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The history of Alfriston Clergy House

Sundial surrounded by topiary yew hedges at Alfriston Clergy House, East Sussex
Sundial surrounded by topiary yew hedges at Alfriston Clergy House | © National Trust Images/James Dobson

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. Through a series of changes and renovations across the centuries it has become the picturesque house seen today in its idyllic setting with views across the River Cuckmere.

Saved for the nation

Alfriston Clergy House in East Sussex was the first building saved forever for the nation by the National Trust. This early 15th-century Wealden hall-house was bought as a restoration project in 1896 by the newly formed National Trust for Places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty.

Construction of the house

The original Wealden hall-house house was constructed around 1400. 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.

The timber-framed building was built predominantly of young oak which we now know, from 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.

A priest's residence

The Clergy House was used as a residence for Alfriston’s parish priest until the early-18th century and remained in church ownership until it was sold to the National Trust in 1896. The charity’s experiences in conserving and finding a use for the building helped to shape the organisation’s future operations and purpose. Originally rented out to tenants, the house and gardens were opened as a visitor attraction in 1977.

Copy of an 1894 black and white print of Alfriston Clergy House
Copy of an 1894 black and white print of Alfriston Clergy House | © National Trust Images

Accurately dating the Clergy House

For over 120 years the exact date of Alfriston Clergy House was a mystery. In 2019 tree ring dating known as ‘dendrochronology’ finally solved the mystery.

Studying the rings

The National Trust commissioned the Oxford Dendrochronology Laboratory to sample the building’s timbers. Dendrochronology involves taking cores of wood (which look like cigars) from buildings and then studying the tree rings to provide accurate dates for when the tree was felled.

The rings can then be matched to chronologies of sampled trees to establish the years in which this example was growing and when it was felled. Each ring marks a complete cycle of seasons, or one year, in the tree's life. Dendrochronology is useful for determining the precise age of samples of wood, especially those that are too recent for radiocarbon dating.

The conclusion

The sampling for Alfriston concluded that the trees used to build the original house were felled between 1399 and 1407.

'We’ve always known that in later years it had been a house for the clergy, this accurate dating changes our long-assumed position that it was originally built for a farmer. Instead, we now see the house being used as a vicarage from when it was first built in around 1400.’

– George Roberts, curator for Alfriston Clergy House

A timeline of Alfriston Clergy House


The Clergy House

The house was built in the 15th century during medieval times and the reign of Edward III. A rare surviving example of a Wealden timber framed hall house and although called the Clergy House it was unusual for the priest of the parish to live there. Most of the time the house was rented out by the church as a source of income. 


According to a dendrochronology report carried out in 2019 the house was built during this period for the priest of St Andrew's church who was appointed by Michelham Priory. 

The design of Afriston Clergy House consisted of four bays including the double-heighted hall and with two staircases, one in the parlour and one in the hall.

The west-facing front of the 14th-century timber-framed Alfriston Clergy House, East Sussex. The deep eaves of the thatched roof cast shade on to light-coloured walls. Crosses of an old graveyard lie in front.

Discover more at Alfriston Clergy House

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Copy of an 1894 black and white print of Alfriston Clergy House

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