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St Nicholas' Priory

List Entry Summary

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 Culture, Media and Sport.

Name: St Nicholas' Priory

List entry Number: 1016257

Location

The monument may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County: Devon

District: Exeter

District Type: District Authority

Parish:

National Park: Not applicable to this List entry.

Grade: Not applicable to this List entry.

Date first scheduled: 10-Aug-1923

Date of most recent amendment: 16-Oct-2002

Legacy System Information

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

Legacy System: RSM

UID: 24849

Asset Groupings

This list entry does not comprise part of an Asset Grouping. Asset Groupings are not part of the official record but are added later for information.

List entry Description

Summary of Monument

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

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 centres 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. Benedictine monasticism had its roots in the rule written about AD 530 by St Benedict of Nursia for his own abbey at Monte Cassino. Benedict had not intended to establish an order of monasteries and wider adoption of his rule came only gradually. The first real attempt to form a Benedictine order came only in 1216. The Benedictine monks, who wore dark robes, came to be known as `black monks'. These dark robes distinguished them from Cistercian monks who became known as `white monks' on account of their light coloured robes. Over 150 Benedictine monasteries were founded in England. As members of a highly successful order many Benedictine houses became extremely wealthy and influential. Their wealth can frequently be seen in the scale and flamboyance of their buildings. Benedictine monasteries made a major contribution to many facets of medieval life and all examples exhibiting significant surviving archaeological remains are worthy of protection.

St Nicholas' Priory played a significant part in the history and development of the medieval city of Exeter. The standing remains of the priory are among the oldest surviving medieval buildings in the city. The west range, which is excluded from the scheduling, demonstrates a high state of preservation in which most of the layout of the monastic building remains visible or can be reconstructed, and contains a fine vaulted Norman cellar. It also includes features relating to its conversion to a post-Dissolution residence. The direct association of the priory with William I and succeeding Norman kings serves to emphasise the regional importance of Exeter in that period and to locate the early history of the priory and city in a national context.

History

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

Details

The monument includes part of St Nicholas' Priory, a Benedictine monastery founded in the late 11th century and dissolved in 1536. It is situated within the centre of the city of Exeter, in the west quarter of the area enclosed by the medieval walls. The monument includes the buried remains of part of the claustral buildings of the priory and the area of the cloister. The priory conformed to the traditional monastic plan in which a church and three ranges of two storey buildings were grouped around the central open square court of the cloister, the church in this case forming the south side of the cloister. The standing remains of the claustral buildings consist of two adapted structures incorporating parts of the west and north ranges, now separated by a public footpath known as The Mint. These structures have been in continuous occupation for about 900 years and retain evidence for the conversion of the medieval buildings into a post-Dissolution house which was subsequently subdivided into smaller dwellings. The walls are mostly of random rubble construction utilising local Heavitree stone with dressed stonework of volcanic trap and some Beer stone. Carved stonework in Purbeck marble has been recovered from the site. The west range, which is Listed Grade I, survives as a substantial two storeyed building approximately 31m by 13m, with a slate roof, abutted on its north end by a later building with a three storeyed tower to the west. The standing remains of the north range are incorporated into No 21 The Mint, a substantial detached building of two storeys, which is Listed Grade II*. The north range of the priory would have originally extended farther to the east of this building and traditionally would have contained the refectory (dining hall) of the priory. To the south of the west range are the buried foundations of the west end of the priory church which were revealed by archaeological excavation in 1971. Further excavation in 1983 identified four structural phases of the west front of the church, culminating in the 14th century with the construction of the massive foundations of an apparently rectangular structure, interpreted as a church tower. In 1992/3 a trench excavated in The Mint along the east face of the west range revealed the foundations of the walls of the north range where they met with the west range, and on the south side of the cloister, wall foundations associated with the north side of the priory church. Documentary sources indicate that the church was badly damaged by fire in 1111 and again in 1161. In 1321 it is recorded that the church tower collapsed and was subsequently rebuilt. The priory was founded on land belonging to St Olave's church which had been sequestrated by William the Conqueror (1066-87) following the siege of 1068. The land and church were granted to the Benedictine Order in 1070 and were colonised in the last quarter of the 11th century by monks from Battle Abbey in Sussex. King John (1199-1216) granted the priory a manor and a fair on St Nicholas' day. The priory was part of St Nicholas Fee which was an enclave of independent legal and financial authority within the city, and the cause of a number of documented disputes between the priory, the city and the cathedral. The priory performed an important charitable function within the Fee, distributing food and alms to the poor, and also held rights to a part of the city's piped water supply. The priory was dissolved in 1536 and was in crown ownership until 1540 during which time building stone was taken to repair the city wall and Exe bridge. In 1562 the buildings were sold to Robert Mallett and remained in his family for about two centuries. In the Elizabethan period the west and north ranges were converted into a substantial town house, but by 1655 it appears that the west range had been converted into tenements. The buildings subsequently underwent a series of adaptations and divisions under a succession of owners and tenants. In 1788 the north range came into the ownership of the Roman Catholics, and in 1863 was separated from the west range. In 1913 the west range, which had been divided into four dwellings, was purchased by the City and subsequently restored for use as a museum. A number of features are excluded from the scheduling: these are the standing structure of the west range, the standing structure of No 21 The Mint which incorporates the standing remains of part of the north range, all made up footpaths and pavements, all post-medieval garden walls, and all street furniture; the ground beneath all these features is, however, included.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.

Selected Sources

Books and journals
Henderson, C (ed), Archaeology in Exeter 1983/4, (1984)
Lloyd-Parry, H, Brakspear, H, St Nicholas Priory, Exeter, (1917)
'Exeter Museums Archaeological Field Unit' in Exeter Museums Archaeological Field Unit, (1993)
Clarke, K, 'Transactions of the Devonshire Association' in Records 0f St Nicholas Priory Exeter, , Vol. Vol 44, (1912), 192-205
Hall, M, Sage, A, 'Exeter Museums Archaeological Field Unit Report' in Archaeological Evaluation at Knapman's Yard Exeter, , Vol. 94.84, (1994)

National Grid Reference: SX 91744 92483

Map

Map
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End of official listing