Reigate Priory, the Grounds and Park

The house and grounds

The park

The Inside of the house

A brief history of the Priory

The restoration of 2007/8




The Priory building as it is said to have looked in the late 1700s


A print of the Priory commissioned by Lord Somers c1815





A view of the Priory and part of its grounds from the park, which were once separate from each other - note the fence in the foreground.


A view of the Priory from the air in more recent times





The Priory grounds and park is a today large public area that is such a quiet contrast to the adjacent busy town. In this picture the Priory building, previously home to so many well known figures and now a school, basks in sunshine beneath an angry Saturday afternoon sky. The north Downs rise in the background. The large building in the right background was, when the picture was taken, that of that of Redland Tiles but is now rebuilt as the offices of Esure.

(Picture taken c2000)


Another 1960s view of the east end of the Priory grounds, this time with the Priory in view. The man's view is along the line of poplars towards the lake. About 150 yards behind him, though trees, is Bell Street.





The path that leads to the lake was once lined with Poplar trees.

(Picture taken by the author in the late 1960s looking north west with Park Lane in distance)


A view of the priory grounds showing the poplars taken from the Park Lane entrance.





The Poplars were felled and replaced by an avenue of trees that lack the grace and presence of their predecessors.


The gates that once stood opposite the Castle Pub (now called The Priory) in Bell Street. They were moved by Lady Somerset as she did not want visitors entering the drive to her house opposite a public house





A 1960s view from the Priory lake back down the avenue of Poplars towards Bell Street and the town


The 1960s view from the opposite direction from the end of the row of poplars.





The lake supports a large bird population


The grounds are home to the annual music festival



A view from the Priory grounds into adjacent land where the old stables still stand


Inside the Priory Building




A 1960s picture of one of the interior features, the lovely staircase and the mural once attributed to Verrio but now to a later artist that adorns the landing wall.


The stairs in November 2005 shortly after the restoration of the murals had been completed





The upper landing

  One of the murals




A view of the ceiling


The Holbein Hall when the building was used as a private residence. On the right hand wall is the fireplace after which the room is named.



  The Holbein fireplace is named after its designer and commissioned by Henry VIII. Installed originally at Betchworth Place it was moved to the Priory c1650. The shield at its centre is that of William Howard.

The Holbein fireplace pictured c1890


The Park





As well as directly from the Priory Grounds there are numerous entrances to the park but this one from the upper part of Bell Street ceased to exist a number of years ago, Here it is viewed from both sides.





Another entrance is where steps lead into the park from Park Lane opposite its junction with Littleton Lane. On the left it is seen as it was c1900, on the right as it is today, little changed.





The path (c1910)at the top of the steps in the picture above


A cottage in Park Lane





Much of the park is heavily wooded. These trees stand at its west end.


The top of the park looking east-west. It is open and a favourite local walk





From the top there is a good view of Reigate and the North Downs


At the east end of the top of the park is a monument to Mr Randall Vogan, a Reigate resident who bought the park when it was for sale in the early 1920s and presented it to the Corporation for the useof the public. The white post in the right middle distance is an old trig point.




Picture left: - This postcard shows the Priory and North Downs as viewed from the top of the park. Posted in 1904 from Reigate it has the intriguing words 'I won't forget Panama' written on the front. The card is addressed to a Miss Chennel of Newmarket and, as there is no clue as to the meaning of those words in the short message on the card's back, we must remain intrigued. Possibly the additional wording is to amplify the card's title to 'The Priory and Reigate House'. The spire sticking up in the middle right distance will be that of St Mark's Church before it was shortened.

(Many thanks to Steve Anderson of Reigate who kindly allowed this postcard to be reproduced here)


The Park, the Muddy Downside





The path around the Priory Park perimeter can be muddy in wet weather, something that is to be expected of woodland paths. But the path on the western side descending from a little below where Littleton Lane joins Park Lane to where it almost reaches the Lake is particularly muddy. The problem is caused by the humus formed by decades of falling leaves and the very poor drying conditions due to the almost permenant shade from the trees. The underlying surface is good, as can be seen in picture 2 above but as all the other pictures show the path is a quagmire, a condition that persist for some months every year. Walking along this path in June 2011 found it to be much better.





