Wenlock Priory


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Date of most recent amendment:
Location Description:
Wenlock Priory, The Bull Market, Much Wenlock, Shropshire


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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Location Description:
Wenlock Priory, The Bull Market, Much Wenlock, Shropshire
Shropshire (Unitary Authority)
Much Wenlock
National Grid Reference:


Wenlock Priory; the standing structural, earthwork and buried remains of a Cluniac Priory built between 1140 and 1180 and largely rebuilt from 1200 to 1240. Included are earlier, buried Roman remains adapted for use as a pre-Cluniac Saxon monastery.

Reasons for Designation

Wenlock Priory, a Saxon foundation, and re-formed as a Cluniac priory which continued until 1540, is scheduled for the following principal reasons:

* Archaeological potential: it has been shown there are well-stratified archaeological deposits from the site's history over almost two millennia; * Historical: the site is well documented, notably its 860-year monastic history; * Architectural: considerable portions of the priory remain standing; especially notable is the distinctive and high-quality Cluniac carving; * Context and group value: with the upstanding Grade I-listed Wenlock Abbey (the former prior's lodgings), the other listed monastic ruins and buildings, and the planned monastic town of Much Wenlock.


The earliest monasteries in England were Benedictine foundations, and the majority of medieval monastic complexes followed the ‘Benedictine plan’ with the core buildings ranged around a cloister. This nucleus included the church, dormitory, refectory and chapter house, while infirmaries and guest quarters were often placed further away. The visible remains which currently stand at Wenlock follow this pattern, although the history of the site extends to an earlier period.

A monastery was founded at Wenlock in the 680s by Merewald, King of Mercia. The king’s daughter, Milburga, was the abbess in charge of a double house with separate provision for monks and nuns, which had two churches. The priests’ accommodation stood where the priory ruins are now and excavations in the 1980s appeared to reveal a complex of Roman buildings, which had been re-used. The other church, for nuns, was on the site of the present Holy Trinity. This foundation was endowed by Leofric, Earl of Mercia and his wife Godgifu, who appear to have simplified the original arrangement in favour of a college of priests. After the Norman Conquest, Wenlock was given to Roger, Earl of Montgomery, who had acted as Regent of Normandy at the time of the conquest. He re-founded the Wenlock community as a Cluniac priory and between 1079 and 1082 monks were brought from the priory of La Charite-sur-Loire. Wenlock thus became a satellite house to the French priory and paid it a sum of money each year.

In 1101 the bones of St Milburga were found buried on the site and Wenlock became a site of pilgrimage with a shrine erected in its church. The following year, the property passed to the crown, after a rebellion by Earl Roger’s son. The site then became the subject of royal patronage. The Saxon church was replaced by a larger Norman building and excavations in 1901 revealed that this had a plan based on the second church at Cluny, with an apsidal sanctuary, flanked by chapels which also had apsidal ends.

Prior Humbert began to rebuild the priory church once more from 1202, using timber given by Henry III who continued to endow the church generously. Humbert also constructed several other priory buildings including the refectory and the Prior’s Lodging which was placed at first floor level on the west side of the cloister. This series of Early English buildings forms the nucleus of the abbey ruins that are now seen on the site. The original intention seems to have been to also rebuild the chapter house, and perhaps the dormitory range beyond it. However, the southernmost bay in the south transept is shorter than the others, and this appears to have been an accommodation to connect with the north wall of the existing, Norman chapter house which was allowed to remain.

Later additions included a polygonal sacristy to the south of the choir, probably added in the late C14, and a Lady chapel of two bays to the east end, of the late C15. Also in the late 1400s, Prior Richard Singer built a new façade across the Prior’s Lodging, consisting of two galleries at ground and first floor levels, each with a series of unglazed openings. These front a pre-existing range, which tree-ring analysis has dated to c.1425. Prior Richard was also responsible for rebuilding the choir vault, which had begun to fail.

