Michelham Priory is in East Sussex, a former Augustine Priory. Unlike most priories which are now in ruins, this one was turned into a country house. On their website they have a short essay about the history of the priory. I’m going to share a few highlights, but make sure you read it if you want to know more (it’s 11 pages long).
The family who owned the land employed Thomas Becket in the 1140s. During a hunting trip, he slipped on ice and fell into the stream, the current taking him towards the mill. Without knowing what was happening outside, the miller stopped the water. He heard the screams outside and went out to help Becket get out of the freezing water. At that moment Becket started believing that he is destined for the church.
The Augustinian priory was founded here in 1229. The first official records are from mid 13th century. The first prior was called Roger and he had 12 canons when the priory was opened. Some of its visitors included Edward I, how impressive is that.
In the 1520s the priory was in a good shape, with previous issues regarding the priors solved (as in the previous centuries). Under the Act of 1536, being a small priory, it was dissolved. In the essay it says that on the 1st October 1537, Michelham Priory was the first monastic site awarded to Thomas Cromwell. He received the house, the site, the church, the watermill, and priory’s other possessions. At least the prior, cannons, and the servants received a pension.
With Cromwell’s execution three years later, the priory was reverted to the Crown. Part of the lands were given to Anne of Cleves. She also received Anne of Cleves House, the property I talked about a couple of days ago. When she died in 1557, the estate went back to the Crown.
In the early 1600s, a building programme was started at Michelham, but the owner had financial difficulties and sold it to Thomas Sackville, Lord Buckhurst. It stayed in the Sackville family for the next 300 years. It was rented out until 14 November 1896, when it was sold again, to James Gwynne. In 1905 some renovations took place at the priory, made by Gwynne.
He died 10 years later and the priory was sold once more, to Richard Beresford Wright, a wealthy banker. The new owner was keen on preserving the history of the property. Parts of the house were carefully restored. Sadly, before a Christmas ball, in 1927, the Tudor building burned in a fire. Rebuilding took place again, carefully to take into consideration the history of the house.
In 1939 evacuees were taken in the house, a few brigades, British and Canadian, were housed there too. After the war, the Wrights returned to Michelham. When the farm was no longer viable, it was sold firstly to a large landowner and after that to Mrs Hotblack, a wealthy widow. She and her sister opened the site to the public, seeing the tourist potential. On the first day, 1st May 1959, they had 130 visitors to see the priory and have refreshments such as coffee, lunch, and tea. Later that year Mrs Hotblack started talking with Sussex Archaeological Society to preserve the place for future generations.
I think these pilgrim’s badges are very interesting. This one is obviously with Thomas Becket, but each pilgrimage place had its own badge, the whole: been-there-done-that-got-the-T-shirt sort of thing.
The Bible box looks so nice, it’s beautifully decorated.
Coffee roaster, something any coffee lover needs in their house, don’t they?
This might have been used for decoration and, maybe, for good-luck or fortune. It is made from straws of wheat. I asked the room guide about it, as I had no idea about its meaning.
This is a leather water bottle, to take when going farming. It looks very sturdy, but not very big. I assume they would have it refilled a few times a day.
Michelham Priory is on Upper Dicker, Hailsham, BN27 3QS. They have a good size car park. The entry fee is £10.50 for adults. Sussex Archaeological Society members and National Art Pass holders have free entry. It is open from February to December, so there are plenty of opportunities to see it.