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The Coolhurst estate lies to the south east of Horsham town, and borders the southern edge of St. Leonard's Forest of which it was a part. Today the main house is in private occupation and the walled garden developed into housing.

Gothic lodges stand at both entrances. The approach to the house was improved by the Dowager Marchioness, with the flower garden some distance from the house, trees and rhododendrons ‘adding greatly to the beauty of the house'.

The following detailed history was contributed by Dr Maggie Weir-Wilson in August, 2014

The Coolhurst estate lies to the south east of Horsham town, and borders the southern edge of St. Leonard's Forest of which it was a part. Today the main house is in private occupation and the walled garden developed into housing. The Scrase-Dickins family still own and occupy the old dairy building and lodge with the woodland garden.

By the time the site returned to private ownership in the late-20th century, the woodland garden had been much neglected. It was further destroyed by the October 1987 storm which came up from the lower lake and cut a swathe through the woodland, uprooting and topping the timber trees. Certain trees have survived such as a giant redwood on the edge of the parkland and an impressive oak in the woodland (see images). Very few of the original rhododendrons, azaleas or lillies have survived as rhododendron ponticum and birch have taken over (see images). Although the larger Birchen Bridge lake at the bottom of the site is full of water lilies, the upper ponds have become clogged with western skunk cabbage and sedge, so although the spring is still running the ponds have disappeared. To be realistic it is very unlikely that the garden could or would be restored, and so today it only exists in the memory of Country Life photographs and descriptions.

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The house was sold in 1807 to the Earl of Galloway and greatly improved by him. Arthur Chichester sold it in 1833 to the Dowager Marchioness of Northampton. She had the main part of the house rebuilt to the designs of P R Robinson, a London architect, with an Elizabethan style front. The south front was 70 feet long and opened on to a terrace running the full length of the house, ornamented with an open gothic balustrade, with steps in the front and at each end leading to the lawn and to the pleasure grounds.

The following detailed history was contributed by Dr Maggie Weir-Wilson in August, 2014

In 1830, Arthur Chichester sold the Coolhurst estate of about 55 acres to Mary Compton, the Dowager Marchioness of Northampton (Hudson, 1986, 165). According to Horsfield, the marchioness spent a considerable amount of money improving the property, and he wrote that she had the main part of the house demolished and rebuilt by the architect P.F. Robinson of London, with the remaining offices improved and altered. It was rebuilt in the Elizabethan style, and Horsfield described how the south front, extending to 70 feet, opened onto a terrace protected by a gothic balustrade with steps in the front and at each end onto the lawn. The flower garden was at some distance from the house but ‘enriched by magnificent timber trees and very fine rhododendrons' which, Horsfield wrote, added greatly to the beauty of the spot (Horsfield, 1835, 265).

The marchioness died in 1843 and Coolhurst passed to her daughter, Frances Elizabeth, who married Charles Scrase-Dickins. Coolhurst has remained largely in the hands of this same family up to the present day, although the main house was sold in the 20th century. Hurst, writing in the 1880s noted that at that time the owner was Lady Frances Elizabeth's grandson, Charles Robert Scrase-Dickins (1857-1947) and the present owner's great uncle. His obituary in The Times noted that he died in his 90th year, had attended Eton and Oxford, and was President of the County Hospital in Brighton as well as serving on the Almoners' committee of Westminster Hospital, and as a local Magistrate. It was noted that he was naturally shy and retiring, intent on helping others and no more unselfish or kindly man existed'. However, it was suggested that he would be remembered ‘as the creator of what is probably the most perfect, as it is certainly is the most natural, of wood gardens in a county where such places abound' (The Times, Sept 06 1947 p. 7, issue 50859). This is interesting as the garden today is largely forgotten and yet less than a century ago it was a classic woodland garden of the time.

Hurst continued with her piece on Coolhurst, noting that the house was a fine specimen of the Tudor style of architecture, and that unusually around the top of the house was a carved Latin frieze of the first verse of the 127th psalm, which translates to ‘Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it' (see images). Hurst also noted that in the grounds azaleas, rhododendrons and other shrubs ‘flourish in great beauty' and that a fine sheet of water was formed from the river Arun (Hurst, 1868, 145-6).

