(Grade II listed)

Standing in the beautiful surroundings of a traditional English cottage garden on the edge of Ashdown Forest, the Priest House is an early 15th century timber-framed hall-house built as an estate office for the Priory of St. Pancras in Lewes to improve the administration of the Manor of the Rectory of West Hoathly.

In 1524 the Priory leased the Rectory Manor to John Browne, a “husbandman” of the parish & The Priest House became a family home.

When Henry VIII seized Lewes Priory’s property the Browne’s Manor was given to Thomas Cromwell. After his disgrace & execution the Manor formed part of the settlement of Anne of Cleves. Following her death, the Brownes paid rent to Queen Mary & then to Elizabeth I. In 1560 the Queen sold the property that had once belonged to Lewes Priory. The Brownes bought the Manor lands & The Priest House & set about modernising the building.

The house was originally an open hall, with a living room & upper chamber on the north end & a service end, with a buttery, pantry & solar, to the south. Large stone chimneys were built to replace the medieval open hearth, which enabled two new rooms to be created upstairs, each with their own fireplace. The original thatched roof was also replaced with Horsham stone.

The house remained in the hands of the Browne family for another hundred years but their fortunes were in decline & in 1695 the house & Manor had to be sold to pay off their debts. The new owner, Mrs. Anna Hooper of Barbados, split the building into two cottages for tenant farmers. For 200 years the house remained in the hands of absentee landlords who did little to maintain it.

In 1905 it was bought by John Godwin King, of Stonelands, West Hoathly. He carefully restored the building & in 1908 opened it to the public, to display his collection of locally gathered artefacts. In 1935 John Godwin King presented The Priest House & its contents to the Sussex Archaeological Society.

The House now contains a varied collection of 17th & 18th century country furniture, ironwork, embroidery & other domestic bygones, displayed in furnished rooms. It is complemented by a colourful cottage garden & small formal herb garden, which contain over 170 culinary, medicinal & household herbs.

Ashdown Forest's origins lie as a medieval hunting forest created soon after the Norman conquest of England. By 1283 the forest was fenced in by a 23 miles (37 km) pale enclosing an area of some 20 square miles (5,200 ha). 34 gates and hatches in the pale, still remembered in place names such as Chuck Hatch and Chelwood Gate, allowed local people to enter to graze their livestock, collect firewood and cut heather and bracken for animal bedding. The Forest continued to be used by the monarchy and nobility for hunting into Tudor times, including notably Henry VIII, who had a hunting lodge at Bolebroke Castle, Hartfield and who courted Ann Boleyn at nearby Hever Castle.
Ashdown Forest contains much evidence of prehistoric human activity, with the earliest evidence of human occupation dating back to 50,000 years ago. There are important Bronze Age, Iron Age and Roman remains.
The forest was the centre of a nationally important iron industry on two occasions, during the Roman occupation of Britain and in the Tudor period, when England's first blast furnace was built here in 1496, marking the beginning of the country's modern iron and steel industry.
In 1693 more than half the forest was taken into private hands, with the remainder set aside as common land. The latter today covers 9.5 square miles (2,500 ha) and is largest area with open public access in south-east England.
Ashdown Forest is famous as the setting for the Winnie-the-Pooh stories written by A. A. Milne, who lived on the northern edge of the forest and took his son, Christopher Robin, walking there. The artist E. H. Shepard drew on the landscapes of Ashdown Forest as inspiration for many of the illustrations he provided for the Pooh books.

The first recorded reference to Ashdown Forest by name is in the period 1100-1130 AD, when Henry I confirmed the right of monks to use a road across the forest of "Essessdone", a right which the monks claimed to have held since the Conquest.
"Ashdown Forest" consists of words from two different languages. The first word, Ashdown, is of Anglo-Saxon origin. It is probably derived from the personal name of an individual or people called Aesca, combined with dún, Old English for hill or down, hence Aesca's dún—the hill of Aesca. It has no connection with ash trees, which have never been common given the soil conditions.
The second word, forest, is a term here used by the Normans to denote land that was subject to forest law, a harsh and much resented supplement to the common law that was designed to protect, for the king's benefit, the beasts of the chase, such as deer and wild boar, and the vegetation that provided them with food and cover. Forest law prescribed severe penalties, particularly in the 11th and 12th centuries, for those who transgressed, and for a time it governed large parts of the English countryside, including entire counties such as Surrey and Essex.
In 1693 the forest assumed its present-day shape when just over half its then 13,991 acres (5,662 ha) was assigned for private enclosure and improvement, while the remainder, about 6,400 acres (2,600 ha), was set aside as common land. Much of the latter was distributed in a rather fragmentary way around the periphery of the forest close to existing settlements and smallholdings.

Woodland covers nearly 1,000 hectares (2,500 acres) of the Forest, 40% of its area Most of the woodland on the common land of the Forest is young and contains few older trees; there is little Ancient Woodland, defined as woodland that has been continuously wooded since 1600. Almost all the latter that exists within the medieval Forest Pale is found on land that was set aside in the 1693 division of the Forest for private ownership and exploitation.