King Charles II granted the lands of St. Leonards Forest to his physician, Sir Edward Greaves, and from him they were passed down to the Aldridge family. A portion of the Aldridge estate was then sold in 1801 to Charles G. Beauclerk, who erected a house called St. Leonards Lodge on the site where the present lodge stands.
The Beauclerks were responsible for the first ornamental plantings at Leonardslee.
If you look closely at the greenhouses in the market garden there are signs to suggest that some parts may date back to when the Beauclerks owned St Leonard's lodge to feed the estate, in an area where the cider apples were grown, hence Cyder Farm.
But it appears that they had problems with their mortgage. The estate was eventually sold in 1852 to William Egerton Hubbard.
The following extract from the particulars of sale allows us some idea of the planting that had taken place during the previous fifty years:The pleasure grounds are very ornamental and interspersed with walks beneath luxuriant growing beech and other timbers, and comprise the American garden containing Magnolias, Rhododendrons, Azaleas and other flowering shrubs, in great luxuriance, of great height, growth and beauty.
Another report of that period tells us that St. Leonard's lodge was badly arranged and in its present state not fitting for a family of respectability.
William Egerton Hubbard therefore had little alternative but to demolished it and had the "Italian Mansion" erected. Designed by Donaldson, it was finished in 1855.
We know little about the early history when this site was the kitchen garden for St. Leonards Lodge.
When the Hubbard family arrived in 1852 they built Gardeners Cottage so a Kitchen Garden of some form must have been present. We believe the walled garden, bothy and the smaller greenhouses were build around that time. The cottage is now called Market Garden Cottage. All the windows of the cottage face east towards the market garden, rather than facing south towards the Downs.
Sir Edmund Loder married Marion Hubbard of Leonardslee in 1876 and in 1889 he acquired the estate from her family and immediately set about planting an incredible variety of flora in a very short space of time and keeping a great variety of fauna too. As well as fruit, vegetables and flowers for the Mansion, all of these young trees and shrubs must have been grown somewhere. So the kitchen garden was expanded as the demand increased. When hybridising plants, the greenhouses in the Kitchen garden must have been the best place to rear them.
Sir Edmundīs only son Robin was married in 1913 and his son Giles was born in 1914.
When Giles was aged three, he lost his father Robin, and so Giles succeeded to the baronetcy when his grandfather Sir Edmund died in 1920. Later,he took over the running of the estate from the dowager Lady Loder and during this time the Kitchen Garden became a Market Garden, covering 4.5 acres in its heyday.
Some people still remember a fully functional market garden with glazed and heated greenhouses, and edged sandstone paths, which crossed, meeting at a pond in the centre. All paths were lined with pear and apple espaliers and the garden was surrounded by three walls covered in plums and greengages, as it still is today. Between the paths were beds that were treble then double dug, (down to three spits!) to grow a range of crops. Attached to one side of the main walls is a four-sided walled garden where peaches and nectarines grew in a greenhouse with a roof that slid off like a giant cold frame. The total walled-in area was where my Grandfather used to grow his christmas trees, of which half were still there in 1996. It was then looked after by my mother and my youngest sister Mary. They kept chickens somewhere in there. When my sister had children and something had to give, the nursery was able to absorb that area in winter 1996. The past-their-sell-by-date Christmas trees made an excellent Nov 5th.
Between 8 and 20 men worked here. The produce was supplied to Carters in the Carfax in Horsham, and Covent Garden in London. Leonardslee's Market Garden even had it own headed notepaper!
Unfortunately, after the Second World War, due to reduced staff and lack of maintenance the market garden, like many others in England, began to fall apart. Over the years the paths disappeared under layers of soil and grass. The wind, rain and other acts of God have torn away most of the glass from the greenhouses and, with the help of ivy, dislodged some of the beams. Until recently brambles and nettles flourished in the greenhouses where once white grapes, peppers and carnations grew.