Ten years later, Goodliffe in his walks through this part of the Forest wrote that he passed Hammer and Hawkins pond, The Goldings, and then he reached the head of Coolhurst pond with St. Leonard's Lodge, a quarry and the Sun Oak which he describes as ‘one of the grandest specimens in the forest'. He commented on the fine woods of Coolhurst and their abundant treasures of specimen larch, pine, beech and oak. Near the Forest church of St. John, built in 1835, he saw a magnificent Californian redwood, Sequoia sempervirens, which he estimated to be 70 to 80 feet high. He then described how he passed, what he surmised from its attractive garden, was the gardeners cottage in whose care, he wrote, was a beautiful collection of bulbs and herbaceous plants, as well as in the private grounds huge azaleas and rhododendrons and the ‘graceful foliage of a well grown Fagus asplenifolia, or fern-leaved beech' (Goodliffe, 1905, 48).

The Ordnance Survey map 1st Revision of 1897 (see images) clearly shows the small Coolhurst estate south of Hammerpond Road with the entrance to the Aldridge estate to the north east, St John's Church in Coolhurst wood and the mansion of Coolhurst itself with orchard and large kitchen garden. The large area marked as Coolhurst woods between Hammerpond Road and Mill Pond show paths through planted woodland and a series of small ponds on the eastern side linking with the Mill Pond. These were used to great effect to grow water lilies by Charles Scrase-Dickins according to his great nephew. Immediately south and west of the house is the parkland, giving good views to the water over a haha and with Coolhurst Farm to the west (Personal discussion with Major Mark Scarse-Dickins, great nephew of Charles Robert Scrase-Dickins, at Coolhurst, on 6.3.2012).

Pike's Blue Book of 1899-1900 recorded that the gardener on the Coolhurst estate at that time was Andrew Kemp. In addition there was William Weller in Coolhurst Lodge, Charles Reynolds was the bailiff and Henry Peacock the coachman. The later, and more detailed 1901 census shows a William Pronger, 38, gardener, with his older wife, Eliza, 48 living in one of the lodges. There were two young men, John Edwards, 25 and Charles Wells, 19, both gardeners, and as their address was Coolhurst Gardens, they were perhaps lodged in a bothy.

Andrew Kemp, 60, was in Coolhurst Cottage, not noted as a gardener but rather lodge keeper with his wife, 67 and two single daughters, Jessie aged 24 and Jeannie, 20. Jessie was a teacher and Jeannie a maker of some description, possibly dressmaker. The Kemp family were all born in Scotland, and Andrew Kemp was noted in The Garden journal of 1887 as previously the gardener for ‘Mr Cunningham, of Orchid renown in Scotland and well known to be one of the best Orchid growers in the country'. Kemp was clearly a respected and skilled gardener, one of a growing profession who would be valued by the estate owner and enthusiast.

In 1934 Charles Robert Scrase-Dickins was awarded the RHS Victoria Medal for Horticulture as an amateur gardener and successful grower of difficult plants. It appears from journal articles thirty or so years earlier that he was indeed expert in the growing of camellias, lilies, orchids and early bulbs, using his house at Coolhurst and the gardens there to showcase his achievements. An entry in the 1885 edition of The Garden, an illustrated weekly journal of horticulture founded by William Robinson of Gravetye, Sussex, and author of well-known and innovative garden books such as The Wild Garden and The English Flower Garden, first shows an entry by Scrase-Dickins about the cultivation of camellias. He wrote an article about the cultivation and habits of the single camellia, a rare plant at that time, and replied to readers' questions. He noted that his own single camellias were too precious to test their hardiness, but saw no reason why, like the doubles, they should not thrive out of doors, and in this he was proved correct. He had three distinct varieties of single camellia, a single white, a large rose colour and a red. These were drawn and painted at Scrase-Dickins' garden on 6 March 1885 and served as an illustration in The Garden (see images). He wrote that a curious little form of the common single red grew at Coolhurst against an east wall, over 15 feet high and quite old. He thought it ‘a jolly little thing, quaint and pretty for cutting'. A later article by W.G. Goldring suggested that Scrase-Dickins had ‘undoubtedly the finest collection of seedlings in Europe' (Desmond, 1994; Scrace-Dickins, 1885, 202-3).

William Goldring (1854-1919), journalist and landscape gardener, visited Coolhurst in June 1886 and his description and impressions were published in the January issue of The Garden the following year. Initially, Goldring was struck by the colour, scents, and sounds of birds and insects which assailed his senses and which he thought was totally in harmony with the quiet country home that was Coolhurst.

He speculated that the garden remained much as it had a hundred years ago, avoiding the ‘modern caprices' of fashion, and was satisfied that the only bedding out was in a tasteful stone edged parterre. He described how welsh poppies, yellow fumitories and wall ferns grew from crevices in the house walls and terraces, a very natural planting with a sense of the wild that would have pleased Ruskin. The lawn sloped towards the park and lake, separated by the ha-ha, and beyond a dense wood. The lake was full of water lilies, and the park had many fine hawthorns including one of a pendulous habit. Goldring was impressed by the arboretum, and suggested that perhaps Bishop Henry Compton (1632-1713) of Fulham Palace, an ancestor of the Marchioness of Northampton, and an inveterate collector of exotic and unusual trees and shrubs, had helped to enrich the arboretum. Given the dates this is unlikely, although the Marchioness may have had access to some unusual specimens through this family link.

