Lenton Priory


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1019675

Date first listed: 03-Sep-2002


Ordnance survey map of Lenton Priory
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

District: City of Nottingham (Unitary Authority)

National Grid Reference: SK 55262 38782, SK 55303 38718


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.

The buried and standing remains of Lenton Priory and its associated buildings are well-preserved and provide a rare example of a Cluniac monastery in this part of the country. The level of survival of structural, artefactual, skeletal and environmental remains beneath the current ground surface has been demonstrated by excavation. This evidence combines with the archaeological and historical documentation to provide a reasonably detailed picture of the structure and layout of the priory church and associated structures. Taken as a whole, Lenton Priory will improve our understanding of the development and position of the monastery and the Cluniac order both within the area and the wider medieval landscape.


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


The monument includes standing and buried remains of part of Lenton Priory and its precinct. The site is situated in a meander of the River Leen, 200m north west of the junction between the Nottingham and Beeston Canals. The priory was founded in 1106 or 1107 by the Cluniac order and remained under the jurisdiction of the parent house at Cluny in Burgundy until 1393. The priory was richly endowed by William Peverel and became one of the wealthiest houses of an order noted for the size and magnificence of its churches. At its foundation, Lenton Priory had 25 monks; in 1262 there were 22 monks and two lay brothers, and by 1405 there were 32 monks. The priory lies approximately one mile south west of Nottingham Castle and would have gained some security and protection through its association with the castle and its occupants. A seven day fair held in the outer court of the priory was one of the leading fairs in England in the Middle Ages, attracting merchants throughout the country. The infrastructure was substantial and included houses called booths with penthouses behind them, in which stall holders could lodge with their goods. Originally the profits of the fair went to the priory and as early as 1387 represented nearly a quarter of its income from temporalities. Trading was banned in Nottingham for the duration of the fair, one of many privileges, some of which continued after the Dissolution. As part of the confiscated property of the priory on its suppression in April 1538, the fair was granted, on a 21 year lease from Michaelmas 1529, to Michael Stanhope, who also held the two leases covering the site and demesne lands of the former priory. The precise details relating to the destruction of the priory are unclear, but a considerable portion of the buildings were still in existence when the Assizes (a court sitting to administer civil and criminal law) were held there in 1573 and on several other occasions during the reign of Elizabeth I. In 1677 it was documented that only one square steeple was left of the monastery, which had not long since fallen down. The priory gatehouse was, however, still in use over a century later and survived into the 19th century. The overseers accounts for 1791 included a payment of 6 shillings 9 pence to a glazier for repairing windows at the abbey gatehouse, and the Peverel court was held in the room over the archway for a short time after the removal of the court to Lenton towards the end of the 18th century. The monument survives as a series of standing and buried remains in two separate areas of protection. Many features have been located and identified during numerous archaeological excavations within the priory precinct since the early 20th century. The excavation results compliment the documentary evidence and show that the priory church lay on an east to west alignment just within the southern extent of the protected areas. The church is thought to have extended from Abbey Street in the west to just beyond Old Church Street in the east, a distance of approximately 100m. It was of the usual form with the chancel at the eastern end, nave to the west and a range of side and ambulatory chapels. Excavation has focused on three areas: to the south of the present churchyard; along Old Church Street; and in the area to the east of Old Church Street. South and south east of the churchyard, excavation has shown that an apsidal ambulatory chapel formed the eastern end of the church with a northern and southern transept chapel attached. The transept chapels formed the cruciform shape of the priory church, the nave of which extended to the west. The north and south aisle of the nave were defined by a series of piers. Remains of these were found to lie up to 1.1m below the current ground surface. It is unclear exactly where the west end of the church lies, but excavations have identified substantial foundations of the north wall of the nave, close to Abbey Street, and indicates the church continued at least to this point. Excavations along Old Church Street recovered the remains of at least five individuals, and further human remains have been recovered from the area to the east of Old Church Street. Some fragments of the church fabric remain identifiable above ground, including a pier, and part of the northern wall of the church. The pier is situated in a small grassed enclosure at the junction between Priory Street and Old Church Street in the smaller of the two areas of protection. The pier, which is Listed Grade II, stands to a height of approximately 1m and is visible as a round, ashlar column with a chamfered base and rubble core. It originally formed part of the ambulatory chapel. A significant section of the northern wall of the church also survives, and is visible as a large block wall standing to an average height of 1.5m and approximately 30m in length. It was reused as a boundary and structural wall after the demolition of the remainder of the church. The wall is included in the scheduling and is Listed Grade II. The church is now partially built over and only those remains lying in open space are included in the protected areas. The level of survival of remains under the adjacent buildings, some of which are cellared, is not yet fully understood. By analogy with comparable sites which usually share a standard design and layout, further major priory buildings and the cloister are thought to have lain to the south of, and attached to, the church. Documentary sources indicate that after the Dissolution these buildings quickly lost their roofs and were demolished. The extent and nature of any survival of these buildings are presently unknown. Other standing remains survive within the current Priory Church of St Anthony. The church contains the medieval chapel of the Hospital of St Anthony which stands within the original precinct of the medieval priory. A new nave was added to the chapel and, having had its dedication changed to that of the Holy Trinity, later became the parish church. In 1884, following restoration work, the church was again dedicated to St Anthony, and has been known as the Priory Church of St Anthony ever since. The church is a Listed Building Grade II. The current parish church is dedicated to the Holy Trinity and is situated in Church Street, about half a mile to the north east of the priory church. The hospital itself is understood to have lain in a close to the east of Old Church Street in an area now known as Friary Close. This would have housed a religious or secular institution which provided spiritual and medical care for the general poor or specific groups. It is also likely it functioned as a chantry, providing prayer for the souls of founders, benefactors and their families. The priory precinct would, originally, have been enclosed by a wall, and short sections of this have been traced in excavations. A length of wall was uncovered on the north side of Gregory Street in the mid-20th century during construction work. This lies close to the outer gatehouse which was situated immediately north of the priory church and across the width of Gregory Street. A second stretch of the precinct wall was recorded on the northern bank of the River Leen and has led to the suggestion that the river defined the southern boundary of the enclosed precinct. It is uncertain whether these sections now survive; they both lie outside the protected area. Elsewhere the line of the wall is unknown. The fairground was situated to the west of the priory church, and would have occupied most of the north west corner of the area of protection. The area, now known as Lenton Priory Park, is a public open space, but was, by 1517, laid out on a formal plan with lanes and buildings dedicated to particular trades. Even as early as 1297-98 the priory accounts show that a thatcher worked on 60 fair booths and spent five days repairing old ones. Some of the fair booths were converted into cottages which were mentioned in a survey and rental of 1651-2. Fair booths and their penthouses were probably the forerunners, if not the same structures, as the shops that comprised Mart Yard in the 18th century. Cottages, which were later built on the site, survived until the 1950s. Remains of the street layout and shops within the fairground will survive beneath the current ground surface. It is known that within the precinct of the priory there would have been a number of other monastic buildings. Some of these would have been situated close to the priory church, forming an inner court, whilst others lay within a larger outer court. Within the inner court, buildings would include the cloister and cloistral ranges, guesthouses, bakehouses, brewhouses and a kitchen. The outer court provided the economic base of the monastery and most of the buildings would be agricultural or industrial in origin. These may include stables, barns, mills, dovecotes, kilns, tanneries, smithies, fishponds and granaries. Although the precise location of many of these buildings at Lenton Priory is unknown, the buried remains of some of these structures, particularly those within the inner court, would have stood to the north of the priory church within the present churchyard. The ground level within the southern extent of this churchyard is higher than the surrounding ground. This is thought, in part, to be due to a surviving layer of monastic demolition debris. Despite disturbance caused by later burials, significant archaeological remains will survive in this area and the remainder of the churchyard. Further nationally important priory remains may survive outside the protected area. The present Priory Church of St Anthony, the north, east and west churchyard walls, the Listed Grade II structures of the Wright family vault, chest tombs and sarcophagos, and all above ground tombs, all modern paths, walls, fences and gateways, are excluded from the scheduling, although 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.

