National Trust celebrates 125th anniversary of first house purchased

Medieval property Alfriston Clergy House was the first to be purchased by the National Trust, and it cost just £10.

The National Trust is celebrating 125 years since purchasing its first historic property, Alfriston Clergy House, which sits in the village of South Downs, East Sussex.

The medieval clergy house was in danger of collapse, when the National Trust purchased it in 1896 for just £10, and carried out its restoration for a further cost of £400.

Recent dendrochronological analysis of the home’s timber structure revealed that it was constructed around 1399-1407 AD. 

©NTPL/John Miller Alfriston Clergy House, a fourteenth-century Wealden hall house in a cottage style garden in East Sussex. Photo: ©National Trust Images/John Miller.

It would have been a high-status dwelling during the medieval period.  Residents and guests would have been entertained in the large hall, and the presence of red ochre on the intricately carved doorways highlights the wealth of a previous owner.

The house was used as the residence for the parish priest of Alfriston village until the early 18th century, and over the years has undergone many alterations.

National Trust Curator George Roberts said: ‘While Alfriston Clergy House may seem small, in its day the architecture would have been incredibly grand. The timbers and crown post in the hall are truly remarkable.

‘The experience of conserving and finding a use for the clergy house played an important role in the development of the newly-formed, little-known National Trust. Had its efforts to purchase and restore the house failed, the Trust may never have acquired another building.’

‘Today, 125 years later, the atmosphere when you stand beneath these beams is palpable,’ said Holly Jones, National Trust Operations Managers for Alfriston Clergy House. ‘We want Alfriston Clergy House to be loved, explored and enjoyed by as many people as possible. We can’t wait for lockdown to end and to open our doors once again.’