Michelham Priory


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1017721

Date first listed: 09-Oct-1981

Date of most recent amendment: 20-Aug-1998


Ordnance survey map of Michelham Priory
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County: East Sussex

District: Wealden (District Authority)

Parish: Arlington

National Grid Reference: TQ 55881 09311


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.

Reasons for Designation

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.


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.


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. 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.

MAP EXTRACT 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.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number: 31385

Legacy System: RSM


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

End of official listing