Goldring's very thorough article named the varieties of tree and shrubs that he saw at Coolhurst. Of the non-native trees he wrote that they were mostly from North America, such as the false acacia, black walnut, hickories, magnolias, snowdrop trees and amelanchias. He noted the presence of some European trees such as evergreen oaks, silver leaved lime, wingnut and pear. The conifers also appeared to be mainly North American with the Canadian hemlock fir, Californian Cypress and Californian redwood, although Japanese red cedar grew well. Native beeches were the prevailing trees on the lawns, but there were also oaks and sycamores of remarkable size, wild service trees, mountain ash and yews, fine groups of scotch fir and old birches by the lake. The glory, according to Goldring, was the arboretum which in June of 1886 when he visited was ‘aglow with fiery tints of azaleas and the air filled with their spicy fragrance'. He was impressed with the size, quality and colour of the azaleas and thought the rhododendrons as remarkable, but not so elegant or picturesque as the azaleas (Goldring, 1887, 21-2, 25).

William Robinson in his English Flower Garden quotes Scrase-Dickins who recommended growing the white Indian azalea, which flowers early and grows well outside if sheltered and left to grow naturally. An illustration is given showing Azalea indica in full bloom in a wood at Coolhurst, Sussex. There was clearly some uncertainty at this time as to whether camellias and azaleas were hardy enough to be grown outside, and Scrase-Dickins was at the forefront of trying a variety of specimens in his woodland garden. Goldring noted that vases of Azalea indica were in the hall and dining room of Coolhurst when he visited, along with a ‘grand specimen' of the orchid Cattleya lobata with three spikes of flower (Robinson, 1903, 121-2).

A later journal article in Country Life in 1936, which focussed on the growing of lilies in garden and woodland, demonstrated what an expert Scrase-Dickins must have been in developing and growing a variety of lilies. In fact, he was invited to be one of the first amateur growers to join the RHS Lily Committee when it was set up in 1931. The article mentioned a very desirable white martagon lily growing in open woodland at Coolhurst, and a hybrid of the orange lily, Lilium croceum named Coolhurst Hybrid, which was found and developed at Coolhurst. Five of the six photographs in the article show different varieties of lily growing in the Coolhurst woodland garden (Taylor, 1936, 507-9; see images).

By the time Charles Robert Scrase-Dickins was an elderly man the Second World War was beginning and two battalions of Canadian soldiers were billeted at Coolhurst, one in the house and the other in the woodland garden. In order to enable access into the garden roads were constructed with, it is rumoured, rubble from the bombing of London. Nissan huts were then erected to accommodate the troops. By the time the soldiers had left there was considerable damage to both the house and the garden, although Scrase-Dickins lived on there in one wing until 1947, but he must have been heartbroken at the destruction of the garden.

After the Canadian soldiers entered the war, the huts in the garden then became a prisoner of war camp, first for Ukrainian prisoners who fought with the Nazis against the allies, and then when they were sent back to Russia where most met their deaths, the Italian prisoners of war arrived and stayed until the end of the war.

On the death of C.R. Scrase-Dickins the house and kitchen garden were sold, and a succession of private schools took over, the last being St. John's College. When the headmaster could no longer run the school due to ill health, the property was sold again and this time to a succession of property developers. Finally one company from Brighton bought it and the owner liked the house so much that he moved in, selling the kitchen garden to another developer who knocked down the walls and built 10 houses on the site. However, the house itself has been restored and is now well looked after (Information given by Major Mark Scrase-Dickins on visit to the garden 7.8.14; see images).


18th Century (1701 to 1800)

Features & Designations


  • Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty


  • House (featured building)
  • Description: Arthur Chichester sold the house in 1833 to the Dowager Marchioness of Northampton. She had the main part of the house rebuilt to the designs of P R Robinson, a London architect, with an Elizabethan style front.
  • Earliest Date:
  • Latest Date:
  • Lawn
  • Gate Lodge
  • Description: Gothic lodges, possibly built in the form of a cross, stand at both entrances.
  • Terrace
  • Walled Garden
  • Woodland
Key Information





Principal Building

Domestic / Residential


18th Century (1701 to 1800)


Part: standing remains

Open to the public


Civil Parish





  • Dr Maggie Weir-Wilson