A Short History of Reigate Priory and its Owners

Despite the fact that Redhill and Reigate are so close together there are many differences between the towns. A major one is that Redhill’s history goes back only as far as the mid-1800s while Reigate’s stretches back to c1100. Reigate Priory has played a major part in that history, having been founded in the early 1200s by members of the de Warrenne family, descendents of a knight who fought under William the Conqueror in 1066. The Priory, which probably took decades to complete, was built mainly of Reigate stone and occupied for three hundred years by members of the Order of St Augustine. But with the dissolution of the monasteries in the 1500s its use changed dramatically; the St Augustine Canons left and the Priory and its grounds were let until 1541 when they came into the possession of the Howard family.
          William Howard was an influential member of the court of King Henry VIII and became Lord High Admiral. He was given the Priory by the king in 1541. In 1554 he was made Baron Howard of Effingham by Queen Mary. When he died in 1573 a family vault was built in St Mary’s Church and he lies there with other member of his family.

         His son, Charles Howard was born in 1536. He continued the family association with the royal court and twelve years after he succeeded to his father's title of Lord Howard of Effingham he, like his father, was made Lord Admiral of England. In 1588 he was in command of Queen Elizabeth's navy when the Spanish Armada sailed to attack Britain. Although he was not as talented a seaman as his second in command, Sir Francis Drake, his authority and prudent leadership at the helm of his flagship the Ark Royal contributed to the eventual defeat of the Armada.
         In 1596 Charles Howard and the Earl of Essex prevented another Spanish attack with an assault on Cadiz and Lord Howard was created Earl of Nottingham in recognition. In 1599, at a time of further problems with Spain, Howard became the Lord Lieutenant General of England. In 1601 Howard had a part in suppressing a revolt against the government led by the Earl of Essex. During James's reign Howard was part of the 1605 peace delegation to Spain. He died at Haling House in Croydon in 1624 and now also lies in the family vault at St Mary’s Church.
         After his death the family fortunes declined and in 1681 the Priory was sold. Since 1988 a beacon has stood in the Priory grounds to celebrate Lord Howard’s Armada success. The modern Ark Royal aircraft carrier is adopted by Reigate and the Sea Cadet’s training ship at Redhill is named the Ark Royal.

Lord Howard


           Following the ownership by the Howard family Reigate Priory it was sold in 1681 to John Parsons, a wealthy London brewer. John Parsons had the 500 year old Priory improved and updated. One of the improvements was a new entrance from Bell Street with fine wrought iron gates. He became active in politics, representing Reigate in Parliament for more than thirty years and in 1703 became Lord Mayor of London. He celebrated his year in office by presenting a chandelier to Reigate Parish Church that can still be seen there. John Parsons died in 1717 to be succeeded by his son, Humphrey, who went on to become Lord Mayor of London twice. Unfortunately he was to die halfway through his second term in 1741. He too was interred at Reigate Parish Church.
           Ownership by the Parsons family was followed in 1766 by that of Richard Ireland who bought it at auction and made considerable further

changes to the building. He was 66 years old when he made the purchase and enjoyed the acquaintance of John Wesley, who visited the Priory in 1771. After Ireland’s death the Priory passed to other members of his family who lived there for many years.
            There followed a short period of ownership of the Priory that reflected the same increasing property values we have today. A gentleman named George Mowbray bought it in 1801 for just over £8,000, made a number of alterations and sold it in 1807 for almost twice as much. The buyer was John Somers.
            The Somers family had been connected with the Manor of Reigate ever since it had been granted to John Somers ancestor, the Lord High Chancellor of England and also named John, in 1697. The Priory had not been in Somers ownership for over 100 years of their association with the manor and the 1807 purchase put this right. As Lord of the manor and representative in Parliament for Reigate he now had a seat there, although the main family home was at Eastnor Castle. In 1821 he became Earl Somers and Viscount Eastnor and in 1823 his gift to the town of Reigate was the tunnel under the Castle Grounds, said to be the first road tunnel in the country.
Bell Street entrance gates


