Prittlewell Priory


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1018452

Date first listed: 26-Jun-1924

Date of most recent amendment: 02-Dec-1998


Ordnance survey map of Prittlewell Priory
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This copy shows the entry on 19-Dec-2018 at 13:56:01.


The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

District: Southend-on-Sea (Unitary Authority)

National Grid Reference: TQ 87722 87299


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. The Cluniac order had its origins in the monastic reformations which swept across continental Europe in the tenth century. The reformations which occurred were partly a response to the impact of Viking raids and attacks on established monastic sites in the preceding century but were also a reaction against the corruption and excesses which were increasingly noted amongst earlier establishments. The Cluniacs were amongst the most successful of the new reformed orders that developed. The founding house of Cluny in south-east France was established in AD 910. Here the community obeyed a stringent set of rules which, amongst other things, involved celibacy, communal living and abstention from eating meat. The ideals of the Cluniac reformers passed on to England in the tenth century. Influential Cluniac houses had been established in England by 1077. Once established, Cluniac houses were notable for the strong links they maintained both with the founding house of Cluny in France and also with other houses of their order. Most Cluniac houses in England were established near major towns and they particularly sought locations in valley bottoms within the protection of a nearby castle. Cluniac monasteries are notable for highly decorated, elaborate buildings. Cluniac houses are relatively rare, with some forty-four houses known in England, and all examples exhibiting good survival of archaeological remains are worthy of protection.

Although a `lesser' house, Prittlewell Priory came to include all the principal components required of a Cluniac foundation and to achieve a position of considerable influence in the region during the four centuries between its inception and suppression.

Although many of the buildings were demolished shortly after the Dissolution, the buried remains of the church and other claustral buildings are known to survive. Furthermore, the standing parts of the claustral range (excluded from the scheduling) although much altered over the years, allow these remains to be viewed in context and provide a vivid insight into the priory's original appearance. As the area of the precinct has not been compromised to any significant degree by subsequent development, buried evidence for other structures and activities, including those attested to in the documentary evidence, will also be preserved. One such aspect of communal life is clearly represented by the fishponds which, in addition to ensuring a consistent food supply, also enabled the members of the order to comply with the religious strictures on their diet.

The earlier burial ground on the slope to the east of the priory precinct is also the object of considerable interest. Cemeteries of the period between the 5th and 7th centuries AD provide one of the principal sources of information about the early Anglo-Saxon period, allowing insights into the location of settlements, population size, social structure, pagan ideology and even the spread of Christianity. Inhumation is the predominant burial ritual of this period - the deceased occasionally placed in coffins and normally accompanied by grave goods which reflect, in death, the achievements or aspirations of life. The areas of the inhumation cemetery which have been disturbed to the east of Priory Park have already demonstrated a wealth of archaeological information.


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


The monument includes the buried and visible remains of the Cluniac Priory of St Mary, which lie alongside the Prittle Brook within a public park (Priory Park) in the Prittlewell district of Southend-on-Sea.

The priory church and the majority of the conventual buildings survive only as foundations and buried remains, although portions of the south and west arms of the claustral range (which formed a square to the south of the church) still stand, retained within a post-Dissolution country house which now serves as the Priory Museum.

The first religious building at Prittlewell, a small wooden oratory, was replaced by a stone church around 1150. This was partly excavated in the 1920s and its outline, 50m-60m in length with an apsidal chancel and side chapels to the south, can still be traced from exposed sections of the foundations which remain on display within the lawns to the north east of the museum. The priory range was enlarged from 1180 onwards with the refectory, chapter house, dorter (monks' dormitory) and other buildings arranged around the cloister garth at this time.

The Priory Museum (a Grade I Listed Building which is excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath is included) retains substantial elements of the priory range - principally the 12th century refectory and 14th century prior's chambers which, respectively, formed parts of the southern and western arms of the claustral range. The 14th century prior's chamber, built from local septaria and chalk rubble (mostly refaced with brick in the 19th century) retains an original crown post roof and overlies earlier cellars. The refectory (the monks' dining room) also retains a fine crown post roof of the early 15th century, although apparently reset over a structure which was mainly demolished and rebuilt after the Dissolution. Only the north wall of the refectory is original. This contains a restored arched doorway (next to an earlier blocked version) and a single original lancet window. A reset moulding marks the probable position of a raised lectern from which the lessons would have been read during meals. In 1985 excavations following a service trench to the south of the refectory revealed fragments of walls and a hearth interpreted as evidence for the site of the kitchen.

