The house and gardens date from the 16th century and are managed by us for the public to enjoy. The Southover Grange Gardens are open from 8.30am until dusk or 9pm (whichever is the earlier) all year round except Christmas Day.
Southover Grange, Lewes was formerly known as Southover House or Southover Priory. It was built by William Newton in 1572. The date is placed on the spandrels of the Newton Room fireplace.
William Newton was born circa 1516, the son of Humphrey Newton of Fulshaw Manor, Cheshire. His family descends from that of Sir Isaac Newton. The Newton family occupied the Grange for almost 300 years until 1860.
In 1630, William Newton’s second son married Jane Stansfield the maternal grandmother of John Evelyn. He was a diarist who lived at the Grange as a boy from 1630 to 1637 while attending the Old Grammar School. This formerly occupied the south eastern corner of the gardens.
In the 1790s the Prince of Wales, who later became the Prince Regent and King George IV, often stayed at the Grange, sleeping in what is now known as the Regent’s bedroom.
The William Newton of that period was a Colonel of the 10th Prince of Wales’ Light Dragoons and he was a close friend of the future Regent and King. In September 1793, Mrs Fitzherbert accompanied the Prince on a visit to the Grange.
In 1871, William Laird Macgregor bought the house and made extensive alterations and additions to the building. He rebuilt the south east portion, installed the present main staircase, extended the east wing and added a new outer hall. He also rebuilt the stone chimney stacks and brick shafts.
Oddly enough he appears never to have lived at the house and, when the alterations were completed, he took a great dislike to the place and never came again.
Later owners included from 1901 to 1907, John Gordon Woodhouse and his wife Violet, the celebrated harpsichord player, who was the first artist to make gramophone records of harpsichord music and also the first to broadcast it.
The house is the original of ‘Mock Beggars’ Hall’ in Harrison Ainsworth’s novel ‘Ovingdean Grange’ and the drawing room is now named after him.
During the Second World War the house was requisitioned by the War Department. In March 1945 it was purchased by the former Corporation of Lewes and the house and gardens were opened to the public on 16th May 1945.
The property came into the ownership of the Lewes District Council in 1974 and extensive works of restoration were carried out to the building. The north wing now houses craft workshops and the offices of the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages.
The beautiful gardens are divided into two almost equal parts by the Winterbourne stream and are remarkable for some magnificent trees.
Outside the Ainsworth Room on the charming stone-flagged terrace is sculpture by John Skelton and nearby is a fine Magnolia Grandiflora and an equally fine Mulberry tree.
Princess Elizabeth (now Queen Elizabeth II) planted additional trees when she visited Lewes on 18 May 1951. Her visit to the Grange gardens is commemorated by an inscribed stone at the base of the Tulip Tree on the cross path at the end of the main lawn.
On the south border of the lawn is a wall running west to east and then in a southerly direction terminating at the Winterbourne stream. This wall was probably erected by William Newton.
Above the archway in the side of the wall facing west is a carved stone boss, originally obtained from the ruins of the Priory. Similar bosses or corbels are to be found at Michelham Priory near Dicker and Arlington (South of Michelham) the latter having a small church dedicated to Saint Pancras the patron saint of Lewes Priory.
Each season the formal bedding displays are planted to produce a mass of colour, with the half-hardy bed and dahlia bed adding to the mixture of traditional and modern design.
A new addition to the gardens is the creation of a wildflower area with the planting of Primroses, Cowslips and Wild Strawberries among many other species.
On the 19th June 2004, a new Knot Garden was opened by Lady Baker on the site of the old council plant nurseries within the Grange Gardens.