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 History of the priory

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lee
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Join date : 2008-02-10
Age : 56
Location : Leicester

PostSubject: History of the priory   Sun Jun 21, 2009 2:28 pm

Michelham Priory is set on a medieval moated island and surrounded by gardens. An idyllic setting where it is possible to imagine the life of the small band of Augustinian canons who first came here in 1229.

The founder was Gilbert De l'Aigle whose eagle emblem flies over the gatehouse. Part of the original buildings survive in the present house. There was a cruciform church with a cloister to the north, a Chapter House on the east, the Kitchen and Refectory to the south and dormitories (over the cellars) to the west.

In the late 14th century the threat of French raids and general unrest led Prior Leem to surround the Priory and its immediate grounds with a moat (the longest water-filled medieval moat currently surviving in England) and build a gatehouse.

The moat now gives shelter to its wildlife - a pair of swans and their family, kingfishers and fish.

The Priory was dissolved in 1537 and the church and most of the east cloister range were pulled down for their building materials.

A local man, John Foote, purchased the Priory in 1556 and began to transform the south and west cloister ranges into a house. In 1587 Michelham was acquired by Herbert Pelham, an ironfounder and landowner. He added a new stone wing but ran out of money and was forced to sell the property.

In 1601 the Priory was purchased by Thomas Sackville, later 1st Earl of Dorset, and the Sackville family owned the freehold for the next 300 years. The Sackvilles let the Priory to tenant farmers, so barns and farm buildings were gradually built around the house.

The medieval watermill continued in use on the site and is still in full working order, producing stoneground flour.

The house itself fell into a decline, but in 1896 the site was bought by James Eglington Gwynne who set about restoring the medieval buildings. The 20th century was dominated by Richard Beresford-Wright who owned it from 1925 and made many improvements which survive today. It was requisitioned during World War II, but the Wrights returned until 1951.

The last buyer was Mrs Stella Hotblack who bought it in 1959 specifically to preserve it. In 1960 she gave the Priory to the Sussex Archaeological Society who have continued to open the house and gardens to the public and to enhance it.
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