THE previous article about Reigate Priory detailed its early beginnings and told about some of those who lived there.

Following the ownership of Reigate Priory by the Howard family it was sold in 1681 to John Parsons, a wealthy London brewer. John Parsons had the 500-year-old Priory improved and updated.

One of the improvements was a new entrance from Bell Street with fine wrought-iron gates. He became active in politics, representing Reigate in Parliament for more than 30 years and in 1703 became Lord Mayor of London. He celebrated his year in office by presenting a chandelier to Reigate Parish Church that can still be seen there.

John Parsons died in 1717 to be succeeded by his son, Humphrey, who went on to become Lord Mayor of London twice. Unfortunately he was to die halfway through his second term in 1741.

He too was interred at Reigate Parish Church.

Ownership by the Parsons family was followed in 1766 by that of Richard Ireland, who bought it at auction and made considerable further changes to the building. He was 66 when he made the purchase and enjoyed the acquaintance of John Wesley, who visited the Priory in 1771. After Ireland's death the Priory passed to other members of his family who lived there for many years.

There followed a short period of ownership of the Priory that reflected the same increasing property values we have today. A gentleman named George Mowbray bought it in 1801 for just over £8,000, made a number of alterations and sold it in 1807 for almost twice as much. The buyer was John Somers.

The Somers family had been connected with the Manor of Reigate ever since it had been granted to John Somers' ancestor, the Lord High Chancellor of England and also named John, in 1697. The Priory had not been in Somers' ownership for over 100 years of their association with the manor and the 1807 purchase put this right. As Lord of the manor and representative in Parliament for Reigate he now had a seat there, although the main family home was at Eastnor Castle.

In 1821 he became Earl Somers and Viscount Eastnor and in 1823 his gift to the town of Reigate was the tunnel under the Castle Grounds, said to be the first road tunnel in the country.

The story of the Somers family will be continued in a future article.

Article by Alan Moore, author of A History of Redhill Volumes 1 and 2. History website