Michelham Priory

Has been described as a Certain Fortified Ecclesiastical site

There are major building remains

NameMichelham Priory
Alternative Names
Historic CountrySussex
Modern AuthorityEast Sussex
1974 AuthorityEast Sussex
Civil ParishArlington

The remains of Augustinian monastery situated on the eastern bank of the River Cuckmere in the Sussex Weald. Michelham Priory, survives in the form of a rectangular, north east-south west aligned moated island of around 6 hectares containing standing buildings, earthworks and associated below ground remains. The priory was founded by Gilbert de Aquila in 1229 and was dissolved in 1536. Access to the island is by way of a stone bridge and barbican gateway over the central part of the north western arm of the moat. The gateway is a square, tower-like building of three storeys constructed of sandstone ashlar. The barbican gateway has been dated to C15. The investigations further suggested that the moat was constructed after the erection of the earliest monastic buildings, during the late C14 or early C15. The arms of the water filled moat are up to 30 metres wide. (PastScape)

Michelham Priory survives well, despite some subsequent redevelopment and disturbance, and retains original standing buildings and its enclosing, water filled moat. Part excavation and geophysical survey has shown that it will also contain buried archaeological and environmental evidence relating to the use and development of the priory over the centuries.

The monument includes an Augustinian monastery situated on the eastern bank of the River Cuckmere in the Sussex Weald, around 3km west of Hailsham. The Priory of Holy Trinity, known as Michelham Priory, survives in the form of a rectangular, north east-south west aligned moated island of around 6ha containing standing buildings, earthworks and associated below ground archaeological remains. Historical records suggest that the priory was founded by Gilbert de Aquila from Hastings in 1229, and housed up to 13 canons. Edward I visited on the night of 14th September 1302. The priory was dissolved in 1536. The main monastic buildings are ranged around a square inner cloister yard situated towards the centre of the island

The frater, or refectory, lies along the southern side of the cloister and survives as a two-storeyed, rectangular building with an attic, constructed of coursed sandstone with mullioned, casement windows and a clay-tiled roof. The standing, southern end of the western range, originally housing the prior's lodging, is of three storeys, with an attic. These buildings have been dated to the 13th century. The western extension to the southern range, also constructed of sandstone, dates to the late 16th century. The standing buildings of the main cloister, which have undergone several subsequent phases of repair and alteration, are Listed Grade I, and are excluded from the scheduling. A small block of in situ masonry situated around 8m to the north of the surviving part of the western range, interpreted as representing the continuation of its original outer wall is included in the scheduling. The other buildings of the main cloister, including the monastic church along its northern side, survive in the form of buried foundations, some of which are marked out by modern paths. Part excavation in 1964 of the area immediately to the south of the southern range revealed traces of further medieval and later buildings abutting the refectory. Finds included fragments of Rye pottery dating from the mid-13th century onwards, medieval floor tiles and roof slates, coins and a large quantity of oyster shells. Access to the island is by way of a stone bridge and barbican gateway over the central part of the north western arm of the moat. The barbican gateway is a square, tower-like building of three storeys constructed of sandstone ashlar. It has a wide carriage entrance headed by an elliptical arch and is topped by a castellated parapet. The barbican gateway is lit by two tiers of trefoil-headed, mullioned and transomed windows. On its southern side is a projecting staircase tower with a hipped, clay-tiled roof. The barbican gateway has been dated to the 15th century. The attached round-arched, parapeted bridge dates from the 16th century. The barbican gateway and bridge are Listed Grade I and are excluded from the scheduling. An investigation of the southern corner of the island in 1971-76 revealed the substantial stone foundations of a east-west aligned, rectangular, hall-like building measuring 30m by 10m. The building, which may have been a guest house, has been dated to the late 13th century, and was reused in the later 14th century to house grain-processing kilns. Historical records suggest that the building may have been dismantled towards the end of the 18th century. Immediately to the north east are the foundations of a roughly north-south aligned rectangular building interpreted as a cart shed. The course of the foundations of these two buildings has been marked out in modern concrete blocks and gravel. The investigation further suggested that the moat was constructed after the erection of the earliest monastic buildings, during the late 14th or early 15th centuries. The arms of this water filled moat are up to 30m wide. The south western and south eastern arms are retained by up to approximately 30m wide embankments made necessary by the southwards-sloping ground. The priory passed into secular ownership at the time of the Reformation and has undergone several, subsequent phases of alteration and development. An 18th century pigeon house and a group of 17th-19th century barns constructed on the western side of the island, all Listed Grade II, are excluded from the scheduling. A 1997 geophysical survey has indicated that further buried remains associated with the original and subsequent uses of the priory can be expected to survive in the areas between and around the main buildings. (Scheduling Report)

