The gardens were laid out after 1917, when Sir William and Lady Chance bought Legh Manor. Gertrude Jekyll prepared some plans for the garden in 1918, and may have been involved further as the garden developed.
Both Godfrey (1976) and Waterville (1931) refer to the ‘beautiful' and ‘charming' garden laid out by Lady Chance. It was she who rescued it from 'a wilderness'. She was helped, at least in the more formal part by her friend, Gertrude Jekyll, who had designed the gardens for her at 'Orchards'. Miss Jekyll prepared some designs for the garden which have recently come to light and are lodged in the Surrey History Centre in Woking. The plans date from 1918.
The Jekyll plans, entitled Proposed Formal Garden at Leigh Manor, show an area of 55 feet by 70 feet, orientated east/west. There is a central grassed walk with flower beds, two deep each side, leading to a circular feature, and the whole is surrounded by hedging. The beds adjacent to the central walk are herbaceous, planted with white, grey and blue flowering plants. The outer beds have roses, twenty two per bed. The plan itself may not be complete as there is an open area to the west which might have been intended to be a second garden.
Lady Chance (1938) says 'The small pleasure grounds were found in a chaotic condition in 1918, but with the help of that great gardener, Miss Gertrude Jekyll, they have been gradually brought into order during the twenty years since the work of re-organizing was started'. It is not known to what extent Gertrude Jekyll 'helped'. The only evidence is the existence of the proposed plans. Miss Jekyll was 75 in 1918 but lived until 1932 so well might have provided more written advice. It is doubtful that she ever visited Legh Manor. The photograph Legh Manor from the South West (Lady Chance, 1938) with its herbaceous planted flower beds and surrounding hedge may well show part of a Jekyll-inspired garden.
Lady Chance (Wolseley, 1930) painted 'an estate map, executed in old style with animals, such as horses and geese, represented on it in colour in the fields they usually frequented'. This map is now in the WSRO [Add. Mss 17687] and is a delightful, water-colour sketch. It clearly shows gardens to the south and to the west of the house. The latter is a flower garden.
Lady Wolseley in her unpublished notes says that 'the colour schemes of two separate little gardens were delicious. The first one was low-toned and soft and was typical of soft music; and the further one with a herbaceous border on either side of a walk leading south was gay and strong like a brass band. And at the end of this such a view, framed by the gay colours of the flowers'. This too may refer to the Jekyll-inspired planting.
Wolseley (1930) further says that Sir William and Lady Chance had planted trees to frame views to the South Downs. Two gardens to the south were terraced and hedged. Fine colour schemes with strong colours were in the long herbaceous borders with views to Wolstonbury and Campion's Eyebrows. In contrast, another surprise garden close by held only soft toned planting.
Legh Manor according to Godfrey (1976, which article is a full history and survey of the house) has a long history. It was known as Little Ease (name still used in the Cuckfield Tithe Map, 1843), probably a corruption from Little Leghs, and which was thought to be a dower house for the manor of Legh or Paines. The family Legh took its name from Legh in Cuckfield (name mentioned as early as 1218 and until 1393). By 1540 the manor had passed to the Hussey family and the present house was built between 1540 and 1550 (the initials I H and M H which appear on some painted window glass and on one of the fireplaces probably refer to John Hussey and his wife Margaret).
Eventually, in 1707, it was sold to the Sergison family together with Cuckfield Park, and it descended with other Sergison manors in Cuckfield until 1917. Lady Chance (1938) says that 'the manor appears to have been used as a farm house for nearly two hundred years'. In the early 1900s Captain Charles Sergison restored the old house and turned it once more into a gentleman's residence. In 1917 it was sold by Mrs Prudence Sergison-Brook to Sir William Chance.
The Cuckfield Tithe Map, 1843, and Apportionment shows a site called Upper Little Ease, with field numbers 1608-1616, which was owned by the Sergison family and tenanted by a Mary Upton. On the 1st edition Ordnance Survey map, 1874, the site is called Leigh Place [Manor House]. There were 132 acres of farmland, and 14 acres for the house and grounds, which continued to the east side of the road including Brewhouse Pond. There is some evidence that a garden had been laid out with an orchard to the north and west of the house and some tree planting to the south. A rectangular area immediately to the west of the house, with a central path, is marked on this and later maps and seems to be the main garden. The 3rd edition Ordnance Survey map, revised to 1948, calls the site Leigh Manor.
In 1917 when Sir William and Lady Chance bought Legh Manor, they moved there from Surrey. It was for them that their friend, Sir Edward Lutyens, had designed the house 'Orchards' at Godalming in Surrey. At Legh Manor his work was more limited when he was asked, in 1920, to alter and restore the house. Sir William and Lady Chance wished to ensure the permanent protection of the property. Accordingly, after her husband's death, Lady Chance conveyed the property to the Sussex Archaeological Society (SAS) around 1935. The house and grounds were open to the public in 1936. The SAS subsequently sold the property in the 1980s and it is now privately owned.
Early 20th Century (1901-1932)
- Associated People
- Features & Designations
- Manor House (featured building)
- Description: By 1540 the manor had passed to the Hussey family and the present house was built between 1540 and 1550 (the initials I H and M H which appear on some painted window glass and on one of the fireplaces probably refer to John Hussey and his wife Margaret).
- Earliest Date:
- Latest Date:
- Herbaceous Border
- Key Information
Early 20th Century (1901-1932)
Part: standing remains
Open to the public
Sussex Gardens Trust