In 1540 the Priory fell victim to the Dissolution. Valuables were removed from the site, including lead from the church roof. The estate was either given or else sold to the King’s physician, Augustin de Augustini who then sold the priory to Thomas and Richard Lawley who owned other land in the Wenlock area. They converted the infirmary and Prior’s house into a dwelling which was called Abbey House as early as the C16. Building materials were stripped from the other monastery buildings, including the church. In the later C19 those isolated clumps of medieval stonework which still remained were joined by imported stonework and a picturesque garden was created amongst the ruins.

Excavations of the site took place in 1901 by the vicar of Much Wenlock, Dr Cranage, and in 1976 and the 1980s by Humphrey Woods.

Part of the Wenlock Priory site was originally included in the Schedule of monuments in 1915 and the upstanding remains of the Priory of St Milburga were subsequently listed at Grade I in 1950. The priory site, except for Abbey House and its garden, passed into the Guardianship of the Ministry of Works in 1964. The C19 additions were cleared and the footings of medieval walls and piers were exposed. The site is now in the care of English Heritage. The late C19/early C20 landscaped gardens at Wenlock were included in the Register of Historic Parks and Gardens at Grade II in 1986.


PRINCIPAL ELEMENTS Wenlock Priory; the standing structural, earthwork and buried remains of a Cluniac Priory built between 1140 and 1180 and largely rebuilt from 1200 to 1240. Included are earlier, buried Roman remains adapted for use as a pre-Cluniac Saxon monastery.

DESCRIPTION The earliest upstanding remains on the site include the Chapter House and parts of the Lavatorium and Dormitory range. The Infirmary Hall and Reredorter also date from this period, but are in domestic use and listed at Grade I and excluded from the scheduling. The Chamber Block to the west of the Reredorter is also in domestic use and also listed at Grade I and excluded from the scheduling.

The CHAPTER HOUSE measures approximately 15m by 8m. Walls to the north, south and west sides rise to almost their full height, including the springing of the ribs, but the vault of three bays does not survive. The front to the cloister has three arches; a central doorway flanked by windows. Each had nook shafts which have now gone, but the arches have rich moulding of chevron and scallops dotted with pellets. Inside, the flank walls have a plain dado against which the monks sat, above which are three tiers of intersecting arches, carved in relief and supported by miniature columns.

Immediately to the south of the chapter house is the DORMITORY range. Survival is fragmentary above ground and confined to the blank west gable end which stands to nearly full height.

The LAVATORIUM is set in the south-western corner of the cloister garth, close to the door to the refectory. The octagonal, external walls do not survive above ground level, but the central cistern and bowl of Wenlock marble were excavated in 1878 from beneath a grassy mound and found to be of two dates. The circular cistern is of c.1180-90 with a fluted interior and foliage to its outer face. This feeds a trough, where the monks washed. The trough is of c.1220, but included relief panels of the earlier date, including depictions of Christ and the Apostles. The original panels have now been removed for safe storage and replicas inserted.

Later upstanding remains on the site include parts of the C13 church and refectory and the polygonal sacristy of the late C14 and the Lady chapel of the C15.

The CHURCH has a nave of eight bays and a choir of seven bays. The transepts each have three bays, with eastern side chapels. It seems likely that a central tower was built or planned, judging from the size of the central piers. The lengthy choir probably also contained the shrine of St Milburga at its eastern end. Archaeological excavation has established that the Norman church had a similar width to the nave and aisles, although the overall length was much less. The plan of the C13 building had certain peculiarities, including a laver to the west wall of the south transept. On the opposite side of this wall was a three bay library, which faced onto the east side of the cloister. It had a central arched doorway flanked by windows, but the two lateral window openings were widened to form the present wide doorways after the Dissolution when the buildings were used as a farm.

The majority of the walling and the piers of the church are now less than 2 metres in height, but the south-western corner of the nave, the south transept and the west wall of the north transept survive to almost their full height. They show a church of relatively uniform appearance throughout. The pier arcades had keeled shafts to the columns and bell caps. Above each arch of the aisle arcades were two tall triforium openings with a wall passage, and there was a clerestory to the top, also with a wall passage, and with a single lancet to each bay in the transepts which was widened to two-light openings with a traceried head in the nave. The church had a stone vault with ribs which sprang from clusters of shafts that rose from attenuated corbels at the arcade level.

