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This 400-year old almshouse, built of local sandstone, is situated at the eastern end of East Grinstead High Street. It is Grade 1 Listed and was founded in 1608 under the Will of Robert Sackville, Earl of Dorset, to endow as a ‘hospital or college’ for 21 poor men and ten poor women, who took up residence about 1622. Though not mentioned in Robert’s will, the College also provided lodging for members of the Sackville family after a day’s hunting, or business such as the Assizes, or journeying between their estates and the College. Intended to be under the patronage of Robert’s heirs, its financial affairs did not always runs smoothly, with revenues often irregularly paid. By 1700, the number of residents was reduced to 12, and the buildings, including the belfry (blown down in 1703), were restored in the 19C. In recent decades the accommodation has been significantly modernised and residents generally have a connection with the town. The College has continued to be under the patronage of the Sackville family, its current Patron being William Sackville, 11th Earl de la Warr.
The well-preserved quadrangle, with its central well, is surrounded by an excellent example of Jacobean architecture, which boasts large mullioned windows and 4 fine doorways, the northern one bearing the Dorset arms. These give access to the three communal rooms and the entrance lodge. Highlights of the Great Hall include its hammer beam roof, a Minstrels’ Gallery, and a famous wooden chair used over the centuries, variously, by King Charles II, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, and in 2014, by Princess Anne, when she visited the town to unveil the statue of Sir Archibald McIndoe. The Chapel still has its original door-lock and contains 17C and 18C furniture. High up in one wall, an intriguing small opening with a central pillar, known as a "squint", provided for those residents not well enough to attend Chapel services – they put their hands through the squint to show they were still present. The Common Room was used by residents in earlier centuries to cook their meals, and is still used by them today and for communal events.
The College is managed by a Warden, who lives in the original Sackville quarters. Its most distinguished Warden was Doctor John Mason Neale (1846-1866), historian and author of Good King Wenceslas, and many hymns, whose study opens from the Chapel. He had the Chapel reconstructed during his tenure, the foundation stone being laid in 1850. There was some local controversy over his preference for High Church practices, but his most notable act was the establishment of the Society of St.Margaret, a community of nuns formed to nurse the sick poor in isolated cottages in and around Ashdown Forest.
The College is run as a charity under a 1624 Act of Parliament and a Royal Charter of 1631. It provides guided tours from mid-June to mid-September, and welcomes residents to become Friends of the College or act as tour guides.