          In 1807, the Priory came into the ownership of Lord of the Manor, Earl Somers. As the years passed he was succeeded by a second and

then a third Earl. By the time the third Earl, Charles Somers, died in 1883, the changes that had come about were considerable. Reigate had grown considerably since the family had owned the Priory. A major new road had been made east of Reigate in 1818, a railway had been opened in 1841 from London to Brighton almost parallel with it, a spur had been made to Reading, passing through Reigate, which now had its own station and, where the spur made a junction with the main line the town of Redhill had sprung into being. Improved communications and education made people less willing to accept life under their Lord of the Manor and resulted in the formation in 1863 of the Borough of Reigate, run by a corporation, not a Lord, and administered by democratically elected councillors, and aldermen.
            The loss of great local power must have had its effect upon the family but not upon their holdings and wealth. Isobel Somers, the daughter of Charles Somers, the third Earl, inherited that wealth and the social position that went with it. She grew up at Eastnor Castle but spent considerable time with her family at Reigate Priory. Sadly she was unable to marry the man she loved but was prevailed upon to marry another suitor, Lord Henry Somerset. This was not a happy marriage and she was, in 1878, to withdraw from it to the Priory with her baby son, also Henry.
            Isobel’s position in society was, for a while, not what it had been, but gradually it was restored. In 1883 her father died and she inherited his estates at Eastnor and Reigate Priory. She devoted herself to their upkeep but had also devoted herself the God and was soon helping the poor of Ledbury, a village close to Eastnor. She also believed in Temperance and signed the pledge, getting all her employees to do likewise. She took on work for the British Women’s Temperance Association and by 1890 was its President.

Lady Henry Somerset


       The owner of Reigate Priory in the 1890s, Lady Henry Somerset, became a widely travelled woman in the cause of the ‘White Ribboners’, those who belonged to the British Women’s Temperance League and advocated abstinence from the demon drink. She met her counterpart in the American organisation, Florence Willard, and the two became friends, with Miss Willard coming to visit Lady Henry at the Priory. (There is a separate page about Lady Somerset on this website where she and Frances Willard are discussed in more detail). And the Priory was not neglected, for extensive alterations and improvements were made by Lady Henry, including the removal of the

gates installed at the Bell Street entrance by previous owner, John Parsons, so that none of her visitors or employees would have to pass the Castle public house.


Lady Henry ceased to be the owner of the Priory when she conveyed all of her Reigate properties to her son shortly after his marriage. She built a dower house adjacent to the west entrance to the Priory and in 1900 passed her Eastnor estate to her cousin. Lady Henry had now established a colony at Duxhurst, just south of Reigate, that was dedicated to the rehabilitation of inebriate women, and that was where she would spend much of the rest of her life.


Lady Henry’s son, Henry Charles Somers Augustus Somerset, spent several years at the Priory with his wife and family. He served in the Boer and 1914-18 wars but his marriage failed in 1919. In this year he offered the Priory for sale but it remained unsold, although local resident Mr Randall Vogan bought the Priory Park, that rising land to the south of the Priory grounds, and presented it to the Council for the enjoyment of the public. In 1921 his mother died and he decided to sell all of the family’s Reigate holdings, which included many properties in the town as well as the Priory estate. The Great Sale of Reigate transferred the deeds of many of the towns shops and businesses into the hands of those who had hitherto been renting them. In 1922 the Great Sale culminated with the sale of the Priory to Earl Beatty.

Lady Henry’s son, Henry Charles Somerset



       David Beatty had enjoyed a spectacular career in the Royal Navy. During WW1, at the rank of Vice-Admiral, he had led his ships to many sea victories, and in 1916 he was involved in the infliction of great damage to the German fleet at Jutland, damage that it did not recover from. In 1918 he accepted the surrender of the German fleet, many of its ships being later scuttled by their own crews at Scapa Flow.


In 1919 he became Admiral of the Fleet and the First Sea Lord, based at the Admiralty in London. In 1901 he had married the wealthy Mrs Ethel Tree and although they owned a number of properties none of them were near enough to London to prevent him being parted from her and their two sons for long periods. The purchase of the Priory solved that problem. As the Priory’s contents had also been sold during the Great Sale of Reigate Countess Beatty had the task of refurnishing the house.


Earl Beatty officiated at the 1923 ceremony of the unveiling of the Borough War Memorial at Shaws Corner, and at the following ceremony the same day when the Redhill Sports Ground became the Memorial Sports Ground. He left the Admiralty in 1927 and the family spent more time at the Priory, although they also had other properties. Countess Beatty died at one of those properties, Dingley Hall in Leicestershire in 1932. Earl Betty died in 1936. He had a state funeral and was laid to rest in St Paul’s Cathedral.