The SOUTH-WEST CORNER of the nave has an internal elevation with three squat bays to the aisles. This is accounted for by an upper chapel at the level of the upper arcade and triforium which connected to the Prior’s lodging above the west side of the cloister. This Chapel of St Michael faces outwards to the south with two windows of two lights and a similar western window. Its vaulted interior has wall shafts which rise from die-out corbels in imitation of the church interior. The western, external, walling at this corner incorporates the south side of the main west door with a deep recess and above this is part of a window surround, flanked by panels of blind tracery. The SOUTH TRANSEPT retains the arcade of three openings to eastern-facing chapels and the three graduated arches of the laver to its west wall. Its south wall rises to full height, including the gable. The NORTH TRANSEPT has its west wall to nearly full height. On the west side of this is a shallow crypt.

The later SACRISTY and LADY CHAPEL survive as low walls above ground, but their foundations will survive as buried features.

The CHAMBER BLOCK west of the Reredorter was originally attached to an aisled hall which joined to its western flank but is now demolished, although evidence of its form is likely to remain as a buried feature.

The other sizeable building dating from the C15 is the PRIOR’S LODGING. Tree ring analysis dates the roof to c.1425 and it may have also been refaced to both the east and west fronts in the late C15. As with the former Infirmary Hall, Reredorter and Chamber Block, the building is listed at Grade I and excluded from the scheduling.

Beyond the core of the site were various satellite features associated with the life of the monastery. To the south-east of the priory is the site of the ‘Great pool’ which was associated with a mill. The site of the mill has been established, and the raised earth dam which provided the head of water to work the mill mechanism is well preserved at its western end with stones that formed a road surface, still visible. The western end of the dam bank, measuring approximately 170 metres, together with the mill site are included in the scheduling, but the eastern extension beyond the mill is less well preserved and it is not included. To the west of the priory church are the remains of a gate range. This has a tower at the western end, which is preserved as a listed building (Priory Tower, listed Grade II) but which lies outside the area of the scheduling. Approximately 10 metres to the east of this there was formerly a further part of the gatehouse range. This was recorded as inhabited in 1662, but collapsed in 1845 and no part of it is now visible above ground, and although evidence of its form is likely to remain as buried features, these remains lie outside the area of the present scheduling. The area to the north of the church will form a burial ground associated with the priory and the area to the south-west of the priory buildings was the site of farm buildings in the C19 and it is likely that this was also the site of earlier agricultural buildings. Boundary and retaining walls in this area contain old stonework, which appear to have been, in part, related to the activities of the priory.

EXCLUSIONS: Priory House (also known as Wenlock Abbey and which incorporates the former Prior’s Lodging and Infirmary Hall, Reredorter and Chamber Block) is listed at Grade I and is excluded from the scheduling although the ground beneath is included. In addition the site now has a number of later features which do not form part of the scheduling. These include all modern surfaces, fence posts, railings, flood lights and the concrete bases on which they stand, interpretation signage, litter bins and park furniture. The garden wall to the north east of Priory House is also excluded, as is the octagonal garden pavilion attached to it. The stone wall bordering the south-west side of the drive is excluded, as is the ticket office and shop building at the north-east corner of the site. The ground beneath all these features is, however, included.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number:
SA 9
Legacy System:


Books and journals
Victoria County History Shropshire (2), (1973), 45-46
Julie Pinnell, , Wenlock Abbey, (2013)
Pevsner, N, Newman, J, The Buildings of England: Shropshire, (2006), 418-426
'' in Country Life, , Vol. 128, (15 December 1960), 1492
'' in Country Life, (1 December 1960), 1282
'' in Country Life, , Vol. 128, (8 December 1960)
'Archaeologia' in Archaeologia, , Vol. LXXII, (), 109-131


This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

End of official listing

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