Thelsford priory


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
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Date first listed:
Date of most recent amendment:


Ordnance survey map of Thelsford priory
© 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.

Stratford-on-Avon (District Authority)
Warwick (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:
SP 27085 58301, SP 27173 58294

Reasons for Designation

From the time of St Augustine's mission to re-establish Christianity in AD 597 to the reign of Henry VIII, monasticism formed an important facet of both religious and secular life in the British Isles. Settlements of religious communities, including monasteries, were built to house communities of monks, canons (priests), and sometimes lay-brothers, living a common life of religious observance under some form of systematic discipline. It is estimated from documentary evidence that over 700 monasteries were founded in England. These ranged in size from major communities with several hundred members to tiny establishments with a handful of brethren. They belonged to a wide variety of different religious orders, each with its own philosophy. As a result, they vary considerably in the detail of their appearance and layout, although all possess the basic elements of church, domestic accommodation for the community, and work buildings. Monasteries were inextricably woven into the fabric of medieval society, acting not only as a centre of worship, learning, and charity, but also, because of the vast landholdings of some orders, as centres of immense wealth and political influence. They were established in all parts of England, some in towns and others in the remotest of areas. Many monasteries acted as the foci of wide networks including parish churches, almshouses, hospitals, farming estates and tenant villages. The Trinitarian order was founded by John of Matha and Felix of Valois, who established an abbey at Cerfroy in France at the end of the 12th century. Trinitarians were sometimes known as Red Friars. The order established ten houses in England during the 13th and 14th centuries. The houses aimed to raise funds to pay ransoms of Christian captives, for the support of the poor and poor travellers, and for the maintenance of the brethren. Six of the ten houses were hospital priories, at first to house the rescued captives, and later for more general purposes. As a rare type of monastery, all Trinitarian houses are identified as nationally important and those with significant surviving remains will merit protection.

Partial excavation at Thelsford priory has indicated that the earthworks and, despite ploughing, the buried features of the site survive well. Buried structural remains, including stone packed post holes and foundations, will provide evidence for the plan of the conventual buildings, their dates of construction and occupation and their inter-relationships. The buried remains of the priory buildings will illustrate the way in which the canons' buildings reflected their developing responsibilities, for example, to the poor and sick, and to travellers. Artefactual evidence will survive in those large areas not previously excavated, providing information on the conventual economy and the environment in which the canons and monks lived. Historical documentation recording the abandonment of Thelsford priory by the Canons of the Holy Sepulchre and its subsequent occupation by the Trinitarians suggests that this site is of particular value for the rare insight it allows into the changing fortunes of the different monastic orders and that it will point up distinctions between the circumstances in which they lived and worked.


The monument is situated on a gravel terrace on the south side of the Thelsford Brook and includes the buried remains of Thelsford priory and part of its water management system. It is protected in two areas. The site was first colonised by the Canons of the Holy Sepulchre from their house in Warwick. Between 1200 and 1212 they received a grant for the construction of a church and a hospital at Thelsford. During the early to mid 13th century, due to financial difficulties within the order, the canons abandoned Thelsford priory and were succeeded by canons of the Trinitarian order. During their occupation of the site, many of the monastic buildings were rebuilt; a new church was constructed and consecrated in 1285. The priory was dissolved in October 1538. The conventual precinct originally occupied a roughly rectangular area of approximately 1.6ha. The precinct boundary is represented on the north by the Thelsford Brook and on the west side by a linear pond which is indicated on older Ordnance Survey maps but is no longer visible on the ground surface. The central part of this feature projected south westwards to create an extension to the pond which remains partly waterfilled. The eastern extent of the site is defined by the former course of the Warwick Road (A429). This road was realigned during the 1970s, and its new route bisects the site. The construction of the road is believed to have modified any surviving archaeological deposits beneath and this area is not included in the scheduling. The southern perimeter of the priory is defined by a 2m wide ditch. It has been infilled but it has been located through excavation and it survives as a buried feature. Until World War II the earthwork remains of Thelsford priory remained visible, but they have since been levelled. Excavations at the site during the 1960s and in 1972 have provided information about the layout of the monastic buildings and other features of the priory and many of these still survive as buried features. The church and other conventual buildings are situated in the eastern part of the site. The 13th century church is thought to have been cruciform in plan and was originally a single-celled rectangular building which was extended eastwards, probably during the early 14th century. The buried foundations of the church, which are of green sandstone with limestone infilling, survive beneath the ground surface. The cloister is situated to the south of the church and is thought to have been built largely of timber. The western claustral range, located through excavation, was constructed of timber with stone footings which survive as buried features. The areas to the north and west of the claustral buildings are thought to have originally served as gardens and were bounded by walls. Within the precinct several areas of structures and activity apart from the claustral complex itself have been located. In the western part of the site a group of buildings, constructed of timber, survive as buried features. Both the Canons of the Holy Sepulchre and the Trinitarian order had, as their main concern, the provision of a hospital for the poor and sick; and a pilgrim hostel and buildings within the precinct have been used for these functions and their foundations will survive as buried features. Excavations prior to the construction of the new road through the central part of the priory recovered evidence for a watermill site and an associated water management system adjacent to the Thelsford Brook. The buried remains of the watermill site have been modified by the road and are, therefore, not included in the scheduling. The associated water channels extend westwards from the watermill site and, beyond the course of the road, they survive as buried features. One of the channels connects with the linear pond which defines the western extent of the site. It would have originally provided the pond's water supply and all of the channels west of the new road are included in the scheduling. Following the dissolution of Thelsford priory in 1538, the church was destroyed and much of its stone was removed and reused, mostly at Wasperton Manor and Thelsford Farm. The ponds and low-lying areas of the site were backfilled with roof tiles and other debris and the whole of the site is thought to have been turned over to grazing. All fence posts are excluded from the scheduling, but the ground beneath these features is included.

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
Cox, J C, The Victoria History of the County of Warwickshire , (1908), 107
Cox, J C, The Victoria History of the County of Warwickshire , (1908), 106
Knowles, D , Medieval Religious Houses: England and Wales, (1971), 207
Gray, M, 'British Archaeological Reports' in The Trinitarian Order in England, , Vol. 226, (1993), 17
Gray, M, 'British Archaeological Reports' in The Trinitarian Order in England, , Vol. 226, (1993), 92
Gray, M, 'British Archaeological Reports' in The Trinitarian Order in England, , Vol. 226, (1993), 48


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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