Sandwell Priory, a Benedictine monastery


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
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Ordnance survey map of Sandwell Priory, a Benedictine monastery
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Sandwell (Metropolitan Authority)
National Grid Reference:
SP 02487 91374

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.

Excavation at Sandwell Priory has indicated that the ruins and buried features of the site survive well. The full extent of the claustral ranges and ancillary structures will remain in the form of post holes and buried foundations within the precinct boundary, and floor levels will preserve environmental and artefactual evidence for the activities that 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. Further foundations and floor levels of both the 16th century house and the later Sandwell Hall will survive below ground and will increase our understanding of the layout of these houses and their curtilage, and evidence for the design of their associated gardens will also survive.


The monument is situated within the Sandwell Valley Country Park and includes the ruins, earthworks and buried remains of Sandwell Priory, and the buried remains of a post-Dissolution house and those of Sandwell Hall, the 19th century house which replaced it, together with part of its associated garden remains. Sandwell Priory, a Benedictine house, was founded in the late 12th century at the site of a holy well, known as Sand Well, which is mentioned in the monastery's foundation charter. It was dissolved in 1525 and a house, described as Priory House, was created from the renovated remains of some of the claustral buildings. In 1701 Lord (later the Earl of) Dartmouth, bought the site and a new house was erected. The demolition of the hall in 1928 revealed that some monastic foundations had been re-used for the construction of the hall and medieval masonry incorporated within the 18th century fabric. Excavations at the site have recovered evidence for both the layout of the priory and its subsequent history. The conventual buildings lie within a roughly rectangular inner precinct or enclosure which was bounded by a ditch on at least its north, east and west sides. In its earliest form, the priory included what later became the east part of the church, which was aligned east-west, and timber structures to the north and north east. Excavations of the pits and surviving posts north of the church indicate that two timber buildings were located here at right angles to each other. By the 13th century the claustral ranges had been rebuilt in stone, and a century later the east range was reconstructed. Further structural modifications occurred in the 15th century when the church was reduced in size. The church, at its most developed, had a crossing, north and south transepts, and an apsidal ended chancel, flanked on each side by two chapels. All the walls were constructed of local sandstone. An illustration of the site indicates that the church was still standing in 1588, but was demolished shortly after this date. The foundations of most of the east end of the church and the east range are visible on the ground surface whilst the rest of the priory buildings will survive as buried features. The priory cemetery, which has been partly excavated, is located to the east of the church and will provide information on the sealed remains of the site's medieval population. Excavations in the northern part of the inner precinct have shown that the main walls of the east range, which was incorporated into the post-Dissolution house, show evidence of alteration during this period. The floor layout of Priory House appears to have been based closely on that of the priory, but with a certain amount of sub-division by brick partition walls. The construction of the new Sandwell Hall in 1705-11, however, resulted in changes across the site, with the east range of the priory becoming the west range of the hall. To the north and north west of the inner precinct are a series of ponds aligned east to west, of which at least three are considered to be monastic in origin but have been modified to some extent when the site was landscaped in the 18th century. The water from the spring, to the south of the conventual buildings, was channelled to supply the kitchen and the reredorter or privy, and then the fishponds. Only the two easternmost ponds are believed to retain much of their original form, bounded by dams along their north west sides, whilst those to the west are believed to have been considerably modified at a later date and are not included in the scheduling. The easternmost ponds however, are included in the scheduling. In the 18th and 19th centuries much of the land around Sandwell Hall was laid out as landscaped gardens with a ha-ha bounding those to the east and north east. To the west of the hall and the priory enclosure is a long, narrow canal-like feature which is now known as Monk's Pool and is believed to be a flooded ha-ha. A section of this feature, some 15m in length, is included in the scheduling to preserve the relationship between the site of the hall and its associated gardens. The site of the holy well to the south of the hall was also incoporated into the gardens and is shown as a circular structure on an engraving of the late 18th century. By 1889 this had been replaced by a rectangular structure and a fountain. Part excavation of this area located three interconnected brick chambers and a reservoir, with the water originally being fed to the fountain along pipes from springs to the east. All fence posts 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.

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Books and journals
Rodwell, WJ, Church Archaeology, (1989), 154
Hodder, M A, 'South Staffordshire Archaeology & Historical Society Transaction' in Excavations At Sandwell Priory And Hall, , Vol. XXXI, (1991)
Hodder, M A, 'Sandwell Valley Archaeological Project' in Sandwell Priory And Hall Excavations, , Vol. 2, (1984), 5
Hodder, M A, 'Sandwell Valley Archaeological Project' in Sandwell Priory and Sandwell Hall, , Vol. 1, (1983)
Hodder, M A, 'Sandwell Valley Archaeological Project' in Sandwell Priory, , Vol. 5, (1987)
Hodder, M A, 'West Midlands Archaeology Newsletter, CBA Group 8' in Sandwell, , Vol. 25, (1982), 90-6


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.

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