White Ladies (St Leonard's) Priory


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1015290

Date first listed: 10-May-1935

Date of most recent amendment: 15-Apr-1997


Ordnance survey map of White Ladies (St Leonard's) Priory
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

District: Shropshire (Unitary Authority)

Parish: Boscobel

National Grid Reference: SJ 82616 07639


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.

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.

White Ladies Priory is a fine example of a 12th century Augustinian priory church, which is unusual in being substantially unaltered since its 12th century foundation. The standing remains retain details of their method of construction, including the building and decorative techniques employed. The full extent of the claustral ranges and ancillary structures will remain in the form of post holes and as buried foundations within the precinct boundary, and floor levels will preserve environmental and artefact evidence for the activities which took place there. All this information will enhance our understanding of the relationships of the priory buildings and their various dates and functions. The subsistence and broader economic setting of this religious community can be understood in part from the earthwork remains of the fishponds, which will retain information relating to their method of construction and operation, and for the conversion of the northern pond into a causeway in the post-medieval period. The old ground surface sealed beneath these earthwork features will retain information relating to land use immediately prior to their construction. Further post holes, foundations and floor levels of the 16th century house will survive below ground and will increase our understanding of the extent and layout of the post-medieval house and its curtilage, and evidence for the extent and design of its gardens will also survive as buried features.

Documentary evidence provides an alternative insight into the role of the priory in the wider picture of medieval political and social organisation in Shropshire. The historical accounts of Charles II's escape from nearby Boscobel House and his shelter at White Ladies further enhances interest in the monument, and the protracted use of the Roman Catholic burial ground illustrates the continued religious significance of the site from medieval times through to the 19th century.


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.


The monument includes the ruined, earthwork and buried remains of the Priory of St Leonard at Brewood, generally called White Ladies Priory, the buried remains of the 16th century house and gardens that partly replaced it, and the ruined and buried remains of the burial ground to the south of the priory. The monument is situated on a gentle west facing slope south of Roman Watling Street, some 3.5km NNE of Albrighton.

The priory was founded in the late 12th century as a house of Augustinian nuns. It had a modest endowment and remained a small convent, however the standing remains show a remarkably high quality of craftsmanship in their construction and architectural detail, which had altered little since its foundation. The house had an uneventful history, and with an annual value of only around 17 pounds in 1535 it was dissolved the following year. Although there were still four nuns in the house in 1538, the convent was finally dispersed in May of that year, and the property was leased to William Skevington of Wolverhampton while the ownership was later granted to Henry VIII's solicitor-general, William Whorwood. However it was probably William Skevington who built the timber-framed house which is depicted in 17th century paintings and engravings, as White Ladies later passed to Edward Giffard, whose first wife was Skevington's widow. It was one of their descendants who sheltered the future Charles II at White Ladies during his flight from Parliamentary troops in September 1651. The property subsequently followed the descent of Boscobel House, which lies just over 1km to the north east, and although the house at White Ladies was demolished during the 18th century its gatehouse was still in use as a labourer's cottage in 1809. Ten years later when much of the estate was sold, the priory site remained in the ownership of the Fitzherbert family, and until 1844 the church was used as a Roman Catholic burial place. The site was placed in the care of the Secretary of State in 1938 and is open to the public.

The priory church is aligned east-west and had a five-bayed, aisleless nave, a quire, and a three-bayed, square-ended presbytery, with simple north and south transepts. The cloister was unconventionally attached to the north wall of the nave, in order to make use of the water supply which flowed south west through the shallow valley bottom to the north. The medieval fabric of the priory remains virtually unaltered by the construction of Skevington's timber-framed house which was attached to the east end of the church. A privy garden was created in the cloister and the house itself was walled around and provided with a timber-framed gatehouse to the south. In the 19th century a walled graveyard was attached to the south side of the church.

