Great Dixter is a charming 15th century timber-framed manor house set in one of the most beautiful gardens in England.
Records for the manor of Dixter go back to the 13th century but the core of the present house was built in 1464 by the Etchingham family.
By the early 20th century the building was in a very poor state of repair but it was saved by Nathaniel Lloyd who bought the property in 1910.
He commissioned Sir Edwin Lutyens to renovate and extend the medieval hall house between 1910 -14. Lloyd and Lutyens found a derelict 'Wealden House' that was about to be pulled down in the nearby village of Benenden. Lloyd bought the building and the timbers were carefully numbered and transported to Great Dixter.
The old 'Wealden House' was re-built at the back of Great Dixter and linked to the old house by new tile-hung wing. Lutyens created a very impressive property from these three elements. Today Great Dixter is still in the hands of the Lloyd family. The estate is maintained by Quentin Lloyd and the gardens by Christopher Lloyd, the sons of Nathaneil Lloyd.
The 15th century house has a closely studded timber-frame with a jettied out upper storey. In the centre is the original porch and to the right is the Great Hall with its tall bay window. At the far right is the Solar wing with curved barge-boards. Lutyen's extension is set to the left of this. Its russet-coloured tiles blend beautifully with the older buildings.
The Great Hall has a massive oak frame and a crown post roof. There is fine original carving and the roof has great carved shields; two of which bear the diamond-pattern of the Etchingham family.
The Hall would originally have had a central hearth and the fireplace at one end was added by Lutyens. The fine 16th to 18th century furniture in the Hall was collected by the Lloyd family. The vast refectory table on the dais is Jacobean but the other long table was made in 1932 by Nathaniel Lloyd and his son Patrick. Over the fireplace hangs a Dutch tapestry of a forest scene. From the dais the visitor enters the Parlour which has a closely beamed ceiling and a long mullioned window. The fireplace was also created by Lutyens and the room has 18th century furniture.
Returning through the Hall the visitor climbs the staircase installed by Lutyens to the Solar. The high open roof of this room is supported by crown posts. The carved stone fireplace is original and the oriel windows have been carefully restored. A small window in the Solar allowed the family to see what was taking place in the Hall below. The room has fine Georgian furniture.
The house forms a superb backdrop to the garden laid out by Lutyens and the Lloyd family. Lutyens' input can be seen in the way the stone steps and paths are laid.
Christopher Lloyd is a renowned garden writer and he uses his flair and plantsman's knowledge to great effect at Great Dixter. He has a bold style and uses strong shapes and colour to give interest throughout the year. The garden is divided into a number of 'outdoor rooms' by huge yew hedges and several red-tiled, timber-framed outbuildings.
The topiary garden has yew trees clipped into plump birds. The old rose garden has been replaced by a subtropical garden which is a riot of colours and foliage shapes at the end of the summer. A wild garden is bright with cuckoo-pint, cowslips, orchids and tiny tulips in the spring. The sunken garden is walled and sheltered by old farm buildings and has fig trees, ceanothus and clematis.
Great Dixter is notable for its huge variety of unusual plants and the Long Border is superb.
The parkland surrounding Firle Place is set in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty at the foot of the South Downs.