Earl Beatty (in the white cap) stands in front of the war memorial at Shaws Corner in 1923 (42)

        On the death of Earl Beatty his title passed to his elder son, David, but the Reigate Priory passed into the ownership of his younger son, Peter, who bred and raced horses. He had many notable successes in major races just prior to WW2 and built the stables close to the Park Lane entrance, stables that were later run by Jack Donaghue.  In 1939 Peter Beatty leased the Priory to Joseph Rank Ltd., a firm connected with the flour milling industry that moved there from London. An Insurance Company, later to become the Crusader Insurance Company, also had offices in the building and when Peter Beatty decided to sell the Priory in 1942 it was the insurance company that became the new owners. Peter Beatty’s life was unfortunately blighted by poor eyesight and the possibility of total blindness. He died in 1949, aged 39, after a fall.


In 1943 speculation arose that the new owner had intentions of allowing a town bypass to be built through part of the Priory grounds and for the rest to be developed for housing. The Bell Street frontage was to be developed for shops and the Priory itself could possibly become the company’s headquarters. Local resistance to these plans resulted in the formation of a group that was the forerunner of the Reigate Society. Early success was the designation in 1944 of the Priory as Green Belt land and in 1946 as it becoming Public Open Space. The priory itself was included by being accessible to the people of Reigate.


The building was an expensive commodity, however, both to buy and run, and a purpose for it was required. The idea that it should become a school was put forward and money for its purchase from the insurance company raised by public subscription and from funds allocated by bodies such as Surrey County Council and the Ministry of Education. The Priory came now into the ownership of Reigate Borough Council and became a school in 1948. There was also room for a museum which opened in 1973.

The full history of Reigate Priory is contained in the book 'Discovering Reigate Priory, The Place and the People', by Audrey Ward, published 1998 by Bluestream Books

The 2007 Restoration

In 2004 Reigate Borough Council applied to the Heritage Lottery Fund for money to 'transform the

Priory Park to the way it looked in the past'. a lottery bid was submitted May 2006 a lottery grant of £4.2m was allocated for 'the restoration of the Priory Park to its former glory'. In 2007 the project to restore the primary features of the Priory grounds to the way they were in the 18th and 19th centuries got under way. The total project cost is a staggering £6.6 million. The words in quotes above are the stated aims. No doubt the lake will benefit greatly from improvements made to it, and the opportunity for archaealogical work to be done is good, but whether the additional work is justified when the Priory Grounds was already an outstanding asset to the Borough remains to be seen. The leader of the Council at the time, Joan Spiers, had said that the Priory Park was theborough's jewel in the crown but it had become tarnished and it was time to clean it up. For £6.6m we should expect spectacular results. The following is a brief observation of some of the progress of the work.

Right: - The Mayor of Reigate, David Pay, cutting a celebration cake at the time of the grant in 2006

This plan shows: -
1 - The position of a new pavilion
2 - A new play ares to replace the one currently in the trees at the bottom of the plan
3 - Repositioned tennis courts
4 - A new cricket pitch
5 - The Priory building
6 - The Bell Street car park
Other features: -
The double avenue of trees at the top of the plan is the repositioned path to the lake.
The single avenue of trees going off to the top right of the plan mark the position of the old carrige drive from Park Lane to the Priory. This is not the original drive that led to the Priory, that was from close to the ogee gate in Bell Street.







The children's paddling pool being enjoyed on a hot summer's day 1969-70


The Children's paddling pool in 2007.

(22nd March 2007)


The trees in picture 43 (left) and the pollarded trees alongside the path have all gone.

(31st January 2007)







The treeless view east, with the tennis courts also gone.

(13th April 2007)


The tennis courts are the subject of an achaelogical dig in the Spring of 2007. In this trench is a wall of possibly either a dovecotee or an entrance building.

(13th April 2007)


Here a brickwork in the shape of vaulting, possibly part of old cellars, is exposed.

(13th April 2007)






More walls to the south of the tennis courts

(13th April 2007)


A floor exposed

. (13th April 2007)







The path that leads to the lake was once lined with Poplar trees.

