Preston Manor is medieval in origin and parts of the 13th and 16th centre house can be seen in the basement. However, the present house dates mostly from the 18th century.
In 1738 Thomas Western remodelled the medieval house, creating a rectangular main block of five bays with two storeys over a basement.
The low wings on either side each contained one large reception room. In 1794 the house was sold to William Stanford of Horsham. His grand-daughter and heiress Ellen Stanford married Vere Fan Benett of Pythouse, Wiltshire in 1867 and they had one son, John Benett-Stanford. She had a lavish lifestyle which was financed by the sale of building-leases on the Preston estate.
This encouraged the rapid growth of Brighton and Hove. Ellen Benett-Stanford's husband died in 1894 and in 1897 she was re-married to Charles Thomas, a member of a prosperous shipping family. In 1905 the couple settled at Preston Manor. They refurbished the house and enjoyed the Edwardian 'belle epoch' in Brighton. Charles Thomas was mayor the town between 1910 - 13 and the couple entertained on a grand scale.
After the deaths of the couple in 1932 Preston Manor was left to Brighton Corporation which had previously purchased a large part of the estate to form Preston Park.
The walls, stables and lodge that once sheltered Preston Manor from the road have been pulled down and today the house looks rather exposed. The house is furnished as it was in its Edwardian heyday and the contents reflect the lavish taste of Charles and Ellen Thomas-Stanford. The house powerfully evokes the way of life of the Edwardian gentry, both 'upstairs' and 'downstairs'.
More than twenty rooms over four floors are open to view.
The Hall stretches the width of the main 18th century house and was remodelled by Ellen Thomas-Stanford in 1905. A screen of Ionic columns divides the room in two and it is furnished with the Thomas-Stanford's finest 17th and 18th century furniture and the walls are hung with many family portraits.
The left- hand wing houses the Macquoid Room. This room was originally the dining room and it then became Sir Charles Stanford's library. Today it is named after the artist and designer Percy Macquoid whose widow left part of his collection of paintings, silver and early furniture to Brighton Corporation. The splendid 17th century-style panelling and chimneypiece designed by Macquoid are part of that bequest.
The Morning Room next to this is very much as Ellen Thomas-Stanford left it, with watercolours and family mementos. The Cleves Room also has 17th century-style panelling and there is 18th century furniture and 17th century gilt-leather embossed wall hangings from the Netherlands.
The Drawing Room is housed in the right-hand wing. This is the largest room in the house dating from the remodelling of 1738 but is furnished in Edwardian style. There is a mixture of 18th and 19th century furniture and the room has an array of landscapes, photographs and objets d'art. The Dining Room next to this was added in 1905 and designed in classical style. The room is dominated by a collection of 124 Chinese porcelain 'Dogs of Fo'.
Ascending the 18th century staircase the visitor reaches the first floor where five rooms are on view. One contains a small library and the others are bedrooms furnished in the style of an Edwardian country house. The austere aspect of the period is evident in Ellen Thomas-Stanford's bathroom and in the servants' bedrooms. In the attic is a room furnished as a nursery containing a collection of historic toys.
The tour of the house ends in the basement where the visitor can view the Kitchen, Scullery, Butler's Pantry and Servants' Hall and get a feel of life 'below stairs' in the Edwardian age. Also on view in the basement are two moulded doorways dating from the 16th century which reflect Preston Manor's medieval origins.
Outside there is a charming walled garden, a pets' cemetery and a 13th century church. The house stands at one end of the municipal park that once formed part of its grounds.
Around this are the pleasant suburbs of Preston Park which were also formed from the Preston Manor estate.