St James's Priory
- Heritage Category:
- Scheduled Monument
- List Entry Number:
- Date first listed:
- Date of most recent amendment:
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
- Dudley (Metropolitan Authority)
- National Grid Reference:
- SO 94314 90889
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
The monastic remains of St James's Priory in Dudley survive well as undisturbed standing and buried features, including the remains of a range of claustral buildings and evidence for a series of moats and ponds. These will provide evidence for the development and decline of a small alien priory over time. As well as providing dateable material, building remains and buried artefacts will also provide an insight into the priory's relationship with the castle, the medieval town and its distant mother house, further demonstrating the complexity of social interaction at a small monastic establishment throughout the Middle Ages. The buried remains of the fishponds and associated ancillary buildings will demonstrate both technological innovations and agricultural practices from the period, whilst environmental deposits preserved in the pond silts will provide evidence for both the agricultural regime and the surrounding natural environment. Remains of later industrial activity preserved at the site will provide valuable evidence for the reuse of the monastic complex and indications of early use of technology and industrial development in the Black Country.
The monument includes the buried, standing and earthwork remains of St James's
Priory, located in public open space on a low lying plain north west of Dudley
Castle and north of the original extent of the medieval borough.
A cell of the Cluniac Priory in Much Wenlock and dedicated to St James, the
priory was founded in around 1160 by Gervaise Paganel, then Lord of Dudley
Castle. The Foundation Charter states that the priory was largely supported by
income from a number of parish churches as well as owning two half hides of
land and various rights of pasture.
The castle estates provided a tithe of bread, venison and fish, as well as
rights to take wood for building and other needs. Throughout its history the
priory remained dependent for its survival upon its mother house at Much
Wenlock and Dudley Castle. