St Thomas' Priory
Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number: 1020054
Date first listed: 14-Jul-1966
Date of most recent amendment: 09-May-2001
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
District: Stafford (District Authority)
National Grid Reference: SJ 95058 22896
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. Some 225
of these religious houses belonged to the order of St Augustine. The
Augustinians were not monks in the strict sense, but rather communities of
canons - or priests - living under the rule of St Augustine. In England they
came to be known as `black canons' because of their dark coloured robes and to
distinguish them from the Cistercians who wore light clothing. From the 12th
century onwards, they undertook much valuable work in the parishes, running
almshouses, schools and hospitals as well as maintaining and preaching in
parish churches. It was from the churches that they derived much of their
revenue. The Augustinians made a major contribution to many facets of medieval
life and all of their monasteries which exhibit significant surviving
archaeological remains are worthy of protection.
St Thomas' Priory survives well, with both standing masonry and earthwork and buried remains. The priory site is relatively complete and will retain both the core buildings and many typical features of the monastic outer court. St Thomas' Priory represents a well-documented example of an Augustinian monastery with historical records dating from its construction during the 12th century through to its dissolution in the 16th century.
Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.
St Thomas' Priory is situated in the fertile valley of the River Sow,
approximately 2 miles east of Stafford. The monument includes the core of the
priory, a foundation of the Augustinian order, including the ruins of the
conventual buildings and the earthwork and buried remains of buildings and
other features within the monastic precinct.
The monastic buildings and other remains of St Thomas' Priory are set within
an elongated rectangular precinct alongside the northern bank of the River
Sow and covering approximately 2.25ha. St Thomas' Priory was founded by
Gerard fitz Brian, a burgess of Stafford, in c.1174 and developed into one of
the wealthier houses of the Augustinian order in Staffordshire. The priory
continued to acquire property until its dissolution in 1538. After the
Dissolution, St Thomas' Priory and all its landed possessions came into the
hands of the Bishops of Lichfield and from them it passed to the Fowler
family, who retained it until 1715.
The remains of the conventual buildings occupy the central and eastern parts
of the precinct and include a section of standing walling approximately 12m in
length along the north side of the garden of St Thomas' Priory Farm. The work
is early 13th century in date and is considered to be part of the north wall
of the north transept and the north wall of an east chapel. The two main
features of the wall are a respond, standing to full height with its original
capital, and immediately to the east, a plain aumbry (or cupboard for the holy
vessels). The conventual buildings are situated on the south side of the
church and were laid out around a cloister. A large proportion of the southern
claustral range survives above ground, its southern wall being best preserved.
The greater part of this walling stands to a height of up to 3.5m. The
standing remains of this range show evidence of many alterations, although the
round-headed doorway at its east end is considered to be original. There are
no visible surface remains of the eastern range, which is likely to have
contained the chapter house and dorter. The record of a visit to the site in
1878 by the historian Charles Lynam provides evidence that the chapter house,
day-room, cloister, kitchen and refectory were visible as slight surface
remains at the end of the 19th century. St Thomas' Priory farmhouse, which is
Listed Grade II, incorporates medieval masonry within its fabric and is
considered to overlie parts of the church and the northern section of the
western claustral range. The west wall of the farmhouse is thought to coincide
with the west wall of the church. The farmhouse is excluded from the
scheduling, although the ground beneath it is included.
There are two ranges of buildings to the north west of St Thomas' Priory
farmhouse which are Listed Buildings Grade II. The lower sections of these are
stone-built and, although mostly post-Dissolution in date, they may
incorporate some in situ medieval masonry.
In the field to the east of Priory Farm a number of parch marks, indicating
wall foundations surviving just beneath the ground surface, are visible during
the dry summer months. These features are connected with the monastic site or
with immediate post-Dissolution use of the area.
The monastic precinct was bounded along its south western side by the Mill
Stream, and by a steep natural scarp along its north eastern edge. There is no
surface evidence of a precinct wall along the north western boundary of the
site, but the line of Blackheath Lane indicates where the medieval precinct
boundary probably lay. The present entrance to Priory Farm is probably on the
site of the medieval entrance to the monastic precinct as it is in direct
alignment with St Thomas' Lane. The foundations of a gatehouse to the
monastery will survive as a buried feature beneath the ground surface at this
point. The monastery possessed two mills in the vicinity of the precinct and
documentary evidence suggests that the present Mill Farm, at the south western
corner of the precinct, stands on the site of one of them and this site is
included in the scheduling.
The houses associated with St Thomas' Priory Farm and St Thomas' Mill Farm and
their associated outbuildings and garages, the agricultural buildings of St
Thomas' Priory Farm, which occupy the northern section of the monastic site,
and the two agricultural building ranges which are post-Dissolution in date
and incorporate medieval masonry are all excluded from the scheduling; all
fence posts, modern walling, the surfaces of the driveways and paths, the
areas of concrete flooring and the greenhouse are also excluded from the
scheduling, although the ground beneath all the above mentioned buildings and
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: 21532
Legacy System: RSM
Books and journals
Dickinson, J C, The Victoria History of the County of Staffordshire, (1970), 260
Dickinson, J C, The Victoria History of the County of Staffordshire, (1970), 263
Bemrose, G J V, 'Transactions of the North Staffordshire Field Club' in St. Thomas' Priory and Tixall, , Vol. 80, (1946), 88
Lynam, C, 'Transactions of the North Staffordshire Field Club' in A Visit of Discovery to St. Thomas' Priory, Stafford, (1878), 58
Staffs. Sites and Monuments Record,
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.
End of official listing