Clayton Priory: a home with history
17:41 12 September 2012
Set in its own grounds, well back from the busy A273 between Hassocks and Burgess Hill, only a handsome porticoed lodge house hints that something grander may lie beyond.
The house we reach at the end of the drive was built around 1820 by a Brighton merchant called Robert Podmore. In 1818 he had bought the Hammonds Place Estate from the Warner family and set about building himself a brand new house, built in the very latest style, right in the middle of his newly acquired estate.
It is thought that the architect he chose was John Biagio Rebecca, responsible for many of Worthings finest houses around that time, including Beach House and Castle Goring. No expense was spared. The new house contained 14 bedrooms, as well as a servants wing. From the hallway a central staircase ascended before dividing half-way up, and leading to a galleried landing. Exquisitely carved door casements framed the fine mahogany doors. The house was filled with furniture of the highest quality including a drawing room suite expensively carved and stuffed in rich silk, a dining-room suite in fine mahogany, and lofty four-poster beds with rich Chinese hangings. There was also a library of rare, leatherbound books, a cellar of fine wines, and numerous items of silver- plate including tea urns, plates and bread and cake baskets
From the fields, which once provided much of the income for the estate, he created a beautiful parkland, with fine trees and ornamental plantations.
Robert Podmore died in 1830 at the age of 68. However, it seems that in his bid to create his own paradise, he had become heavily in debt. Within a few weeks of his death, the administrators of his estate sold the entire contents of the house by public auction to help pay off his creditors. The house and surrounding estate were eventually sold in 1835 to a Lt. Colonel Charles Elwood and his wife, Anne, who paid 7,500 for it, which included 6,000 which remained on the mortgage. From then onwards, the house became known as Clayton Priory.
Colonel Elwood seems to have been a very different character to his predecessor. On the 1851 Census he is described as aged 69, Lt. Col. Retired List, East India Co., Magistrate, Deputy Lieutenant, Cultivator of acres. He and his wife lived there quietly until his death in 1860, when she continued to live there until her own death in 1873. The Census tells us that she lived there with a Ladies Maid, a Cook, a Housemaid and a Butler and she described herself as Landed proprietor of freehold 199 acres, employing 1 bailiff, 6 agricultural labourers, 2 boys.
With no children from the marriage, the estate passed to a nephew Major General Walter Patton-Bethune and his wife, Julia. He had been present as a staff officer at both the Battles of Balaclava and Inkerman during the Crimean War, and had also served in India during the Mutiny of 1857. In 1893 they decided to sell it but probably due to the agricultural depression of the time they found no buyers. Sadly their only daughter was killed in a carriage accident in Hyde Park in 1894, and following his death in 1901 and Julias death in 1909, the house and estate passed to a nephew, Major Douglas Patton-Bethune.
After World War I, the house and estate were acquired by another military man, Lt. Col. John Mayhew, an industrialist, army officer, and Conservative politician. During his time there he took a great deal of interest in the running of the estate, but upon being elected as the Conservative Member of Parliament for East Ham North in 1931, he sold the property and moved to Newton Hall in Essex.
In 1938 Christopher Sainty and his family moved into the property. The Second World War was looming and on the outbreak of war, Christopher Sainty worked in a special role for the Government, establishing hidden supply centres for weapons and supplies, that could be used for resistance in the event of invasion. One such centre was in the grounds of Clayton Priory itself!
The house also became a home for child evacuees, sent out into the country to escape the London Blitz. One evacuee later recalled ....the 10 boys were all together in a beautiful manor house called Clayton Priory.....I will never forget walking along the tree lined drive and seeing a large white house with green shutters. It was lovely my Manderley.
When peace came in 1945, Clayton Priory once again reverted to being a family home where the Sainty children grew up, but by the mid-1970s the decision was made to sell it. The estate, which at that time comprised nearly 200 acres was split up and sold, with land to the north being sold for development as the expansion of Burgess Hill crept ever closer. The house itself was put back on the market with 13 acres of grounds.
Thereafter, a number of owners came and went until the present owners acquired it in 2011. It still remains the elegant and commodious mansion built by Robert Podmore nearly 200 years ago.