Ruins and site of St Leonard's Priory


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Date of most recent amendment:
Location Description:
The site of the priory is to the south of Priory Road, centred on NGR TF03880729.


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

Location Description:
The site of the priory is to the south of Priory Road, centred on NGR TF03880729.
South Kesteven (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:


Part of the precinct of St Leonard's Priory, Stamford, a cell of the cathedral monastery of Durham, including the upstanding remains of the nave of the priory church, rebuilt in the C19, and the buried remains of the north aisle, transepts, chancel and claustral buildings.

Reasons for Designation

The ruins and site of St Leonard's Priory are scheduled for the following principal reasons: * Survival: the site of the core of the precinct is clearly defined by boundaries to the north, west and east, and by the river to the south. Upstanding and buried remains of the church and monastic ranges are known to survive, and excavation has demonstrated the survival of features in the rough grazing that covers the greater part of the site. Although the gardens and water features to the south of Priory House have modified the landscape, evidence of pre-dissolution forms are likely to survive; * Potential: the area immediately to the south and east of the main monastic ranges may contain evidence of ancillary structures, while other parts of the precinct, including the water features and low lying area to the south, contain the potential to illustrate other aspects of the monastic economy and land management, and are likely to provide environmental evidence from both dry and wet contexts; * Documentation: documentary records give insight into the priory's economy and land management. Although high quality excavation has recorded most of the church and part of the claustral buildings, examination of the remainder of the site is limited and much remains to be learnt; * Group Value: historically St Leonard's Priory was one of a number of monastic foundations in Stamford. The remains of four are scheduled. The closest of these to St Leonard's Priory are Whitefriars (now the site of Stamford Hospital), where only the upstanding gate is scheduled, and Greyfriars to the immediate north-west; * Period: St Leonard's Priory represents a significant class of monument from the medieval period, and is of additional interest for its relationship to the great cathedral monastery of Durham.


Founded as a cell of the Benedictine cathedral in Durham, the first reliable and contemporary reference to St Leonard's Priory is the confirmation of Durham's possessions by Pope Eugenius III in 1146/7. The endowment included 14 acres of land and a further half a carucate (about 60 acres) of ploughland with meadow, the former roughly the acreage of the presumed full extent of the original precinct, from the present allotment boundary to the west, to the boundary east of the sewage works, including Hudd's Mill. Listed at Grade II as a C17 or C18 mill and mill house, this has been identified as a probable development of the priory's mill.

The main function of the priory was the management of Durham's estates south of the Humber, but in the early C14 it also prepared students for study at Oxford, a role apparently superceded by the foundation of Durham College there, after 1331. The house was not rich, and would only have contained a small number of monks at any one time; for example, in 1381 there were three monks and in 1440 it housed only one monk and the prior. The priory seems to have directly managed a mixed farming regime of arable and stock: records between 1379 and 1383 refer to oxen and other cattle, as well as sheep and pigs before 1440, while between 1378 and 1390 nineteen horses were bought and seven sold. Between 1379 and 1380 a total of 97 acres of oats, barley, wheat, rye and peas are also recorded, indicating a greater acreage than the original endowment. In 1381-82 two fishponds were made in the 'priory garden', with fish purchased to stock them, further diversifying the agricultural regime, and in 1384-85 the priory invested in nets.

St Leonard's was dissolved in 1538, and in 1552 its lands and buildings were granted to Sir William Cecil, later Earl of Exeter. By 1595 it was leased to John Browne, the holding including a house, two barns (one presumably the priory church), a stable, kilnhouse, malthouse and corn chamber. The present Priory House was built in 1771, with additions made in 1780 and in the C19, but by 1833 the condition of the church had deteriorated to such an extent that its west front collapsed. It was rebuilt by the Marquis of Exeter in 1844. Knipe's Plan of the Borough of Stamford, also of 1833, shows the church and a building to the south on the same alignment as the priory's west range, with Priory House to the east of that. There also seem to be structures to the north and south of the east end of the church; their blurred irregular outline, compared to the crisp and detailed drafting of the church, may indicate their ruinous condition. The 1st edition Ordnance Survey (OS) map of 1887 also shows buildings to the south of the church in the same position as those on Knipe's map, with a south range connecting these to a long narrow building attached to the south elevation of the east end of the church. A small building shown to the south of this is on the site of a surviving structure. By the time of the survey for the 1901 OS map a further range of buildings had been added to the west of the west range.