In addition to those buildings mentioned above, the Commissioners' Inventory at the time of the Dissolution refers to `New, Lombardy, Italy and Pennys' chambers, butler's and porter's chambers, a pantry, a bakehouse and a brewhouse. Some of these structures, like the inevitable reredorter (latrine) and probable infirmary, may have been attached to the claustral range, although their precise locations have yet to be determined. Others (particularly the service buildings) may have been detached, although still enclosed within the precinct which isolated the priory from the secular world. The existence of the precinct (and almost certainly a gatehouse) is supported by documentary evidence and, although details are not recorded, its broad extent is evident on the ground. The clearest estimation of the precinct is that propounded by Leonard Helliwell, the former Borough Librarian and Curator, in 1959. His interpretation remains substantially unchallenged and is largely adopted for the purposes of this scheduling. The site of the gatehouse is tentatively identified with the junction of park roads immediately to the south east of the tennis courts, and the precinct boundary is believed to have run north from this point, following a line perpetuated by the road which flanks the western side of the prior's chamber. The boundary is thought to have surrounded the hollow to the west of the former church before turning to the east to contain the locations of the monastic and lay cemeteries which are believed to underlie the sunken ornamental gardens on the north side of the former church. The precinct boundary then crossed to the east side of the Prittle Brook where the course can be seen to follow a series of partly infilled channels which may have been intended to drain this low- lying area as well as to define the limits of the priory. These channels led south towards a pair of large monastic fishponds, revetted, cleaned and incorporated within the landscaping of the municipal park. The boundary is thought to have re- crossed the brook to the south of the southern pond (where Helliwell noted slight traces of wall foundations), returning to the putative site of the gatehouse.

The religious community, a dependant house of the Cluniac Priory of St Pancras at Lewes, was founded on land to the north east of the medieval village of Prittlewell by Robert fitz Suen in 1110. Although the priory at no time contained more than 18 monks, it was endowed with a number of churches and properties by its founder, and gained considerable influence as a result of this and the gifts from his descendants. The priory was suppressed during the Dissolution of minor houses in 1536 and sold, together with all its lands and appurtenances, to Thomas Audley (the Lord Chancellor's brother). By the time the estate was resold to Richard, Lord Rich, ten years later, the majority of buildings were probably already demolished and the prior's lodging and refectory converted into a substantial farm house. The estate, subsequently divided into a series of tenancies held by the Earls of Warwick, passed to the Earl of Nottingham in 1678. It was later acquired by the Scratton family and, in the 19th century, sold off by Daniel Scratton who retained only the house and its immediate grounds. In 1917 these were purchased by Robert Jones (a local philanthropist known as `the childrens' friend') who converted the house and landscaped the grounds, presenting both to the borough in 1920.

Part of the slope to the east of the Prittle Brook (beyond the line of the precinct) is also included in the scheduling. This area is thought likely to contain further evidence of an extensive Anglo-Saxon cemetery dating from the 6th and 7th centuries AD, which was partly disturbed by adjacent road and railway construction in 1923 and 1930. Excavations at the time revealed 16 certain and 11 possible inhumations, together with a range of grave goods including spears, swords, pendants and other personal items which are now displayed in Southend Central Museum.

A number of items are excluded from the scheduling; these are the Priory Museum, the Crowstone - a Grade II Listed obelisk originally erected on the Chalkwell foreshore in 1755 to mark the limit of the City of London's jurisdiction on the Thames and re-erected to the west of the former priory church in 1950, the commemorative cross within the cloister garth together with the stone ledger and graves of two public benefactors (Robert Jones and his son, Edward), all modern buildings and built items such as walls, steps, fountains, bridges and concrete revetments, all fences, railings, seats and waste bins, all garden structures such as frames, hoops and raised beds, all sign posts and information boards and the made surfaces of all roads and paths and yards; the ground beneath all these features is however 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.

Legacy System number: 29418

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Helliwell, L, Prittlewell Priory: A Brief Guide to the Remaining Buildings, (1972)
Pollitt, W, 'Southend-on-Sea Antiq & Hist Soc Trans' in The Roman and Saxon Settlements, Southend-on-Sea, , Vol. 1 ii, (1923)
Tyler, S, 'Essex Arch & Hist.' in The Anglo-Saxon cemetery at Prittlewell, , Vol. 19, (1988), 91-116
DOE, List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest, Borough of Southend on Sea, (1951)
Gilman, P, Prittlewell Priory, (1989)
Helliwell, L, Prittlewell Priory: Brief Guide to the Remaining Buildings, 1972,
Museum Service Brochure, Prittlewell Priory: A Former Cluniac Monastery, Museum Service Brochure, (1990)
RCHME, Inventory of Historic Monuments in Essex, (1923)
SMR comments, Tyler, S, Prittlewell Anglo-Saxon Cemetery, (1993)
SMR entry (mainly from 1952 OS card), Gilman, P, 9632 Roman complex(?), Prittlewell., (1989)
Title: Map of Essex Source Date: 1777 Author: Publisher: Surveyor: Copies in PRO & Priory Museum
Title: TQ 8787 SE Source Date: 1990 Author: Publisher: Surveyor: 1:1250
Wright, A and Crowe, K, Prittlewell Priory: Report On Watching Briefs 1985 and 1989, 1989, Museum Service internal report

End of official listing