Preston Manor is a former stately home just north of Preston Park in Brighton. Now cared for by Brighton and Hove City Council, it is a fine example of an Edwardian Country House and is open to the public.
Mentioned in the Domesday Book, the manor was owned by the Bishops of Chichester until the dissolution in 1559, when it passed to the Crown. It was leased to the Shirley family in 1628 and passed to the Western family in 1705, before being sold in 1794 to the then tenant, William Stanford, head of a farming family who had acquired substantial land holdings in the area. The manor stretched to modern Hove, and its sale during the 19th century for development added substantially to the family's wealth.
The Stanfords had a colourful history: the last occupier, Lady Ellen Thomas-Stanford, had planned to bequeath it to her beloved grandson, Vere, but he died from the effects of mustard gas in the First World War. She had already fallen out with her son (and Vere's father), John mad Jack Benett-Stanford, for, among other things, his plans to turn the house into a casino.
She therefore bequeathed the house to Brighton Corporation, having dissipated much of the wealth of the estate on high living. John, meanwhile, still lived in some comfort, in the other family estate, Pythouse in Wiltshire.
There is evidence of a two-roomed building on the site dating from the 13th century, possibly a Priest's House for the adjacent church. In 1600 a large manor house was built, some doorways of which can still be found in the basement. The present house was erected in 1738, with five bays and two single-storey extensions on each side. This was further expanded in 1905, and the interior modernised, to give us the house we see today.
Visitors can now see four floors of the house, furnished very much as a comfortable Edwardian country house. The ground floor has a series of impressive reception rooms, with family bedrooms, a bathroom and maids' rooms on the second floor, and a nursery, more bathrooms and maids' store-rooms on the third floor. The staircase is particularly impressive.
Afterwards, staff show visitors to the recently restored basement, which contains the kitchen and other working rooms of the house, as well as male servants' quarters which are still currently off limits. Edwardian mod-cons on view include an early vacuum cleaner, refrigerator and knife-sharpener, together with an enormous and unwieldy Victorian clothes-press. Visitors can therefore get a clear idea of 'Upstairs' and 'Downstairs': the house had over 20 staff at its height.
The house is well furnished with antiques, paintings, silver and a unique collection of porcelain temple lions from China, said to be the largest single collection in existence.
Of particular interest is the Cleves Room, with its Flemish gilt-leather wall covering; here, in 1896, a seance was famously held to establish the cause of extensive hauntings, and particularly of a mysterious woman in white.
It is said the seance established that the ghost was of a woman had been expelled from the church in the 16th century, and buried in unhallowed ground; workmen discovered the skeleton of a woman shortly in the grounds afterwards. When the remains were reburied, it is said the hauntings stopped, although it reputedly remains one of Britain's most haunted places.
The house is open to the public from April to September. The site has a small car park, and is easily accessible on bus route 5, or by a ten minute walk from Preston Park station. Inside, there is a small gift shop at reception.
There is wheelchair access to the ground floor and basement only.
The 13th century mediaeval church of St Peter next door has the remains of wall paintings, and is in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust.
On an idle weekend, or any time really, this 16th century manor is a great place to visit. Having undergone many refurbishments it's grown to be a terrific example of Edwardian design and architecture. As all tickets are under £5 it's great value, especially because the building is supposed to be haunted. If you're into the paranormal you can also book yourself in for a ghost tour. Situated beside Preston Park it's a little way out of town but not far enough to make it not worth the journey.
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