Lewes Priory, Sussex

Cluniac Priors

Lewes Priory was the first Cluniac foundation in England. It was founded by William de Warenne between 1078 and 1082 on the site of a Saxon church which was dedicated, as was the Priory, to St. Pancras.

The Priory became one of the richest in England, although it was never particularly prominent and kept itself to itself, by the time of the Dissolution it owned 20,000 acres of land. There were two main periods of building, the first between 1078 and 1100 and a second between 1145 and the 13th Century. By the time this was complete there were over 100 monks living here and the Church was larger than Chichester Cathedral.

By the time we reach the Dissolution the Priory had shrunk in size considerably to just 24 monks. Many of the buildings of the Priory were demolished immediately and the land was granted to Thomas Cromwell, architect of the Dissolution. He built a large home on the site which was, at the time, the largest in Lewes. It survived until 1668 after which time it was gradually demolished for building materials.

The Priory Church fell victim, along with the cloister and chapter house, to the Railway Line. The graves of William de Warenne and his wife were discovered during this destruction and moved to Southover Church.

Today the ruins of Lewes Priory are very scant and are on private land. The best place to view them is probably from the top of the motte of Lewes’ second castle (not the famous one, but a second motte believed to be a siege castle) from here you can at least get an idea of the ground plan.

Photo - Andrew J. Müller

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