Gatehouse Comments

The large moat and gatehouse do make Michelham look rather more 'fortified' than the usual monastic house. The location would have rather nearer the sea before the Pevensey Levels were reclaimed so, arguably, more susceptible to 'French' raids and certainly would have been perceived to be so susceptible during the invasion scares of the late C14. However, the prime motivation for these 'defences' must have been prestige.

- Philip Davis

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law

This is a Grade 1 listed building protected by law

Historic England Scheduled Monument Number
Historic England Listed Building number(s)
Images Of England
Historic England (PastScape) Defra or Monument number(s)
County Historic Environment Record
OS Map Grid ReferenceTQ558093
Latitude50.8625297546387
Longitude0.213880002498627
Eastings555880
Northings109330
HyperLink HyperLink HyperLink
Copyright Badger of the Bank All Rights Reserved
Copyright Badger of the Bank All Rights Reserved
Copyright Badger of the Bank All Rights Reserved
Copyright Badger of the Bank All Rights Reserved
Copyright Badger of the Bank All Rights Reserved
Copyright Badger of the Bank All Rights Reserved
Copyright Badger of the Bank All Rights Reserved

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Books

  • Emery, Anthony, 2006, Greater Medieval Houses of England and Wales Vol. 3 Southern England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press) p. 309
  • Jones, R., 2003, 'Hastings to Herstmonceux: the castles of Sussex' in Rudling, D. (ed) The archaeology of Sussex to AD2000 (Great Dunham: Heritage Marketing and Publications) p. 171-8
  • Salter, Mike, 2000, The Castles of Sussex (Malvern: Folly Publications) p. 53
  • King, D.J.C., 1983, Castellarium Anglicanum (London: Kraus) Vol. 2 p. 476
  • Page, Wm (ed), 1973, 'Houses of Augustinian canons: Priory of Michelham' VCH Sussex Vol. 2 p. 77-80 online transcription
  • Knowles, David and Hadcock, R Neville, 1971, Medieval religious houses in England and Wales (Longman) p. 166
  • Nairn, Ian and Pevsner, Nikolaus, 1965, Buildings of England: Sussex (Harmondsworth) p. 568-9
  • Salzmann, L.F., 1901, The History of the Parish of Hailsham, The Abbey of Otham and the Priory of Michelham (Lewes) p. 198-258

Journals

  • Woodburn, Bill and Guy, Neil, 2005-6, 'Michelham Priory Gatehouse' Castle Studies Group Journal Vol 19 p. 63-5
  • Hollobone, T., 2002, 'Six Medieval Moated Sites near Arlington, East Sussex' Medieval Settlement Research Group Annual Report Vol. 17 p. 31-8 online copy
  • Stevens, Lawrence and Patricia, 1991, 'Excavations on the South Lawn, Michelham Priory, Sussex, 1971 - 1976' Sussex Archaeological Collections Vol. 129 p. 45-80
  • Bellam, Jane, 1990, 'Excavations at Michelham Priory, 1988' Sussex Archaeological Collections Vol. 128 p. 252-254
  • Barton, KJ, 1967, 'Excavations at Michelham Priory' Sussex Archaeological Collections Vol. 105 p. 1-12
  • Christian, 1960, Country Life Vol. 127 p. 740-3
  • Godfrey, Walter H, 1926, ' Michelham Priory' Sussex Archaeological Collections Vol. 67 p. 1-24
  • Cooper, G.M., 1853, 'Some Account of Michelham Priory, in Arlington' Sussex Archaeological Collections Vol. 6 p. 129-163 online copy

Guide Books

  • Bellam, J., 1992 (rev edn), Michelham Priory (Sussex Archaeological Society)