Legacy System number: 29987

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Ginever, E, The Parish and Priory of Lenton, (1930)
Godfrey, J T, History of the Parish and Priory of Lenton, (1884)
Knowles, , Hadcock, , Medieval Religious Houses, (1953), 97-100
Barnes, F A, 'Transactions of the Thoroton Society' in Lenton Priory After The Dissolution: Its Buildings And Fairground, , Vol. XCI, (1987), 79-95
Beilby, B W, 'Transactions of the Thoroton Society' in Excavations At The Cluniac Priory, Lenton 1962-1964, , Vol. LXX, (1966), 55-62
Elliott, R H, Berbank, A E, 'Transactions of the Thoroton Society' in Lenton Priory: Excavations 1943-1951, , Vol. LVI, (1952), 41-53
Green, H, 'Transactions of the Thoroton Society' in Lenton Priory, , Vol. XL, (1936), 32-53
Green, H, 'Nottingham Journal' in Cottesmore School Adds New Chapter to Local History, , Vol. 20/3/193, (1936)
MacCormick, A, 'Transactions of the Thoroton Society' in Recent Archaeological Work In Nottingham, , Vol. LXXXII, (1978), 74-75
Swinnerton, H H, Boulton, H, 'Transactions of the Thoroton Society' in Lenton Priory: Excavations in 1954, , Vol. LX, (1956), 1-7

End of official listing