The Priory was built back in 1864 as a Gentleman’s residence for Henry Waters. Henry was a partner at gentleman’s outfitters Capper and Waters of Regent Street, London, and planned the home for him and his sisters, Susan, Anne and Harriet. The land was leased from the lord of the manor, Francis White Popham, who had started to offer land for development of new villas, and included free water as part of an arrangement with the local council. It was built in the style of the French Third Empire from local stone with brick quoins and ornamental string courses with a mansard roofed observatory tower room, with a ornamental fountain and fish pond in the front garden, which is now our car park.
Luckily, much of the garden today remains as originally designed. Due to the slopping nature of the garden, a series of terraces were created with sheltered terrace walks created, which you can still explore. As well as plenty of trees throughout the site, which at one point had over 100 fruit trees across the site and its adjacent kitchen garden and paddock, there were a series of rhododendrons, which are still found. Beyond this, a circular tennis lawn was created with a direct path to the building, rumoured to be so that the ladies could walk straight out to the lawn for a game. Whilst the tennis may no longer be played on it, the grass circle remains for your enjoyment. Finally, there was a raised cliff terrace and path, which has sadly been lost over the year to erosion, but what remains still allows a fantastic view over the bay.
Henry died in 1881 with his sisters remaining until their deaths in 1889 for Susan, 1903 for Harriet and 1904 for Anne. Walter Kent Capper, a solicitor and likely to be the son of Henry’s business partner, Walter Capper, then took residence whilst selling the house. The house was put up for sale in 1906. It is unclear who purchased the property but by the 1911 census, the Hotopf family were living in the building.
By 1932, it had become a private hotel under Frances and William Peck. Arthur Hackney was listed as owner in 1937 and E.F. Jones in 1951. During World War II, it was used by the army and then returned to a hotel afterwards. During the hotel era, there seems to have been a putting green – though given the undulating nature of the site, who knows where this was!
In 1966, it was converted into holiday lets, with a slice of the land at the north developed into what is now Kilfinane House (formerly Dolpin House) in the late 1960s and the southern end of the building constructed to form maisonettes for holiday usage in 1968. During the holiday let period, a Mrs Menzie and the Boddingtons were also either owners or manager. A greenhouse was added to the garden. It was owned by the Thompson family from 1976 until it was extensively restored and renovated.
A peculiar feature of the gardens is an underground room and shaft. Thought originally to be an ice house, it was later discovered to be a sand pit, used as part of construction in later years. These days, both are closed off and sealed. The land next door, Haddons Pits, is believed to have been a sand quarry and a marl pit was in Luccombe.
The history of The Priory is always a work in progress, so if you have any further information, do get in touch.