To the south of the site, the 1887 OS map shows a roughly rectangular 'island' defined by leats or ditches to the east, west and north, and by the pond to the south. The east leat or drain is connected to the river, as is a watercourse parallel to this, to the east. This arrangement, a possible re-use of medieval features, seems to form part of the post-medieval garden landscape, with trees lining the inner banks of the parallel leats, and an inner avenue of smaller trees leading to the river from the garden immediately to the south of the house. The leats are also shown on Knipe's plan of 1833 as boundaries. The area to the east of the house and formal gardens appears on the 1887 OS map as informal garden landscape with scattered trees.

Our understanding of the buried archaeology of the monument is derived mainly from excavations undertaken in 1967 by C.M. Mahany, and from more recent research, including earthwork survey, geophysics and archaeological evaluation. The 1967 excavations recovered the plan of the demolished north transept and the east extent of the sanctuary, establishing a c1130 construction date for the sanctuary, transept and east two bays of the nave, the remaining bays added in the later C12. The sanctuary seems to have been extended later to form a squared end. Further excavations in 1973 revealed the area of the cloister and the west claustral range. In 1747 stone coffins were found in the region of the choir, and in 1772 another six were found when the tenant of Priory House 'levelled a hill before the north front of the house'. In 1973 the construction of a sewer across the north side of the precinct up to the garden of Priory House revealed a further nine medieval burials and, to the west of the church, a quarry and post-medieval lime kiln.

In 2006 a desk-based assessment was undertaken, followed by an earthwork survey and geophysical survey. In 2009 an archaeological evaluation, sampling 2% of the area to the west of the claustral buildings and north of the lower lying land to the south of the site, focussed on features identified in the course of the two earlier surveys. The results of these are described in the Details section.

In 1962 the buildings of St Leonard's Priory and their immediate grounds were leased to Stamford Borough Council, the lease taken over by South Kesteven District Council in 1974.


The site of St Leonard's Priory lies to the east of Stamford, bounded to the north by Priory Road and Uffington Road and to the south by the River Welland. The open ground to the west and east of the scheduled area is used for allotments. The majority of the site is under rough pasture, with Priory House and its gardens to the east. Between house and pasture are two enclosures, that to the north containing the upstanding remains of the nave of the Priory Church and part of the buried remains of the claustral buildings. The ground slopes from Priory Road down to the river, with a break of slope about 30m to the south of the church enclosure.

In plan the church consisted of a six bay nave and north aisle, transepts and a long apsaidal sanctuary. The west front of the nave and part of the aisle arcade survive, with extensive C16 and C19 additions. The west front consists of two zones and a gable divided by string-courses. The lower zone has a central round-headed doorway with zig-zag mouldings, now blocked, with a blind, round-headed arch to each side; the upper zone takes the form of an arcade of seven round-headed arches in which three, tall round-headed windows alternate with four blind arches. The gable contains a blind vesica piscis (an almond shaped opening). To each side of the west front is a buttress; that on the north includes an area of disturbed stonework which indicates where it was bonded into the west front of the former north aisle.

On the north side of the building is an open round-headed arcade, the remaining five of the original six bays of the north aisle; part of the arch of the sixth, with zig-zag moulding, survives to the north. Part of the arch and piers of the central bay have been cut away in the post-medieval period for the insertion of a barn door; a stone sill and holes and hinges for the door furniture survive. The wall above the arcade has been extensively rebuilt in post-medieval times and incorporates a number of reused architectural features, including a small round-headed window above the fourth arch from the west, and a chamfered string-course over the two easternmost bays. Set back from the arcade is a C19 wall running from east to west, with a centrally placed round-headed door and four windows, subdividing the original space of the nave. The remainder of the building is post-medieval in date and relates to the re-use of the nave as a secular structure. The eastern wall was built in the C16, after the dissolution of the monastery, and is positioned nearly one bay west of the former crossing of the church. The south wall, of coursed rubble with closely-jointed ashlar in the lower courses, is a post-medieval rebuilding of the south wall of the nave, and was in turn partly rebuilt in the C19. The present roof was constructed in 1963.

To the north and east of the standing building is an area of gently undulating lawn containing the buried remains of further parts of the priory church, including the north aisle, transepts, crossing, choir and sanctuary, the latter extending over 30m to the east of the present building. The 1967 excavation revealed an apsidal end and an L-shaped wall, considered to be a later, square-ended extension. To the north are the foundations of the north transept, with an apsidal east chapel, and the robbed-out foundations of the north aisle wall. These remains are considered to date to the early C12, and to be contemporary with the eastern part of the nave. The burials found in the C18 and C20 indicate that the priory's cemetery was to the east and north-east.

