The Benedictine priory and precinct of St Mary, Nuneaton


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
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Ordnance survey map of The Benedictine priory and precinct of St Mary, Nuneaton
© Crown Copyright and database right 2019. All rights reserved. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100024900.
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Nuneaton and Bedworth (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:
SP 35421 92136, SP 35575 92037

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 Mary's Priory, Nuneaton was one of only four Benedictine nunneries in England identified as belonging to the important Abbey of Fontevrault. The preservation of the ground plan indicates that this was a high status institution supporting a sizeable religious population in the medieval period. It is also one of the few surviving nunneries with a church and outer precinct complex which is preserved in a fully urban context.


St Mary's Abbey and precinct is a Benedictine priory, divided into two areas by Manor Court Road. The eastern area consists of the remains of the abbey complex and part of the precinct; the western area includes part of the outer precinct. Both areas occupy the southern part of the complex; the precincts are believed to extend under housing further northwards although their full extent is currently unknown. The priory church lies in the eastern area and occupies the highest part of the site. The church would have formed one side of a range of buildings enclosing an inner court. Further buildings were placed outside the main rectangular complex, and the whole priory was enclosed by a bank boundary. Little remains of the original 12th century church except the four massive piers which supported the central tower. These are incorporated within the mainly Victorian parish church now standing on the site. On one side of the church, part of the eastern range of buildings belonging to the Chapter house survives as above ground remains, while the foundations of further walls have been traced in excavations of this area. Except for one piece of wall, neither the southern or eastern ranges survive above ground. To the east of the main complex, in what is now the Abbey meadow, are the buried remains of the infirmary, while the perimeter of the priory is represented by an earthen bank in the south-eastern corner of the site. The area to the west of Manor Court Road contains the remains of the second part of the outer precinct where documentary sources record the presence of several houses, barns, a tilemaker's workshop and the Abbey mill. St Mary's was one of only four Fontevraultine houses in England, and was large, with as many as 93 nuns in 1234. It declined in the later medieval period, and the number of nuns was only 23 in 1507. The priory was finally closed in 1539, along with many others at the Dissolution, the manor being granted to Sir Marmaduke Constable in 1540. In 1876, the site was returned to ecclesiastical ownership, when it was sold by the lord of the manor, and a new church was built on the ruins of the medieval priory. Excluded from the scheduling are: the church which is a grade II listed building; the new vicarage fronting Bottrill Street; the old vicarage building fronting Manor Court Road; Manor Court old peoples' home and the garages in the grounds. The ground beneath all these features is included in the scheduling.

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.

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Books and journals
Andrews, D, Cook, A, Quant, V, Thorn, J C, Thorn, E A, 'Transactions of the Birmingham & Warwickshire Arch. Society' in The Archaeology and Topography of Nuneaton Priory, , Vol. 91, (1981)


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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