St Michael's Priory rere-dorter
Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number: 1007811
Date first listed: 04-Feb-1994
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
District: South Kesteven (District Authority)
National Grid Reference: TF 02787 06471
Reasons for Designation
A nunnery was a settlement built to sustain a community of religious women.
Its main buildings were constructed to provide facilities for worship,
accommodation and subsistence. The main elements are the church and domestic
buildings arranged around a cloister. This central enclosure may be
accompanied by an outer court and gatehouse, the whole bounded by a precinct
wall, earthworks or moat. Outside the enclosure, fishponds, mills, field
systems, stock enclosures and barns may occur. The earliest English nunneries
were founded in the seventh century AD but most of these had fallen out of use
by the ninth century. A small number of these were later refounded. The tenth
century witnessed the foundation of some new houses but the majority of
medieval nunneries were established from the late 11th century onwards.
Nunneries were established by most of the major religious orders of the time,
including the Benedictines, Cistercians, Augustinians, Franciscans and
Dominicans. It is known from documentary sources that at least 153 nunneries
existed in England, of which the precise locations of only around 100 sites
are known. Few sites have been examined in detail and as a rare and poorly
understood medieval monument type all examples exhibiting survival of
archaeological remains are worthy of protection.
St Michael's Priory rere-dorter, Stamford, is the only known surviving fragment of this large nunnery. The survival of a nunnery rere-dorter of this date, in good condition, is quite rare. These remains have been partially excavated archaeologically and are thus well understood. The deposits known to survive still within the monument are of considerable depth and are likely to be rich in information regarding such matters as monastic diet. Undisturbed deposits of this character and quality are also quite rare and merit protection along with the masonry remains of the rere-dorter structure which surround them.
The monument includes the only known surviving remains of the Priory of St
Michael, Stamford, a Benedictine nunnery founded in the mid 12th century and
dissolved in 1536. The remains include part of the nunnery's rere-dorter and
associated features, excavated in 1974.
The standing remains of the rere-dorter are located in an underground chamber beneath the entrance hall of Stamford High School Junior School. They include part of the south wall of the rere-dorter, or latrine block, a below ground feature originally which survives to a height of nearly 3m. This wall is pierced by a round-headed arch, composed of two plain orders, resting on two square piers with pilaster buttresses on chamfered plinths. On top of the wall are the remains of stone seating, including a reused coffin fragment. Running parallel to this wall, approximately 1m to the north, is another stone wall connected to the piers of the first by two short walls. The easternmost of the short walls is supported by a reused fragment from a stone tomb. A further stone wall, approximately 0.8m high, is built across the bottom of the arched opening, and the space between the two long walls lined with stone slabs, thus creating an open drain. The drain is met at its eastern end by a stone-lined conduit, also built between the two long walls and formerly linked on the east to a clay-lined ground level reservoir, now destroyed. Part of the retaining wall of the reservoir survives as an L-shaped segment running south from the rere-dorter wall for approximately 2.8m and then east for approximately 2.9m. South of the rere-dorter wall, and occupying the rest of the underground chamber, is a modern earth floor on the site of a large pit into which the rere-dorter originally drained.
The rere-dorter lay to the south of the priory church and other conventual buildings which were cut into by the construction of the railway in 1847. Further remains of the priory were encountered in 1974 during the construction of foundations for the school building.
The Priory of St Michael was founded by William de Waterville, abbot of Peterborough, in or before 1155. It was a large establishment for about 40 nuns. In 1354 it was amalgamated with the Augustinian nunnery of Wothorpe which had been severely depopulated by the plague, and numbers remained low throughout the 15th and 16th centuries. Following the dissolution of the nunnery in 1536 the site passed to Richard Cecil and the construction of a secular house was initiated. In the 17th century the site was occupied by several houses, and by 1727 all above ground remains of the nunnery had been destroyed.
MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.
The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.
Legacy System number: 22607
Legacy System: RSM
Books and journals
The Victoria History of the County of Northamptonshire: Volume I, (1902), 98-101
Knowles, D , Medieval Religious Houses: England and Wales, (1971), 266
'Stamford Mercury' in Stamford Mercury, (1846)
Hartley, , Rogers, , 'Stamford Survey Group Report 2' in The Religious Foundations of Medieval Stamford, (1974), 56-58
Mahany, C M , 'South Lincolnshire Archaeology' in South Lincolnshire Archaeology 1, (1977), 10-11
Drawing nos. 4/105/31 C, 4/105/50, Hemmings, WJ Chartered Architect, Stamford High School New Junior School, (1973)
notes on finds, St. Michael's Nunnery, Stamford, (1985)
Royal Commission on Historical Monuments, The Town of Stamford, (1977)
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