Preston Manor is presented today as an Edwardian house, but its history stretches back to the 17th century.
The 17th Century House
A 1617 survey of the house and grounds shows that the Manor was a modest mansion, with one set of rooms placed directly behind another, a central entrance and three gables. The house was approached across two enclosed courtyards, divided by a gatehouse and facing west. A rear service wing projected left of the main block, and the size of the house was substantial. It was almost certainly constructed of flint with brick and stone dressings. The grounds included outhouses, orchards, gardens, a dower house, a barn and stables.
18th Century Rebuilding
In 1738 Thomas Western demolished the house and rebuilt it as a Georgian villa with four ground floor rooms, four principal bedrooms and four semi-basement rooms housing the kitchen and servants’ quarters.
In about 1750 two smaller wings were added to the neat and compact central block of the house giving it a more fashionable appearance. The Sussex Daily News in 1793 describes Preston Manor as ‘well calculated for a sportsman or a person of distinction’. The following year it was purchased by William Stanford, who had been farming the lands as a tenant.
19th Century Alterations
There is little record of alterations to the house, apart from the addition of a flint tower in about 1880. This was built in mock-Tudor style in homage to Anne of Cleves who was reputed to have stayed at Preston Manor before retiring to a convent at nearby Falmer. The tower was removed in 1905 although the base survives and is carved with the arms of both Anne of Cleves and the Benett-Stanford family.
There were many alterations and additions to the stables, lodges and gardener’s cottages during the 1800s but all of these buildings were demolished in the next century as the London Road was widened.
In 1905 Ellen Thomas-Stanford commissioned the architect Charles Stanley Peach to make substantial alterations to Preston Manor. He was a personal friend of the family, having already worked on their estates in Wiltshire and designed cottages on Lauriston Road in Preston village. Peach’s work at Preston Manor changed the character of the house and provided additional rooms for entertaining in style. His changes included
• building an extension to the west of the house to accommodate a dining room and rooms for visitors and their servants
• remodelling of servants’ rooms in the basement
• widening of the entrance hall
• addition of new attic rooms
• addition of a veranda on the north west wing
It was now possible for Ellen and Charles to entertain influential people in impressive style, and this led to the years before the First World War being described as the Indian Summer of life at Preston Manor.