To the south of the church are the cloister and claustral buildings, with ranges identified to south and west. The west range contained the monks' dormitory, with a ground floor divided into small rooms, while the south range contains the remains of an undercroft with stone columns for the support of a large room above. In the south-western corner of the claustral buildings is a small rectangular structure with an arch in each of the north and south walls, identified as the reredorter drain which was located beneath the latrine at the south end of the monks' dormitory, draining southwards through the arch into the monastic water-control system. Finds from the drain include organic matter, pottery vessels and building material; fragments of glass distillation vessels, crucibles and metals indicate that there was a metallurgical workshop at the priory. As well as the chapter house, evidence for further buildings are likely to be found to the east of the cloister. The monastic buildings are also said to have included an infirmary or hospice, the location of which is not known, as well as a dovecot, the site of which is also uncertain. The site of the prior's lodging is believed to lie at the south end of the east range in the area of the present Priory House.

The north boundary is defined by a low stone wall constructed of cut stone blocks of good quality. To the west and south of the remains of the priory church and cloister is an area of garden and pasture containing low earthworks and water features. The earthworks consist of a series of terraces, a possible hollow way running from east to west, and a second slighter and shorter depression, possibly a hollow way, running from north to south. These are confirmed as features by aerial photographs recorded by the National Mapping Programme, and by geophysical survey, and may record gardens or enclosures relating to the priory, or to the later farm. Archaeological evaluation, consisting of five trial trenches across selected features, of varying lengths and less than 2 metres wide, identified a section of ditch containing pottery dating from the C10 to the C11 in the earlier of two deposits, the later deposit containing pottery from the C12 to the C13. The ditch apparently runs from east to west immediately to the north of the southernmost terrace, the edge of which appears as a slight ridge containing stone rubble. Snail shells from an environmental sample taken from the earlier deposit, so probably pre-dating the founding of the priory, indicate that the ditch was dry and at that time within an area of open grassland. Two quarry pits were found in the trench to the north-west; these produced pottery from the C11 and C12, and from the C12 to C13 respectively. The stone was of relatively poor quality and was probably converted to lime; that from the later pit may have been quarried for use in the construction of the priory. To the south-west of the priory church is an extensive dump of limestone and other material identified with the demolition of farm buildings, those shown on C19 maps from Knipe's of 1833 onwards. This includes fragments of medieval masonry and seals a layer of soil containing mid-C12 to C14 pottery.

Between the terraces and river bank is an area of low lying land occupied to the east by a series of water features grouped around a raised, rectangular area of dry land. The north, east and west sides of this 'island' are bounded by linear channels, that to the east entering the site from the river to the south of Priory House. On the south side of the island is a subrectangular dry pond, approximately 50m x 18m. Features transcribed by the National Mapping Programme include a channel running west from the pond. Parallel with and to the east of the east channel is a dry ditch running north towards the east end of Priory House. These features may represent the remains of elements of the priory's medieval water-control system, including the two fishponds referred to in documentary sources of 1381-82, remodelled as part of the extended garden or agricultural landscape of Priory House. To the south of the house are formal gardens with tree-lined water features to the south forming an avenue leading down to the river. Between the gardens and scheduling boundary is an area of rough ground with scattered trees.

EXTENT OF SCHEDULING The monument includes all the buried and upstanding remains of St Leonard's Priory, within that area of the precinct bounded to the north by Priory Road and Uffington Road, to the south by the River Welland, to the west by the boundary with the neighbouring allotments and to the east by the boundary between Priory House and the allotments to the east of that. The property called St Nicholas in the north-west corner of the site is not included in the scheduled area. With the exception of the boundary with Priory Road to the north, where the wall is included in the scheduling, the boundary falls on the precinct side of fence lines and other boundary markers. To the south, the boundary is drawn 1m to the north of the river bank.

EXCLUSIONS Priory House and all modern structures, fences, gates and road surfaces are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath them is included.


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

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Books and journals
Knowles, D , Medieval Religious Houses: England and Wales, (1971)
Page, W, The Victoria History of the County of Lincolnshire: Volume II, (1906)
Pevsner, N, Harris, J, Antram, N, The Buildings of England: Lincolnshire, (1989)
Royal Commission on Historical Monuments, , The Town of Stamford, (1977)
Everson, P, Stocker, D, 'Church Archaeology' in The Witham Valley; A Landscape with Monasteries?, (2009)
Mahany, C M, 'South Lincolnshire Archaeology Vol 1' in St Leonard's Priory, (1977)
Piper, A, 'The Stamford Historian' in St. Leonard's Priory, Stamford, (1980)
Piper, A, 'The Stamford Historian' in St. Leonard's Priory, Stamford, (1982)


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.

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