St Osyth Priory has a long and fascinating history which dates back over many centuries. The Augustinian Abbey was founded shortly after 1120 by Richard de Belmeis, Bishop of London
The Abbey was dissolved on July 28, 1539 and passed first to Thomas Cromwell and then to Princess Mary.
Lady Savage inherited Melford Hall in Suffolk on her husband’s death in 1635 and St Osyth Priory from her father in 1639, and in 1641 she was created Countess Rivers in her own right.
Lady Savage was a staunch Catholic and Royalist with the result that she suffered cruel depredations upon her property in the Civil War. In 1642, the rabble sacked her house at St Osyth, chased her to Melford and sacked that too. All the furnishings were stolen or destroyed, and the deer in the park carried off. Lady Savage escaped to London and was forced to compound for her lands, to the extent of being reduced to the debtor’s prison, where she died in 1650.
The house was requisitioned during the Second World War and then sold in 1948 to the Loyal and Ancient Order of Shepherds who founded a convalescent home here. Their alterations were largely confined to the Victorian service range. In 1954 Mr Somerset de Chair, a popular novelist and MP, purchased the property, allowing the convalescent home to remain in the main building for many years (closed 1980), and converting the Gatehouse into a separate residence, as described by Mark Girouard in Country Life in 1958. De Chair developed the gardens and opened the property to the public.
He also gradually sold off parts of the estate and allowed large scale gravel extraction to disfigure much of the surrounding landscape. After his marriage in 1974 to Lady Juliet Wentworth Fitzwilliam, the Wentworth Woodhouse art collection, which she had inherited, was displayed here. On de Chair’s death in 1995 the property was put up for sale by his widow, and it was eventually purchased by the present owners, the Sargeant family, in 1999.
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