(Picture taken by the author in 1969 looking north west with Park Lane in distance)


The line of poplars seen from the lake


When the poplars were removed they were replaced by lime trees.

(31st January 2007)






. . . which have now also been removed.

(13th April 2007)


Most of the trees have been moved to new positions.

(13th April 2007)


How the Redhill and Reigate Life newspaper reported the lifting of the lime trees from alongside the path.







The existing path in pictures 53 and 54 above leads directly to the lake but is to be replaced by a an extension to the more northerly path that ran on the other side of the tennis courts.The new path will presumably pass around the old stone seat.

(all 31st January 2007)





The formal garden in 1970 . . .


. . . . and in 2007

(13th April 2007)






The lake has been drained so that silt can be removed so now it is possible to walk across it (these pictures taken from the same point). One of the large diggers used in the silt removal can be seen top right of picture.

(pic 62 13th April 2007)


The same point as in the last two pictures as viewed from the lake.

(13th April 2007)







The same point veiwed from either side. Alterations are to be made here, possibly with a new bridge.


The lake seen from the east with a pile of faggotts picture centre. These are being used islands and planting areas that are being created.

(13th April 2007)




One of the planting areas on the north edge of the lake being created

(13th April 2007)


Notices around the town tell motorists that the Bell Street car park is closed and indicate others available. A look at the car park shows that something is going on.

(19th June 2007)





Another angle on the car park.

(19th June 2007)


The gardens are still the same.

(19th June 2007)





The archaeological dig is finished; the site is being levelled. Finds included structures from the 17th and 18th centuries.

(19th June 2007)


The ducks take (mostly) to the shade whilst their lake is still unfilled. The contractors are feeding the birds with grain (supplied by the Swan and Bird Rescue) Group and provide fresh drinking water and a bathing bucket. The main works to the lake were due for completion in early June.

(19th June 2007)



The lake has a little water in it.

(19th June 2007)





An unusual visitor.

(19th June 2007)


The site of the new picnic area.

(19th June 2007)


'Like a Battleground'
This was a Reigate businessman's description of the Priory Park as reported by the Redhill and Reigate Life newspaper of June 27th 2007. In the report Adrian Buckland, owner of the Cage wine bar, said that many people in the town thought that the Park had been 'taken from them' since the restoration had begun. Better done in phases, he felt, with the sunken garden destroyed instead of being left while other work progressed. He said that the whole area looked like a battleground, and of course he is right - the place is derelict. Previously described as the 'Jewel in the Crown' of the Borough's facilities it will be a mess until the work is completed.
      The Council's reply to the charges was that a lot of thought had gone into the work and it was considered most cost effective to do all the demolition work in one go. Cost effective? The bill is £6.6m, a sum that makes the expression 'cost effective' seem a little weak.


'The Council is trying to close us down'
So read the headline in the Surrey Mirror of July 5th 2007. The article concerned reported the claims of local traders that their businesses are suffering through the closure of the Bell Street car park. One trader said that the previous works in Reigate had had a detrimental effect on trade but the closure of the car park had resulted in the closure of her shop. Eleven Bell Street traders, the article says, have written to the Council claiming recompense.
       The Council is reported as defending the closure by saying that all work carried out in the town is to enhance the town's safety, environment, access and parking as well as preserving its character. The Bell Street car park is due to re-open in September.



Thursday, 12th July at 11.00 a.m.
at Priory Lake, Priory Park.
We would like to invite you to a grand 'Unplugging' event which will formally start the filling of the lake following the improvements.
Canon UK, one of our sponsors, will be 'Unplugging the Surface water drain which will fill the lake. This will be followed by a tour of the lake to see first hand the work that has taken palce to restore the lake. Wellington boots advisable.
We look forward to seeing you there.


This was the text of a notice seen on my latest visit to the Priory, which was sadly on 14th of July so I missed out once again. The news of these events doesn't seem to be getting out, not via the local newspapers (the wife and I I read them all but could have missed it) nor qickly enough via the Friends of Priory Park.

The lake was refilled by the ceremonial 'unplugging' of the inlet pipes carrying the stream that flows under Bell Street and the Priory grounds (see picture right). When I was there the lake had not had time to completely fill so I took several photos of the situation and reproduce some of them below.






