The Dorset Arms Public House in Withyham was built in the 16th century. It became an alehouse in the 18th century and is situated in the outstandingly beautiful Sussex Weald. Part of the historic Buckhurst Estate, the pub is named after the Earls and Dukes of Dorset, one time heads of the Sackville family, and shares a heritage of family ownership now headed by their descendant, William Sackville, the 11th Earl De La Warr.
In 1507 John Sackville of Buckhurst, whose ancestors had owned the estate since before the Norman Conquest, married a neighbour, Margaret Boleyn of Hever, aunt of Anne Boleyn and great-aunt of Queen Elizabeth I. John and Margaret’s grandson, Thomas Sackville, was one of the Queen’s closest relations and a key figure in the government of Elizabethan England. The Queen raised her cousin to the nobility initially as Lord Buckhurst and then Earl of Dorset. In 1714 his descendant, the 7th Earl, was sent to Hanover to inform the future King George I of his accession to the British throne. He became a close advisor to the King, carrying the Sceptre at his coronation, and was subsequently created Duke of Dorset.
The Dorset titles came to an end with the death of the 5th Duke in 1843; however, the Sackville family continued through Lady Elizabeth Sackville who married George West, 5th Earl De La Warr. It was Lady Elizabeth who founded the De La Warr Almshouses situated directly behind the Pub. The present Earl is her great-great-grandson. One of Elizabeth’s younger sons was the ancestor of the junior branch of the family, the Sackville-Wests of Knole, including the famous poet and gardener, Vita Sackville-West, who is interred in the ancient family vault under their chapel in the nearby church of St. Michael and All Angels, Withyham.
Both the church and the real-life “100 Aker Wood”, made famous as the setting for the Winnie the Pooh stories of A.A. Milne, can be easily accessed via the footpaths through the Buckhurst Estate.
In his 1909 Sketchbook of Tours in Kent and Sussex, a charming drawing of the Dorset Arms appears by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, the celebrated early 20th century architect, designer and artist. Mackintosh was known to be a close friend of Lady Margaret Sackville’s at the time.
The family records reveal that the Dorset Arms was built in 1595 and became a public house in 1735. It was called The Ale House until 1820 when it became The Dorset Arms. It has therefore been in the same family ownership since the 16th century, except for the period 1986-2013, during which it was the property of Harvey’s of Lewes. It is now back under family ownership.