The standing remains of the priory are of coursed sandstone construction. Of the presbytery, all but the south wall stands to its full height, and on the north wall a row of external corbel stones indicate the position of the eaves of its roof. Each bay had a plain round-headed window, and those in the western bay remain intact, while a round-headed recess can be seen between the central and eastern bays. The jambs of an inserted doorway below the central window mark the access to a building, probably a sacristy, which was added between the presbytery and the north transept. A fine round-headed arch leads from the quire into the north transept, with columns of two half shafts and angle shafts to either side. The capitals are decorated in the Romanesque tradition characteristic of the 12th century, and the heavy but relatively unadorned carving demonstrates a thoughtful simplicity of design carried out with great skill. Parts of the east and west walls of the transept remain to either side of the arch, and a fragment of string course can be seen on the west wall. Elsewhere the foundations of the transept will survive below ground. Most of the south transept similarly remains as buried foundations, however the lower part of its south wall still stands, incorporated into the wall of the 19th century graveyard, and contains the remains of a window with a blocked recess beneath. The bays of the nave are marked externally by pilaster buttresses on the south wall, and each bay had a window in the north and south walls. The westernmost bay had a doorway to north and south, that in the north wall leading into the west walk of the cloister. It has a fine semicircular arch with cusped moulding which is more common in western France than England. The west wall of the church has two windows. The position of the cloister is indicated by a square platform extending from the north wall of the nave. The absence of standing remains suggests the cloister was timber- framed rather than stone built, and evidence for its extent will survive below ground. Further evidence for the cloister can be seen on the outer face of the north wall of the nave, where a weathering course at the level of the window sills indicates the line of the roof of the south cloister alley, and a row of corbels below it shows the position of the roof plate. The weathering turns upwards at the east end to accommodate the roof of the east alley, and at a higher level a second string course provides a hoodmould over the nave windows before again sloping upwards as weathering for the north transept roof. The priory church continued to be used for Roman Catholic burials until 1844, and the burial ground was to the south of the nave, enclosed by a wall which extends south from the west wall of the nave and eastwards incorporating the south wall of the south transept and the site of the south chapel. A number of grave covers have been found on the site, among them two dating from the late 12th to mid-13th century which now stand against the south wall of the transept, and headstones inscribed to William Pendrill, son of the William Penderel who sheltered Charles at Boscobel House, and his mother Joan.

To the east of the priory ruins, and now separated from them by the modern track, are the remains of a quarry scoop which has been cut into the natural slope, probably to provide building material for the priory. The southern end of this hollow has subsequently been modified by the addition of an earthen bank up to 1.2m high to form the north side of a fishpond which was fed by a spring from the south. Part of the west side of the pond remains as a short low stretch of bank, and would have completed what was once a roughly rectangular hollow measuring up to c.25m south west-north east by c.33m north west-south east. A low earthen bank continues north westwards from the back of the pond, and at its northern end are the earthwork remains of a second, larger, pond bay. The west arm of this bay remains as a substantial linear earthwork, c.50m long, up to 8m wide and c.1.5m high, which turns east at its southern end to form the beginnings of the pond's southern arm. Further east this arm has been reduced by ploughing and is no longer visible as a surface feature. This line of ponds, connected by the earthen bank, forms the north eastern boundary of the priory precinct. The now straightened water course which flows south westwards past the north end of the northern pond bay would have provided an important resource for the monastic community and also marks the north western edge of the precinct. The distinctly uneven ground to the north and north west of the priory ruins indicates the presence of subsurface foundations and rubble, the remains of the claustral buildings and ancillary structures such as barns and guest accommodation which would have occupied the precinct. Masonry visible in places on the path to the north east of the church indicates possible building foundations or drain remains, perhaps for the reredorter. The southern boundary of the precinct is no longer visible as a surface feature, and the southern extent of the monument is drawn out to include the extent of visible earthworks and buried features identified by excavation.

The 16th century house which was built near the priory no longer stands, however, 17th century engravings and paintings show it to have been a substantial timber-framed dwelling with a hall, cross range, and a two- storeyed porch attached to the east end of the church. The roof line of an ancillary building attached to the west end of the church can be seen on the outer face of the nave's west wall. The depictions indicate that the cloisters were incorporated into a walled privy garden, and that the house itself was surrounded by a wall with a timber-framed gatehouse opposite the porch. Evidence for both the house and gardens will survive below ground. Excavations to the west of the church, and the presence of brick and tile in the plough soil, indicate the presence of post-medieval building. In common with other high status dwellings of the period a grand approach to the house was created, in this case by modifying the western arm of the pond bay into a causeway which would have allowed the house to be admired from a distance. The remains of oak stumps recently removed from the earthwork indicate it was at one time planted to create an ornamental walkway, a tradition which may have originated in the early post-medieval period. The current path which runs along the west side of this causeway is later than the medieval earthworks and is probably an extension of the southern approach to the post-medieval house.

All fences around and across the monument, and the information board, are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath them 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.

Legacy System number: 27559

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Weaver, O J, Boscobel House and White Ladies Priory, (1991), 38
Weaver, O J, Boscobel House and White Ladies Priory, (1991)
Weaver, O J, Boscobel House and White Ladies Priory, (1991), 35
Weaver, O J, Boscobel House and White Ladies Priory, (1993)
Morris, J A, 'Transactions of the Shropshire Archaeological Society' in White Ladies, , Vol. 48, (1934), 1-22
plan, photos, Tong Archaeological Group, Trial excavations and ground survey, White Ladies Priory, 1990, (1990)
SA 01077, (1934)

End of official listing