The Priory, Orpington
- Original design
- Unknown, 1270
- Seely & Paget, 1959
The 2017 programme is now past. We will be launching the 2018 programme in July.
This building was never a Priory, but a manor house and rectory attached to the Priory of Christ Church, Canterbury. The earliest evidence for a structure on this site dates back to the 13th century. At the time it was the centre of a large estate that was farmed to generate an income for the church.
At the Dissolution of the Monasteries the manor, land, and revenue became the property of the Crown and was immediately leased to the Hart Dyke family of neighbouring Lullingstone. Within three years they had built a new house next to All Saints' church, retaining the 'Prior's Apartments' as the Rectory. By 1630 the Honourable Richard Spence (d 1661), the third son of Baron Spence of Wormleighton in Warwickshire, held the lease of the house. His daughters Mary and Margaret were co-heirs and the lease passed to Mary's husband, William Gee I of Bishop Burton, Yorkshire. The house remained in the Gee family for nearly 200 years.
In 1780 Richard Gee received the Beddington estate, with Royal licence to take upon himself the name and arms of the Carew family according to the wishes of his second cousin, Sir Nicholas Hackett Carew, who had no male heirs. The estate at Beddington, Surrey was a large one with a fine formal garden.
The contemporary daybook of the local nursery man, James Petty of Cockmanning's Nursery, records several purchases made by Richard Gee or Gee Carew as he became known. From these records it is evident that he had a large vegetable garden and orchard. After the death of Gee Carew the property was sub-let to a number of tenants until 1864 when the leasehold interest was enfranchised and the following year was sold to Dr Herbert Broom who was very enthusiastic about the history of The Priory. It is thought that he was responsible for laying out the garden in the antique style and acquired the ‘Priory’ name in reference to its medieval past.
In 1919 The Priory became the home of Cecil Hughes and his wife. Hughes was a successful publisher, keen landscape painter (he often visited Italy to paint), and collector of artefacts, some of which he used to decorate his garden. In the early 1930s he became Honorary Treasurer to the Landscape Institute where he met and became friendly with Geoffrey Jellicoe and Jock Shepherd, two of its most distinguished representatives. Mrs Hughes was a keen horticulturalist and was very much influenced by Gertrude Jekyll who was a personal friend. After Cecil Hughes died in 1940 his widow and children left The Priory and the building was let to Orpington District Council for use as offices. The Council purchased the building in 1947 and the grounds in 1959. After an extensive programme of improvements the grounds were opened as a public park in 1962. In 1959 the south wing of The Priory was demolished and a new public library constructed on the site. Orpington Museum opened in The Priory in 1965.
The building known as The Priory (listed grade II*) originated in the C13, was rebuilt in the C15 and enlarged in the C17. It acquired the name 'The Priory' during the Victorian era, prior to that it had been called 'The Rectory' or 'The Parsonage' and although it had strong connections with the Church, monks never lived there. The irregular, L-shaped, two-storey building is mainly constructed of flint rubble bonded with mortar, whilst the corners and windows are of ashlar. The Priory's south end has exposed timber framing and close studding with some brickwork behind. The casement windows have two or three obtusely pointed lights. The south wing, which included the kitchens and servants' quarters, was demolished in 1959 in order to build a new library. The twin chimney stacks were reconstructed in the early 1980s and the roof re-tiled in 1988.
V22 has opened the first artists' studios and has a range of creative practice operating on site. The Great Hall remains in use for community events.
For the Priory itself, our first actions must be in line with Historic England’s aspirations for the building as well as those of local conservation officers. We look forward to understanding more of the heritage of this fascinating building and working toward restoring it and reopening it to the public.
As an art organisation we necessarily believe that art can be one of the cornerstones of civic life.
The 125 year lease which we are entering into not only means that we can plan long term to create something of real value to the community and our artists, but also that we can offer sustainable and affordable workspace for artists and creative practitioners at a time when London is losing a great deal of its provision.