Buckhurst estate
Buckhurst Estate and the Sackville Family

The Sackville family first came to Withyham in 1068 as William the Conqueror had left a number of supporters in Normandy to keep order. One of these supporters was Herbrand de Sauqueville. They were granted the manor at Buckhurst following a marriage to the heiress of Buckhurst, Ela de Dene. The family lived here until the time of Elizabeth I, who was in fact a cousin of Thomas Sackville through her mother's family, the Boleyns of Hever. Such a connection at court allowed Thomas to amass a considerable fortune, making him able to draw up plans for a new, far more elaborate mansion on the Buckhurst estate than the then existing house. The site that was chosen for the project was formerly used as a hunting box for the popular sport of deer coursing and despite being granted the vast palace at Knole by the Queen, Sir Thomas continued with his plans for Buckhurst. He also found himself being elevated to Lord Buckhurst and then to Earl of Dorset, although his descendants were to outrank him by becoming Dukes.

Lutyens and Jekyll Gardens surrounded by a Repton Park
Upon his death, Sir Thomas' son, the 2nd Earl reduced his father's original plans but still built a considerable mansion where the present house stands. He did not, however, include a formal garden. It was Arabella, Duchess of Dorset, who can be credited for the beginnings of the current gardens. She commissioned Repton to produce a "Red Book" containing designs for a formal park and gardens, which was unfortunately sold after the death of the 8th Earl in the Great War. Duchess Arabella followed the plans set out in the Red Book and commissioned a lakeside walk of shrubs and ornamental trees, complete with a boathouse from Lewis Kennedy, famous for designing the gardens at Malmaison for the Empress Josephine. Kennedy, at this time, had retired to the nearby Tunbridge Wells and Buckhurst was the only place on which he would work in England.

The death of the last Duke whilst hunting in Ireland split the Sackville family between Buckhurst and Knole. An unclear will, written by the Duke's heiress sister (who was married to the Earl De La Warr) and a subsequent law suit directed Knole to the Duke's second son with Buckhurst, the older property, going to his older son and heir, as was proper. On this inheritance the last Duke's eldest son built an enormous Victorian wing (which was to be pulled down in 1953 by the 10th Earl) as well as commissioning James Pulham, known mainly for his work at Waddesdon Manor for the Rothschilds, to design a rockery and waterfall for the far end of the Repton Lake. But it was not until 1903 that the gardens that can be seen today were finished, with Lutyens being asked to design a formal garden, with help with the plantings by Gertrude Jekyll. This gives Buckhurst the unique feature of having gardens by Lutyens and Jekyll combined with a Repton Park.

In the spring, the daffodils that can be seen on the estate which were first planted for a visit by Queen Mary, and a programme has now been implemented to plant 1000 more daffodils every year.