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Michelham Priory

A Scheduled Monument in Arlington, East Sussex

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Latitude: 50.8623 / 50°51'44"N

Longitude: 0.2137 / 0°12'49"E

OS Eastings: 555882.755777

OS Northings: 109309.328273

OS Grid: TQ558093

Mapcode National: GBR MT0.SZ4

Mapcode Global: FRA C6BT.H1S

Entry Name: Michelham Priory

Scheduled Date: 9 October 1981

Last Amended: 20 August 1998

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1017721

English Heritage Legacy ID: 31385

County: East Sussex

Civil Parish: Arlington

Traditional County: Sussex

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): East Sussex

Church of England Parish: Upper Dicker Holy Trinity

Church of England Diocese: Chichester


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
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.
A number of features are excluded from the scheduling; these are the surviving
buildings of the main range, the barbican house and bridge, the pigeon house
and barns, the more recent outbuildings, garages, garden ornaments and
furniture and walls, boundaries, track and path surfaces, paving, seats and
signs, the footbridges and the renovated sluices; the ground beneath all these
features is, however, included.

The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.
It includes a 2 metre boundary around the archaeological features,
considered to be essential for the monument's support and preservation.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

From the time of St Augustine's mission to re-establish Christianity in AD 597
to the reign of Henry VIII, monasticism formed an important facet of both
religious and secular life in the British Isles. Settlements of religious
communities, including monasteries, were built to house communities of monks,
canons (priests), and sometimes lay-brothers, living a common life of
religious observance under some form of systematic discipline. It is estimated
from documentary evidence that over 700 monasteries were founded in England.
These ranged in size from major communities with several hundred members to
tiny establishments with a handful of brethren. They belonged to a wide
variety of different religious orders, each with its own philosophy. As a
result, they vary considerably in the detail of their appearance and layout,
although all possess the basic elements of church, domestic accommodation for
the community, and work buildings. Monasteries were inextricably woven into
the fabric of medieval society, acting not only as centres of worship,
learning, and charity, but also, because of the vast landholdings of some
orders, as centres of immense wealth and political influence. They were
established in all parts of England, some in towns and others in the remotest
of areas. Many monasteries acted as the foci of wide networks including parish
churches, almshouses, hospitals, farming estates and tenant villages. Some 225
of these religious houses belonged to the order of St Augustine. The
Augustinians were not monks in the strict sense, but rather communities of
canons - or priests - living under the rule of St Augustine. In England they
came to be known as `black canons' because of their dark coloured robes and to
distinguish them from the Cistercians who wore light clothing. From the 12th
century onwards, they undertook much valuable work in the parishes, running
almshouses, schools and hospitals as well as maintaining and preaching in
parish churches. It was from the churches that they derived much of their
revenue. The Augustinians made a major contribution to many facets of medieval
life and all of their monasteries which exhibit significant surviving
archaeological remains are worthy of protection.

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.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Stevens, L, P, , 'Sussex Archaeological Collections' in Excavations On The South Lawn, Michelham Priory 1971-76, , Vol. 129, (1991), 45-80

Source: Historic England

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