- Detail map 1930, West Sussex Record Office
Aristocrats and Detectives
I still wonder whether I dreamed it all, or whether I really did see that earthly paradise down at Goring…
* Letter to Stern from Gordon Rowley, John Innes Archives courtesy of the John Innes Foundation
Gordon’s Rowley’s amazement is typical feedback when visitors came to visit Highdown in the mid 20th century. Above the Gardens is Highdown Hill, the gateway to the South Downs National Park. This 81 metre high (or 266 feet) ancient chalk crossroad is a site full of myths and history that fascinated Victorian archaelogists. The unique chalk garden was created by Sir Frederick and Lady Sybil Stern from 1909 to 1967. They lived in Highdown Tower (now Hotel) and owned a chunk of Highdown Hill. The Sterns were part of the last generation of Anglo-Jewish aristocrats who shared obsessions for horses, hunting, military life, politics, philanthropy, science and gardens.
Work in Progress
After the Sterns died, with no children, their paperwork, photographs and possessions were either sold, destroyed or donated to archives and forgotten. Lady Sybil’s role at Highdown Gardens and in local politics has been mostly ignored as recorded history focused on Sir Frederick and his horticultural skills. With the help of a small detective army of archivists, descendants, librarians, historians, and volunteers, we have uncovered many stories. The research is still a work in progress. We are excited to present what we have found so far.