Two of the islands still well above water

(14th July 2007)





A lot of work remains to be done. Note the new path, surfaced with coxwell gravel, that now extends all around the lake.

(14th July 2007)


!t is reported that 4,000 gallons of water is needed to fill the lake (although this seems a rather small quantity) and that more than 7,000 cubic metres of silt has been dredged from the lake.


The new pavilion rises from just behind the digger

(14th July 2007)


The islands have been built to encourage wildlife and provide protection for nesting birds. Planting shelves have been constructed around the edge of the lake and drainage to and from the lake has been improved. It is reported that the picnic area is to be moved northwards to link with the improved path to the lake (but there was no picnic area there before and the old path was good as it was)82
The inlet system now discharges into a reed bed designed to capture silt and debris before it can get into the lake.





On 29th July 2007 the lake was looking pretty full


The islands are now submerged and are identifiable onle by the tops of their plants showing above the water.

(29th July 2007)


A path, seen right of pictures, curves away from the lake area and will presumably join the new path that will be built from a point near to the conical fir tree just left of the tall trees on the left of the picture. The old path, which seems fully adequate, can be seen through the fencing



And into September





The lake is looking full with its wildlife firmly re-established

(7th September 2007)





The water is up to the level of the weir overflow but there are still plenty of fences up

(7th September 2007)





View from inlet to west end of the lake

(7th September 2007)


The old path is still intact

(7th September 2007)





The new play area taking shape with the pavilion rising behind it

(7th September 2007)


The pirate ship in the play area

(7th September 2007)





The new pavilion

(7th September 2007)


And the car park is open again (7th September 2007)


1st October 2007





The new play area in use

(1st Sept 2007)


The old play area gone

(1st Sept 2007)





The new path laid and in use, The old path is where the pile of earth top right is.

(1st Sept 2007)


Nothing left of the old path

(1st Sept 2007)


1st December 2007


A view across the Priory grounds from the lake. The new path is on the far left, football matches are in progress in the background with a new football pitch being prepared in the centre.







The skate park was opened today and was in full use



The new tennis courts, on the other hand, were empty



24th January 2008



Plenty of work still going on






Cable laying



The new pavilion with its glass in






Work had started on the formal garden



8th June 2008 -

Time passes so quickly and it is June before I return to the Priory - below is what I find.




The grassed area I last remember as as being full of dog excretia sprayed yellow by campaigners against dog fouling (good for them) has become a croquet lawn


The old children's play area is now just a grassy space





The formal gardens, restored and being enjoyed


The 1770 estate plan on which the £6m+ changes to the priory are based





The building getting a facelift


The Monks' Walk is impressive. This 100m long formal walk was introduced by Lady Somerset and gradually fell into disrepair. Now reatored the planting is good and the path itself is superb.

(See picture 56 for how it was)





An ornamental sundial was once an original feature and this has been replaced by a modern copy


And the seat at the end of the Monks' Walk is still there (see picture 57 for how it was)





The new tennis courts


The walkway past the new chilrdren's playground





A playground feature


A playground feature





Children's water play area went live on 24th May 2008


The lake in June 2008





The lake inlet


A abundance of wildlife




Picnic area well used

Email from Christine Iqbal  
I have just viewed all the photographs and information regarding the history of Reigate Priory and its grounds and found it extremely interesting and informative. I attended Reigate Priory from 1958 until 1963 and loved being a pupil there. The history of the Priory has always fascinated me and even as a child I appreciated all the beautiful features of the building, such as the grand fireplace in the great hall with the beautifully carved banisters and lovely murals. Also the gold carved ceiling in what was one of the science labs.

 Our history teacher composed a poem, aptly named "The Priory Poem", which Is a synopsis of the Priory history:

Our founder was Warenne , the sixth Earl of Surrey
The monks of Augustine left here in a hurry
The Howard's as sailors and statesmen were famed
As Lord Mayors of London the Parsons were named
Dick Ireland the grocer was John Wesley's friend
The Somers were squires on whom all could depend
As sailor and horseman Earl Beatty was thorough
And now the old Priory belongs to the borough.

Maybe one of my fellow students will read it and remember too. I think the teacher who wrote the poem was Mr Pauer.


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