John Seymour Lucas, not only a respected painter, was also a distinguished antiquary and collector of architectural artefacts and remodelled ‘The Priory’ in the then emerging style and influence of the decorative and fine arts of the Arts and Crafts Movement, which flourished in England [and Europe] between 1880 and 1910. In and around the same time his friend and artist Ernest Crofts [1847-1911] bought the adjacent property, ‘The Green’ and it seems the two of them set about creating two very individual and carefully detailed country retreats.
Although no conclusive evidence has been found, it is tempting to think that the architect Frank Jennings helped with the creation of ‘The Priory’. Jennings was very active about this time in Walberswick, building ‘Arts and Crafts’ houses and incorporating reused parts of old houses from elsewhere. James Bettley (the author of the updated Suffolk volumes in the Pevsner Buildings of England series) has shown that Lucas’s son Sydney, who sometimes practised as an architect, was an associate of Jennings. It would not be surprising if Sydney and Frank Jennings were involved with The Priory.
In April 1911 Country Life featured an article on the property, then known as ‘Priory Place’, [“A Lesser Country House of the XVIIth. Century”]. It included a number of photographs of the property, which still had the two second floor dormers and the east ‘cottage’ extension [complete with the beautifully naturally lit painting room on the first floor] all yet to be built. The geometric gardens had been set out a decade or so earlier complete with the lily pond, adorned with a classical lead urn on a low level parapet and pedestal, barrel dovecot and extensive perimeter and crafted yew hedging.
The article also gives us a glimpse into the site’s much earlier history: it mentions a ‘14th. Century fragment of a stone built chapel’ at the west end of ‘Priory Place’ which had been converted into a cottage – ‘Mariner’s Cottage’*; it also mentions ‘at the foot of the lawn…there stand the battered fragments of a once-famed Priory of Premonstratensions”** and even further back “when looking over the fields to a history where ‘Penda the Bull, pagan and King of Mercia, slew the Christian Kings of East Anglia nearly thirteen centuries ago”.
*The Country Life article suggests ‘Priory Place’ – a “mariner’s house” was at some point split into two cottages which were existent when Seymour Lucas purchased the property; regrettably, his renovations leave no clues. His housekeeper apparently lived in ’Mariner’s Cottage’; until Seymour Lucas converted it back to a ‘chapel’.
**There appears to be no contemporary documentation to support this Order of Canons, albeit as an Order they are sympathetic to the Rule of St. Augustine.
The Seymour Lucas/Grubbe connection
Dr. Alan Mackley, local Blythburgh historian, has throughout our ownership of ‘The Priory’ been of enormous assistance and abundant in information; it is one thing to say ‘The Priory’ was in the same family for the last 100 years or so, but Alan pieced the following Seymour Lucas/Grubbe connection together, so at least we now have a clear picture of how the property’s recent history played out.
John Seymour Lucas married Marie Elizabeth Cornelissen [French artist] in 1877
They had 3 children:
Sydney Charles Seymour Lucas [artist and illustrator] [1878-1954]
Marie Ellen Seymour Lucas [1879-1951]
Edgar Donald William Seymour Lucas [1891-1901]
Marie Ellen married Lawrence Carrington Grubbe [1854-1912] in 1909
& bore a lone daughter Margaret Julia Marie Grubbe [1911-1997]
Margaret married Kenneth G. Hubbard [1920-2004]
In his Will, John Seymour Lucas gave Marie Ellen ‘The Priory’ for life with reversion to Arthur Henry Seymour Lucas [son of Sydney Charles], but Arthur Henry sold it to Marie Ellen in 1939, which was then passed on to her daughter Margaret in 1951.
Various legal documents confirm John Seymour Lucas bought ‘The Priory’ [cottages and premises] from Elisa Asbey and Frederick Crowe in 1901 and added ‘The Sanctuary’, a piece of land opposite ‘The Priory’ from Walter Hatcher in 1903.