Stanmer means "Stony Pond". The stones found around Stanmer church pond and elsewhere
are Sarsen stones, naturally occurring geological features particularly common on this
area of the downs (adjacent Standean is the "Stony Valley"). A settlement was first
recorded at Stanmer in a Saxon charter of 765AD and though there is archaeological
evidence of human occupation going back much earlier it is not known whether the "estate"
of Stanmer existed before this. Stanmer is also recorded in the Doomsday records of 1086.
Prior to the dissolution of the Monasteries the Cannons of Malling owned the Stanmer estate.
It then passed into the ownership of the crown but was leased out almost immediately to
Thomas Palmer in 1545 who sub-let it to John Michelborne
The Michelborne family continued to lease the estate until 1615 when they bought it.
They then proceeded to consolidate their landholding by buying out the villagers who
held land directly from the crown as freeholders and copyholders. The cedars behind
the current house were planted during this phase but no other woodland was recorded
in a deed of 1700 only "furze and heath". Indeed Samuel Johnson (1709-84)
detested Brighthelmstone Downs [Brighton], "because it was a country so truly
desolate (he said), that if one had a mind to hang one's self for desperation at
being obliged to live there, it would be difficult to find a tree on which to
fasten the rope."
The last remaining Michelborne died in 1700 without an heir, and the estate eventually
passed into the hands of the Pelhams, who were to become the Earls of Chichester.
The Pelhams were responsible for laying out the current park and building the house
(in 1722 by Nicolas Dubois). The woods were planted in the mid 18th century by the
then owner Thomas Pelham and marked the culmination of the enparkment of the estate
By the time the earliest known detailed map was drawn in 1789 (see right) the estate looked
much as it does today.
The orangery behind the house was built in the 19th century and is a forerunner of the
modern greenhouse. Also the church was rebuilt in 1838.
During the second world war Canadian troops and their tanks were based at Stanmer,
the hard standings for which are still visible along the main drive.
In 1947 the estate was purchased by Brighton Corporation and changed from a private
keepered estate to an open public park.