A Short History of Michelham Priory

Stunning Michelham – an 13th century Augustinian priory – has survived dissolution and a devastating fire and was home to evacuees and troops during WWII. 

Standing on a private island, surrounded by England’s longest water-filled medieval moat, the estate is the largest owned by The Sussex Archaeological Society. 

 

Timeline

  • 1229 – Michelham Priory founded 
  • 1537 – Priory dissolved and property seized by the Crown
  • 1556 – Buildings and land sold to private owners
  • 1927 – Devastating fire prompts major rebuild
  • 1958 – Site bought by Stella Hotblack
  • 1959 – Site gifted to The Sussex Archaeological Society


Michelham Priory’s medieval origin 

The original Augustinian Priory of the Holy Trinity was founded at Michelham in 1229 by Gilbert de L’Aigle, whose ancestors had been loyal and richly rewarded supporters of William the Conqueror. 

The extensive grounds include: the great barn; gate house; watermill; and the kitchen, physic and medieval herb gardens. All are situated on a beautiful island site surround by England’s longest medieval water-filled moat. 

 

Dissolution under Henry VIII

In 1537, during the reign of Henry VIII, Michelham Priory was dissolved. The Priory’s lands and property were confiscated to bolster the King’s coffers. 

In 1556, the Crown sold the Michelham buildings and land into private hands. Over the next four centuries the property saw periods of remodelling and improvements though it remained throughout as a working estate and farm, often let to tenants. 

 

A place of sanctuary and strategy

The 20th century brought changes to the site. A period of restoration and repair was undone by a devasating fire in 1927, which prompted substantial rebuilding works. 

During WWII, Michelham was a place of sanctuary and strategy. In 1939, evacuees from Rotherhithe were warmly welcomed by the then owners the Beresford-Wrights. 

1942 saw Canadian troops stationed at the property, planning their part of the Dieppe Raids. Then, in 1943, the Priory become the county headquarters of the Auxiliary Territorial Service. 

 

Gifted to The Sussex Archaeological Society 

By 1958, Stella Hotblack purchased the buildings and moat, with the express intent of preserving the site.  

She opened the site to the public and secured an endowment for the property. This allowed her to give Michelham Priory in trust to The Sussex Archaeological Society, to safeguard its long-term future. 

 

Michelham Priory today 

Today, visitors to Michelham Priory can explore 800 years of history, including an historic kitchen, the WWII evacuees’ bedroom, and seven acres of beautiful grounds.

Visit Michelham Priory