The Manor Cottage

The Manor Cottage: A Short History

Excavation on the site has revealed worked flints dating probably to the Bronze Age. 

The building dates from about the mid 15th century and was built as an open hall with an oak frame, wattle and daub walls and probably a thatched roof. The original building is the larger part that runs from north to south. No signs have been found of an earlier house but some shards of pottery do perhaps indicate possible activity in the area before the present house was built.

It was probably built by Reigate Priory, who owned the land, or their tenant. It was not a labourer’s cottage but rather a reasonably well-to-do house for a yeoman farmer or the bailiff managing the estate.  

In the 1538 Reigate Priory was dissolved by Henry VIII and the land sold. At this time their tenant in Southwick was Agnes Barrell,
perhaps she lived in the house. For a period the house and estate belonged to Lord Howard of Effingham, Admiral of England at the Armada but he certainly did not live here.  

At the end of the 16th century it was sold to Henry “Dog” Smith of London and formed part of his huge estate across southeast England.  On his death it passed to Smith’s Charity, which still exists.

Around 1600 the house was heavily modernised, there are signs suggesting that this may have followed some fire damage. The modernisation included:

  • The insertion of the new fireplace, oven and huge chimney
  • Formation of rooms at first floor level, the restrictions of the remaining timber frame caused the low doors and ceilings; although people tended to be shorter then, they were not that short.
  • Addition of a west wing Cladding the walls with flint.
  • Not so very different from the modernisations with rooms in the roof etc that are done today. Shards of pottery found on site show for example that in the 17th century olives from Spain were probably being eaten, so the house was still well-to-do.

In about 1860 the house passed into the ownership of the Hall family who lived next door in the Manor House. The deal was part of a complicated land swap between the Halls and Smith’s Charity as they tidied up their scattered holdings which dated from medieval open fields. It is believed that the house was now generally lived in by local workers such as a gardener (the Manor House potting sheds are adjacent and there is a connecting door) and a cowman. 

For many years the house was occupied as two cottages. In about 1965 they were declared unfit for habitation and the last tenants moved out. The Cottage, together with the Manor House, the Manor Farm House and the Manor Farm (Community Centre) had been purchased by the Southwick Urban District Council. There were plans to restore the Cottage but these were thwarted by local government reorganisation and the building was used for storage.

During repair work c1973 Southwick Council decided that it was not economic to repair the unsafe west end and demolished it.

Its use for storage came to an end, its condition was deteriorating and Adur Council had no use for it. Some people were actually muttering that the site would make a jolly good car park! 

After lengthy negotiations by Capt. Basil Divers, Chairman of the Southwick Society, in 1982 Adur Council granted the Society a 99 year full repairing lease at a peppercorn rent; at that time there was actually ivy growing inside the house.

Since that time the Society has been restoring the Cottage, most of the work being done by volunteers.

From the very beginning one of the aims had been to rebuild the lost part of the building but lack of money made this seem unlikely.  However, when the Society was fortunate enough to receive a substantial legacy from Mrs E Roney a founder member of the Society, restoration of the west wing became a real possibility and a priority. This money and a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund allowed the project to proceed, albeit after lengthy planning and preparation processes. 

There is still much to do to continue restoration, to maintain the building and develop the heritage centre to tell and interpret Southwick’s history to future generations.