Medieval Michelham Priory
I recently visited Michelham Priory, near Eastbourne, East Sussex. I discovered it many years ago on a school trip, and I fell in love with it as I was fascinated by its atmosphere.
Michelham Priory is a unique building as the original Priory was converted into a house.
The Augustinian Priory of the Holy Trinity was founded at Michelham in 1229 by Gilbert de Aquila, whose father had been a benefactor of Bayham Abbey in Kent and also had connections to Otham Abbey in East Sussex. Michelham was a daughter house of Hastings Priory.
In 1278 and again in 1287, the prior was fined for exercising illegal privileges. On 26 June 1283, John de Kyrkeby renounced his election as Bishop of Rochester at Michelham Priory before John Peckham, Archbishop of Canterbury.
King Edward I stayed overnight at the priory on 14 September 1302. In 1353, the prior was fined 40d because a bridge at Rickneywas broken and blocking the river. By 1398, the priory was reported to be in a ruinous condition. Robert Reade, bishop of Chichester, granted the advowsons of Alfriston and Fletching to Michelham Priory in that year.
Dissolution and later use
The Priory was seized in 1537 under Henry VIII during the Dissolution of the monasteries. The priory and its possessions was then granted to Thomas Cromwell. Following Cromwell’s execution in 1540, it was granted to Anne of Cleves. Part of it was leased to Thomas Culpeper, with the greater part of the site passing to William, Earl of Arundel. In 1544, Henry, Earl of Arundel exchanged Michelham Priory with Queen Mary for other property. In 1556, the priory was sold to John Foote and John Roberts for £1,249 16s 10d. Foote alienated the manor and hundred of Michelham Parkegate to Ambrose Smythe in 1574. In 1584, Smythe granted it to John Morely and Elizabeth, his wife. Morley granted the priory to Herbert Pelham in 1587.
The church and some of the buildings were demolished and between 1599 and 1601. In the former year, the priory was made over in trust to Thomas Peirse, Thomas Pelham and James Thatcher to be sold to provide an annuity of £400 and pay off his debts. In 1601, the priory was sold to Thomas Sackville, 1st Earl of Dorset (Lord Buckhurst) for the sum of £4,700. On his death in 1608, the property passed to his son Robert Sackville, 2nd Earl of Dorset. In 1609, it passed to Richard Sackville, 3rd Earl of Dorset. On Richard’s death in 1630, the priory passed to his wife, Lady Anne Clifford. On her death in 1675, the property remained in the Sackville family, passing down the Earls (later Dukes) of Dorset until the death of John Sackville, 3rd Duke of Dorset in 1799, then passing to his daughter Mary, Countess of Plymouth. She married William Amherst, 1st Earl Amherst in 1839.
It was sold to James Gwynne in 1896 and was where his children Rupert, Roland and Violet grew up. The property remained in private hands into the 20th century, when it was restored by the Sussex architect and antiquarian, Walter Godfrey. It was used as a base for Canadian troops during the winter of 1941-42 while they prepared for the Dieppe Raid. Later it was the East Sussex headquarters of the Auxiliary Territorial Service.
In 1958 Mrs R.H. Hotblack purchased the property with the aim of preserving it for posterity. With an endowment from Kenneth, Earl of Inchcape as a memorial to his friend John Fletcher Boughey who was killed during the Second World War, Mrs Hotblack gave the property in trust to the Sussex Archaeological Society on 1 November 1959.
The Priory looked stunning as we parked the car and walked towards it. Flower beds full of daffodils surrounded it, with the traditional Herb Garden to the right.
We were greeted by the guide Linda de Fusco, who is in her 14th year of working there, and loves it!
When the firemen arrived, they found that the moat was frozen over and they had a hard job to get any water out!
The moat is about a mile in circumference and is the longest in England.
One of the rooms is made up to look like the evacuees’ room, with Vera Lynn songs playing, and 1940s childrens’ clothes laid out on the beds.
It must have been absolute Heaven to the children who had probably been brought up in London, with acres of Sussex countryside to play in!
Michelham Priory is now a lively working building, with groups of schoolchildren being educated and entertained by people dressed in Medieval costume, who get the children involved in all the activities.
I had to laugh at them all, sitting on the ballroom floor in a huge ancient room eating their pack lunches. I couldn’t help wondering what the resident ghosts would make of it all!
The dining room table was laid out with copies of the food and drink of the time.
But my favourite room was the kitchen. It was originally the Refrectory and much bigger.
There was a Spit Boy by the fire, dating from the late 1600s. The spit would turn the meat slowly as the chain dropped, watched by a young servant, who was treated as a slave.
A cauldron stands in front of the fire. Cauldrons were the 2nd largest cause of deaths for women after childbirth. They leaned over the top, stirring it. It would have been full of bacteria and lead poisoning.
Yvette Fielding and her team gave a very generous payment to the Priory which has been a great help to the constant necessary renovations and repairs.
Ghosts at Michelham Priory
One of the many ghosts that have been reported here is that of Thomas Sackville. He was once the owner of the priory and still haunts the halls to this day tormenting the spirit of a young girl called Rosie. She is reported to hide in the wood panelling at the top of the stairs to stay clear of her tormentor.
One of the more regular hauntings is that of the Grey Lady, who has been seen on many occasions by the bridge and the gate house. She has also been seen near the moat staring into the water apparently mourning her child who drowned in there many years before her own death. She has also been reported to stare into the faces of sleeping guests and then float away through the walls.
Other hauntings include a black hooded monk in the undercroft, a young boy in the kitchens, a maid in the hall, and a lady dressed in Tudor clothing walking the corridors.
There has also been reports of poltergeist activity, with windows opening, doors banging shut and opening, and as captured on Most Haunted, a chair moving by itself.
Michelham Priory holds regular Ghost Hunts, plus other events all the year round.
Contact: Michelham Priory, Upper Dicker, Hailsham, East Sussex, BN27 3QS. 01323 844224,
The Sussex Archaeological Society > Opening Times and Prices
Opening Times and Prices
PRICES & OPENING TIMES 2019
Every day from 9th February 2019 to 20th December 2019
9th February to 28th February, 11.00am-4pm
1st March to 31st October, 10.30am-5pm
1st November to 20th December, 11.00am-4pm
Admission: Gift Aid* Standard
Adult £11.55 £10.50
Child (5-17) £5.50 £5.00
Student / Senior £10.05 £9.10
Carer Free Free
Family £29.70 £27.00 (2 adults and up to 4 children)
*Gift Aid your donation at Michelham Priory includes a voluntary donation of at least 10% – Click here for more details.
Free admission for Sussex Archaeological Society members and National Art Pass holders.
Groups of 15 or more receive a discounted admission price (£8.50 or child £4.25) when booked in advance. Guided house or garden tours can also be arranged prior to your visit at a cost of £3.50 per person. We are also able to pre-book meals or refreshments in the cafe.
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for a group booking form.