Langney Priory History

Langney Priory (Etchingham Road) Nestling among tall trees a short distance from the main road lie the ancient buildings of Langney Priory. By the middle of the 1950s all this land had been compulsorily purchased by the Eastbourne Council, for the development of a large housing estate. The priory was also earmarked for demolition. There ensued a legal battle to preserve this building, its cause championed by the then owner, Mrs B. M. Fenwick together with the Society for the Preservation of Ancient Buildings and the Council for the Preservation of Rural England. Right prevailed and what is probably Eastbourne's oldest building was saved at the eleventh hour.

Langney Priory, parts of which date back to the reign of Edward the Confessor, was erected on the foundations of a Roman villa. It is now somewhat hidden by the Langney Village estate, though a Sussex barn, at the entrance in Etchingham Road, draws attention to the short lane that leads up to the priory, which is privately owned.

The word Langney, written as Langelie in the Doomsday Book, is Saxon for Long Island. Originally the priory stood on a slight rise above the Pevensey Marsh, which at high tide was often surrounded by the sea. The oldest part of the building is the east area, housing the chapel, with a fine Saxon archway, adjoining a refectory or hall, with a long dormitory above. The three foot thick walls at this point are supported by heavy buttresses.

In the fourteenth century the east and south walls were faced with large squared blocks of Sussex green sandstone, with smaller squares of knapped flint During the fifteenth century an arch shaped tie-beam and king post were added across the west end of the building. The windows on the west side were fitted with shutters and contain seventeenth century panels. The front of the Priory dates from the sixteenth century and was faced with sham timbering, with later addition of a porch.

In the walled garden at the rear is a small pond, the remains of a monastic fish stew or pond, where the monks' kept their fish in its mud have been discovered with several interesting articles of antiquity.

With the dissolution of the smaller monasteries by order of King Henry the Eighth in 1539 the priory in keeping with similar monastic houses, reverted to a farm, and remained so until the present century when it became a private dwelling. The priory chapel has been in use as a place of worship since Saxon times. Miss Morvyne Fenwick-Owen told how the Bishop Bell reconsecrated the chapel and how later last century when Bishop Peter came he said, "he felt very thrilled to be the first monk since the destruction of the priories to celebrate Holy Communion here."

Langney Priory has many secrets. Its fine timbered front remained hidden under plaster until rediscovered earlier this century. Another is the location of a secret passage running away from the house somewhere under the north court yard.

Robert Armstrong's "Guide to Eastbourne" Historic Langney Priory

Key Dates in the Priory's History

Research by Katherine Buckland, the Borough Council's Heritage Engagement Officer and previously published by The Eastbourne Society.


Domesday Book records LANGELIE (roughly translated as "Long Island") as being made up of around 360 acres

Around 1106AD

Land around Langney granted to Lewes Priory


Langley now recorded as LANGANIA. Around this time or soon after a Chapel is built on the now considerably sized estate (now 540 acres or 2.2km2) Bishop of Chichester and Archbishop of Canterbury confirm the "Chapel of Langney" to the monks of Lewes Priory.


Lewes Priory held in Langney 100 acres of land, 74 acres of meadow and 100 acres of Marsh.


Ralph de Cobbeham holds the Manor of Langney from the Prior of Lewes but is forbidden to disturb the monks.


Langney Manor passes to the Burton family of Eastbourne


Reformation of the Monasteries by Henry VIII and Langney Grange is surrendered to the King by Prior Robert of Lewes


Thomas Gildredge of Eastbourne, sometimes described as "of Langley", leaves the farm to his wife in his will.


Thomas Sackville 1st Earl of Dorset purchases the Manor of Langney (and Willingdon)


Richard 3rd Earl of Dorset sells the Manor to Thomas Dyke of Henfield for £4900


Langney Manor (now LANGLEY again) passes to Walter Borrell


Manor (still LANGLEY) passes to James Scewbridge


The earliest hall was removed and a whole new wing was built giving a whole new (and still standing) west facing front to the building. This consisted of a hall, parlour, new kitchen, pantry, staircase and on the first floor more small rooms.


A lean-to was added on the north of the Chapel range to house two large coppers, possibly one for brewing. The porch was added to the west front of the building at this stage.


Timber cladding added to the west front.

The building we now call 'Langney Priory' was never actually a Priory at all. It was a working farm and estate owned by the Cluniac Priory in Lewes and should really be called 'Langley Grange'.

Granges were working farms that provided produce and income for the religious houses that owned them. They were generally similar to 'normal' medieval farms but often had a chapel alongside a farmhouse, large barns, a dovecote, animal sheds, fishponds and a mill.

The complex at Langney certainly used to have at least one large barn (demolished in 1952) and still boasts a pond, chapel and farmhouse. Other buildings may survive as archaeological features beneath the present gardens.

It is unlikely that monks actually lived at Langney as it would be the 'Lay Brothers' or non-ordained members and a Steward of the religious community who worked on the farms and ran them on a day to day basis. However the prestigious accommodation that Langney provided would certainly have been used by the Prior and his retinue when they did visit on inspection tours.

Limited archaeological research has been carried out on Grange sites and this project could reveal some fascinating information on how these important parts of medieval society functioned.

Website photos courtesy of:
Carlotta Luke, The Towner Gallery, Charles Harding, Eastbourne Heritage, The Eastbourne Society, Marc Barclay, Sally Drinkwater, Paul Holman