Why not head for Michelham Priory, a grade I listed house, near Hailsham this autumn. Spend an hour or two meandering in the tranquil gardens and a take tour of the Elizabethan manor house which incorporates parts of the former medieval monastery.  

The priory, which is surrounded by England’s longest water-filled moat, was founded in 1229 with the first prior, Roger and his 12 canons, in residence. Visitors include Edward I, so you’ll be following in royal footsteps as you explore its 800-year old history. The priory was dissolved in 1536 and gifted to Thomas Cromwell the following year. Three years later, after Cromwell’s execution, part was given to Anne of Cleves, along with Anne of Cleves House in Lewes. Upon her death in 1557, the estate reverted back to the Crown.

Various owners came and went over the years and the property gradually evolved into a country house. In 1939 evacuees were taken in and the British and Canadian brigades were also housed there. After the war, when the farm was no longer viable, it was sold again and then eventually to a Mrs Hotblack. She and her sister opened the site to visitors in May 1959 and soon after partnered with Sussex Archaeological Society to preserve the site for us to enjoy today.

Enter through the 14th century gatehouse and you’ll come into the driveway with the beautiful Elizabethan manor standing before you. The gatehouse houses an interactive medieval gallery although this is currently closed. Tours of the house are at set times so spend time exploring the grounds until your allotted tour time.

We turned left at the dovecote and walked the perimeter of the moat stopping at various highlights. A small wildflower garden behind the dove cote buzzed with happy bees. The kitchen garden is packed with its neat rows of leeks, onions beetroot, other seasonal produce and flowers. A tunnel of fruit trees, laden with apples depending on the season, runs through the centre of the kitchen garden.

Wooden bridges criss-cross the moat, taking visitors on a route to the children’s’ playground and the replica Bronze Age thatched roundhouse. Wooden sculptures line the route and the views back to the house show it off beautifully.

Back at the house take time to explore the reconstructed Cloister Garden with its vine-covered walkway, medieval herb garden and well. It’s laid out on the foundations of the original Cloister Garden.

The tour of the house isn’t guided although you can ask questions. The original medieval vaulted under croft on the ground floor can be explored along with two floors of the house. There is an exhibition on the WWII evacuees and another on the history of the priory.

Exit at the back of the house where you’ll find a small Physic Garden and a cottage garden. On the lawns you’ll discover the foundations of the priory church. The grounds are also home to a forge, restored watermill, café and gift shop.

Hand sanitiser stations are in various positions around the estate and at the entrance to the house. Some of the smaller rooms in the house are currently closed due to social distancing restrictions.

Michelham Priory, Upper Dicker, Hailsham, BN27 3QS. The priory is open Tuesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday from February to December. There’s plenty of parking. The entry fee is £10.80 for adults. Sussex Archaeological Society members and National Art Pass holders have free entry.

Thanks to Suzanne Jones at Sussex Bloggers for this guest blog post.

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Michelham Priory
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A table filled with a medieval feast at Michelham Priory, near Hailsham, East Sussex.

Explore England’s longest medieval water filled moat, the magnificent Tudor mansion, impressive 14th-century gatehouse, working watermill and forge.

Ghost Stories from Michelham Priory
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Ghost Stories from Michelham Priory

The date is 1896 and James Gwynne has just moved into his new home, the magnificent Michelham Priory near Hailsham. But as he begins his restoration he uncovers secrets that had been hidden for generations. As these come to light something else is disturbed - spirits that intended being left in peace!