The organisation that looks after Lewes Priory is celebrating this week after being awarded a Heritage Lottery Fund Stage One Pass
The organisation that looks after Lewes Priory is celebrating this week after being awarded a Heritage Lottery Fund Stage One Pass* providing Development Funding of £61,400 enabling preparation of a HLF Stage Two application for the balance of a £545,500 grant. The funding will support plans to transform the Norman site into a popular destination for visitors.
Around £800,000 is to be spent on the Priory, with support also coming from English Heritage and others. Lewes Town Council is contributing £40,000.
The money will pay for contractors to repair and consolidate the remains, bring down the metal fence and provide free access to visitors with paths, benches and information signs. Literature on the important history of the Priory will also help bring the stone remains to life for 21st century Lewes residents and other visitors.
Lewes Priory Trust, the organisation that administers the site on behalf of Lewes Town Council, expects that the improvements will attract thousands of local visitors each year, as well as tourists and educational visitors from schools, colleges and universities.
The Priory Trust plans to turn the whole of Priory Park – the area that stretches between Priory Cottage and the Convent Field and between the railway and the Southdown Sports Club in the Southover district of Lewes - into an attractive historical and archaeological site. Preliminary work should begin this year and will take about two years to complete.
The Priory was founded as a Cluniac Monastery in about 1081 by William de Warenne and his wife Gundrada. He was a rich Norman who fought at the Battle of Hastings in 1066 with William the Conqueror. De Warenne also founded Lewes Castle, which can be viewed from the Priory.
Lewes Priory was the first British site associated with Cluny in France. The Priory became a significant religious centre in the south of England with its own satellite priory at Castle Acre in Norfolk. At its height the Priory at Lewes housed around 100 monks and performed an educational and charitable role in the town.
During the Battle of Lewes in 1264 King Henry III and his troops used the Priory for their base in their unsuccessful fight against Simon de Montfort. After the battle de Montfort forced the king to accept, in the Mise of Lewes, a Council that was the start of Parliamentary democracy.
When King Henry VIII authorised the dissolution of the monasteries he granted Lewes Priory to Thomas Cromwell who employed the Italian engineer Portinari to demolish it.
When the railway line was driven through in 1845 workmen discovered the burial cists and bones of William and Gundrada. The cists are displayed in a chapel in Southover church.
"We are very pleased that the years of hard work to secure this grant have finally paid off,” says John Lawrence, chairman of the Priory Trust.
"The Trust is very satisfied that - at last - we will be able to banish the metal fence, consolidate the remains and provide a beautiful and informative site for visitors to enjoy,” states Lawrence.
"But work starts now. We desperately need more volunteers to share the satisfaction of creating something in Lewes of international importance. We need people who are willing to put in the effort! We need help in managing the project, in increasing the membership of the Trust and publicising progress and other activities.”
Michelle Davies, Head of the Heritage Lottery Fund in the South East, said: "We are passionate about giving everyone the chance to explore their past and this project is a great example of what can be done. The Norman priory is steeped in history and today's news is a green light for exciting plans to open it up for new generations to explore."
Volunteers should contact the Trust by writing to John Lawrence, c/o Lewes Town Hall. E-mails may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Notes to editors:
*A 'Stage One Pass' means that money has been earmarked by HLF for the project in question. Competition at this stage is tough, and while a Stage One Pass does not guarantee funding, it is an indication of positive support, and money for the scheme is set aside. The applicant can then progress to Stage Two and submit a further, fully developed application to secure the full grant. On occasion, at Stage One, funding will also be awarded towards the development of the scheme.