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From The Military To Royalty – A look at Stanmore’s Bentley Priory

The borough of Harrow has more than its fair share of historic buildings – and they don’t come much more impressive than Stanmore’s Bentley Priory. In this article, we’re going to be taking a look at the rich and varied history of this Harrow landmark.

Built in 1170 by Ranulf de Glanville – Chief Justiciar of England and Sheriff of Yorkshire – Bentley Priory was originally developed as a home for Augustinian monks – and continued to house the monks until the 1500s. Following the dissolution of monasteries, the building would change hands many times including:

1776

In 1776, it’s thought that Bentley Priory was sold to Captain James Duberly who, on taking ownership, immediately tore down most of the existing building in order to recreate the priory into a stately home. James lived in Bentley Priory until his death in 1788.

1788

The next owner of Bentley Priory was the ninth Earl of Abercorn, John James Hamilton – a member of the aristocracy who would go on to become the first Marquess of Abercorn in 1789. As well as a residence, Hamilton used the priory to entertain big hitters from the cultural and political arenas including Wordsworth, Lord Liverpool, William Pitt The Younger and Sir Walter Scott.

Still not satisfied with his new acquisition, that same year Hamilton commissioned esteemed architect, Sir John Soane, to extend the building and to refurbish it in ‘a more lavish and sumptuous manner’. Sir John rose to the challenge, adding features such as stained glass windows and the magnificent rotunda.

The age of royalty

In 1848, Dowager Queen Adelaide – Queen Victoria’s aunt – took possession of Bentley Priory but, sadly, her residence was short-lived as she would pass away just one year later.

Following the death of Queen Adelaide, Bentley Priory was sold once again – this time to hotelier, Frederick Gordon. Gordon was so sure that his new project would be a success that he not only spent a fortune on converting the building into a hotel but also forked out £48,000 to extend the railway line from Harrow to Stanmore, figuring that easy access would bring the guests flocking in. Sadly for him, this was not the case and, in 1908, the building was sold and converted into a school for girls and remained so until 1920.

Enter the RAF

After standing empty for around five years, Bentley Priory underwent further change as the plot was split up into different parcels of land and, in 1926, the Royal Air Force (then the Air Ministry) paid the princely sum of £25,000 for a 40-acre plot. The RAF would occupy the site until 2008 – making them the longest-tenured residents of Bentley Priory to date.

2013

After a whopping eight years of plotting, planning and raising of funds, Bentley Priory once again opened its doors in 2013 and, today, the building houses a museum which is open to the public, as are its grounds.

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