The story of the Clergy House

Front door at Alfriston Clergy House

Alfriston Clergy House is a Grade II* listed building which was built as residence for the parish priest of the neighbouring 13th century St Andrew’s Church.  The house is over 600 years old and one of a handful remaining Wealden Houses in Alfriston village.  The structure of the Clergy House was intended to display the owner’s wealth and significance, certainly a high contemporary standard of living.

Detail of timbers on the front elevation of Alfriston Clergy House
Detail of timbers on the front elevation of Alfriston Clergy House
Detail of timbers on the front elevation of Alfriston Clergy House

The timber-framed building was built predominantly of young oak which we now know, from recent dendrochronology work, were felled between 1399 to 1407.  It is very likely the house was the one built by John Heghland, a local carpenter and purchased in 1403 by John Carlton the first priest appointed by Michelham Priory to Alfriston.  

Alfriston Clergy house orchard in spring
Alfriston clergy house East Sussex spring orchard
Alfriston Clergy house orchard in spring

A typical Wealden house consists of a hall open to the rafters, with two-storeyed bays at either end with access provided through a cross-entry passage.  The end bays are jettied on the first floor with the eastern bay being used as private rooms by the owner (a solar and bedroom) and the west as service rooms.  The service rooms comprised of a pantry and buttery with access to the bedroom upstairs.  A single continuous roof covers the whole building which is supported by a crown post. 

Alfriston Clergy House Medieval Christmas table
Alfriston Clergy House East Sussex Medieval Christmas
Alfriston Clergy House Medieval Christmas table

The Hall would have been the main space in the house from here you could access both ends of the building.  The Hall would be entered from the Tye and it would have been where the owners ate and entertained with a fire in the centre of the room to provide warmth and possibly cooking facilities.

Alfriston clergy house summer borders
Alfriston clergy house flowers in the borders
Alfriston clergy house summer borders

The building has seen many alterations due to necessity and fashion over its 600 years.  In around 1550 the hall saw a chimney introduced on its southern wall and a floor inserted on the first floor running the length of the hall.  This useable space was probably accessed by the bedrooms in each bay.  Around the same time the west service end of the house was demolished, and a new two bay cross wing built in its place.  This created a new parlour and storage room on the ground floor with chamber and storage room above.  The chamber and parlour benefitted from a chimney which was also added.  Due to these changes to the west end it is likely that these rooms became the owner’s parlour and bedroom and the east end became the service rooms.

Alfriston Clergy House Tulips on terrace
Pot of Tulips on terrace at Alfriston Clergy House
Alfriston Clergy House Tulips on terrace

During 1600 when the house was home to the vicar Hugh Walker (who had at least seven children) the window openings were glazed again another sign of wealth.  It is conceivable that due to all these changes that the Clergy House had at least eight rooms.  With the possibility of the first floor in the hall being sub-divided it was certainly a very impressive building.

Alfriston Clergy House was in a state of repair when it was saved by the Trust
Alfriston clergy house East Sussex dilapidated state
Alfriston Clergy House was in a state of repair when it was saved by the Trust

After the vicars moved out to new accommodation in the village the house was sub-divided into two cottages and tenanted.  This, in around 1741, bought further changes such as the south bay of the cross wing being demolished and replaced with a coursed flint lean-to which ran the length of the building.   By the 1870’s however the house was not being maintained to the standard it had been used to and fell into disrepair its future no longer secure.    This change eventually led to its sale to the National Trust in 1896.  By then it was in danger of collapse, and after spending £10 to purchase the house, it cost the Trust over £400 for the complete restoration. The interior of the building remains much as the Trust arranged it in the 1890s.