The first building to be saved by the National Trust
In 2016 we celebrated the 120th anniversary of the purchase of the Clergy House as the first built property acquired by the newly formed National Trust.
Alfriston Clergy House was originally built around 1350. By 1885 it had fallen into such a dilapidated state that the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, who were then its owners, agreed that the building could be demolished. However, the occupant Harriet Coates, who had been born and spent her life there, pleaded with the vicar to be allowed to end her days at the Clergy House. The demolition was deferred and she continued to live in the house until her death in 1888.
The following year Rev.F.W. Beynon was appointed as the local vicar and because of his interest in ancient vernacular buildings, he quickly realised that the Clergy House was an important relic of medieval England that needed saving. For seven years he sought to save the building and although he had support from many people, there was no money available for much needed repairs.
In July 1894 Beynon heard of a newly formed society called the ‘National Trust for Places of Historical Interest or Natural Beauty’ which had been formed only ten days before. The Clergy house was exactly the kind of ancient and humble building that the National Trust had been set up to save. One of the founders of the National Trust, Octavia Hill, took immediate interest and after a series of complicated negotiations, on the 16 April 1896 it was agreed to sell the Clergy House to the National Trust for the nominal fee of £10 and so became the first built property ever acquired by the Trust.