Great Dixter was the family home of gardener and gardening writer Christopher Lloyd – it was the focus of his energy and enthusiasm and fuelled over 40 years of books and articles. Now under the stewardship of Fergus Garrett and the Great Dixter Charitable Trust, Great Dixter is an historic house, a garden, a centre of education, and a place of pilgrimage for horticulturists from across the world.
The first glimpse of Great Dixter, its great tiled and timbered bulk reclining comfortably on the gentle slope of the hill, suggests that here is a building of great antiquity, surely completed by the end of the Middle Ages, and as much a part of the history of the Sussex Weald as Bodiam Castle or Northiam Church. Appearances are deceptive, however, and the present Great Dixter is actually three houses, one built here in the mid-15th century with slightly later additions, the second a yeoman’s house from Benenden, across the border in Kent, built in the early 16th century and moved here in 1910, and the third combines the two with additional accommodation, completed in 1912. It was at this time that the house, hitherto called merely Dixter, was renamed Great Dixter, to distinguish it from Little Dixter next door.
Dixter is first recorded in 1220, but the earliest surviving part of the house, the Great Hall, dates probably from the 1450s. Most of the owners of the manor are known from 1340, when it was one Hamo at Gate, whose feudal obligation to the king was to supply one man-at-arms when required. His property at ‘Dicksterve’ was valued at 40 shillings. Hamo’s daughter Joan married Robert de Etchingham and after their deaths, the property passed to Robert’s younger brother Richard and his descendants, one of whom, another Robert de Etchingham, was in possession by 1411. Robert’s daughter Elizabeth married Richard Wakehurst, who built the present house before his death in 1454. Although Wakehurst had two daughters, by the marriage settlement the estate returned to the de Etchinghams on his widow’s death, and from them it passed to Andrew Windsor, 1st Lord Windsor. The Windsors retained it until 1595, when they sold it to John Glydd. In 1574 the 3rd Lord Windsor died in Venice, where a monument to his memory was erected in the church of SS Giovanni e Paolo. Its inscription mentions his ownership of Dixter, although the house had been let since 1558 to the Harrison family.
From Glydd, the house passed by descent to the Gott family, who sold Dixter in 1797 to George Springett (died 1819) for £2,550. He was a bachelor, as was his nephew and heir, another George Springett (died 1864), so in due course the house was inherited by the latter’s niece Sarah Elizabeth Springett (1839–1928), who married a Dr Pout, but understandably perhaps, she retained her maiden name. She never lived at Dixter, using it only for the shooting but let the house until she sold it to Nathaniel Lloyd in 1910.