. The project included new education facilities, repairs to the buildings  and the cataloguing of the Lutyens and Lloyd archive and the house furnishings. The work has been carried out in a sympathetic way that strengthens  the sustainability of Great Dixter without compromising its essential character.

Through the winter and spring of 2010 essential restoration was carried out on the 15th century north front of the house. This involved extensive timber, leadwork and render repairs including the rebuilding of an entire gable in the solar due to a rotten tie beam over the oriel window as well as structural repairs to the porch without losing its characteristic lean. While removing defective plaster, light was thrown on techniques used by Sir Edwin Lutyens in his early 20th century restoration of the house, in particular the use of lead lining as an insulation material. 

In 2011 the old brick built cattle sheds of Dixter farm were converted into student accommodation and a large education room which stretches the length of the northernmost building. Fundraising and education staff are now based here. The conversion designed by architects Thomas Ford and Partners is a contemporary version of the main house with brick floors, open ceilings, limewashed wood and worktops of timber from the estate. A meadow has been planted in the centre and round the edges of the building.

In 2012 extensive structural work on Great Dixter’s medieval Great Barn was completed, closely monitored by Buildings Archaeologist, David Martin to ensure minimal loss of historic fabric. On his recommendation the central section was raised to fit the original joist sockets. Where new timber was required oak was used that had been cut in Wates Wood ten years earlier. Metal ties were inserted to strengthen roof timbers and repairs were extended to re-thatching part of the log store. New earth floors were laid at the north and south ends using clay from the top car park.

The worst decay was in the lean to between the barn and the adjoining oasthouse which had to be entirely reconstructed. The building was used to store charcoal for the oast kilns and layers of soot were cleaned from the walls and floor. It is now houses a display about the history of the garden. From September 4th 2012 the barn and oast are open to the public.

Another visitor improvement has been the construction of a loggia next to the shop so visitors can drink tea and coffee out of the rain. Covered in Sussex tiles with oak uprights and flag stone floors, the deep pitched roof matches those of the nearby potting sheds. 

Inside the house a new heating and hot water system has been installed. Sustainable energy has been introduced with ground source heat pipes, solar panels and a wood fuel boiler.

All together the cost of the work has been in excess of £6 million. We are most grateful to the following organizations for making the project possible: the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Monument Trust, the Fidelity UK Foundation, the Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin Charitable Trust, the Rothermere Foundation, the Dulverton Trust, the Wolfson Foundation, the Finnis Scott Foundation, the Tanner Trust, the Royal Oak Foundation, the Foyle Foundation, the Garfield Weston Foundation, the WARR Partnership and DEFRA, the Ernest Kleinwort Charitable Trust and the Sammermar Trust.