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image credit: Steve Malone Untold images Bay/PA

I remember the day as being in April, sunny and bright.

Waiting to meet Peter Lowton, the new owner of Priory Court took time. He was busy seeing someone out the front, so I waited in the garden at the back.

I could see through the hallway that formed a kind of sunlit tunnel.

I talked to the gardener while waiting, he apologised for the delay. He talked to Peter and came back to tell me that he would be with me soon.

As I sat on the rookery ledge, he smiled and said “I think you will enjoy meeting him”.

I was impressed with the restored gardens and as Peter arrived through the hallway I remember the light shining behind him, this was quite an entrance. He arrived in battle fatigues and apologised, and there was this huge warm smile and then the warmest of big handshakes.

“Do you want to come and have a look round?”, he said.

As I got taken on the guided tour, I could see he meant business. Some of the rooms were finished and downstairs there was much more work to do.

The second thing I noticed was the care and attention to detail and the kind of love and dedication being expressed in the work.

This must have been 2011. As the project emerged, Priory Court became a delight.

What needs to be remembered is that at this time Pevensey was a tumbleweed, deserted, bleak, tired. The village was in a poor economic state.

English Heritage had failed to find a concession for the Castle Cottage tea room (a battle that went on for 7 years), The Castle Cottage tea toom looked like the deserted lot of Psycho IV.

The Mint House, dating from 1348, next door to Priory Court, was redundant and the chimney was starting to lean in an alarming way.

Pevensey castle desperately needed new profiling.

If families came to visit the historic village and they did not want to go into a public house, then there was nowhere even for them to go to buy a cup of tea.

The little jewel in the Pevensey crown that is the Court House and Museum was the one place that continued to be a homegrown success.

All the people arriving on coaches from across Europe, decanting to the deserted bleak cattle market car park, without proper signage, must have scratched their heads.

Is this, they must have asked, how the English tell the story of their history? Did they not care?

This is the place where Michael Wood, one of the best social historians in the country, said, at the start of his seminal BBC2 series (2012), The Great British Story: A People’s History, “this is where the story began”, as he stood on Pevensey Bay Beach.

In 2011 what we saw was an embarrassment, something closer to a public scandal. Our proud heritage and unique local story was in danger of being ignored.

Stepping into the story must have been a mammoth task for Peter and partner Vicky to consider. Over the next year they began to bring life, hope and dedication and profile for the village as they began to tell their own story at Priory Court.

At Priory Court came the weddings, the tea room, the restaurant and the guests to the deluxe suites. The bar opened and Priory Court began to hum, with networks and a restaurant that doubled as an assembly room for everything from a

Question Time hustings event for the 2015 Election to monthly networked meetings for the local Federation of Business, to quiz nights and all manner of community events.  Priory Court became the talk of the town. Every deluxe suite was named after a local castle.

The bar was warm and welcoming, the tea room filled with light and brouhaha and the restaurant became the place to be for that special Sunday lunch in the locality. Priory Court in every sense became the hub of the community.

Peter and Vicky did all of these things.

In the seven years, English Heritage re-opened the Castle Cottage tea rooms. We saw the five year tenancy of the Royal Oak and Castle Inn become a place for theatre and the performing arts in a public house.

Creative entrepreneur, Jason Rolf has bought the Mint House. We may be about to see some extraordinary things happening there in 2020/21 from an economic and social perspective.

At Pevensey castle we have a new museum, a dedication in part to the Second World War role of Pevensey castle.

At our little jewel, the Pevensey Court House and Museum, plans have begun for a second Pevensey History festival in 2020.

Maybe this regeneration would have happened anyway.

We say this regeneration would not have happened in the way that things unfolded, without Peter and Vicky and their work at Priory Court over the last seven years.

We say that the economic and social regeneration of Pevensey would not have happened without the dedication, love and commitment of Peter and Vicky at the Priory Court Hotel.

As Priory Court goes up for sale, maybe this is the time to mark what they have done.

Peter has a favourite word, that word is care. Through their care, they are leaving work that is sustainable for a generation and work that has been of real value to the economic and social life of the historic village of Pevensey.

We leave this edition of the Journal in their letterbox as a love letter for Christmas.

Peter and Vicky opened a new chapter for the village.

As one of our best social historians, Michael Wood, might have said, this is where the great story of the regeneration of Pevensey began.

Simon Montgomery
editor, Pevensey Bay Journal
edition 30, The Big Story
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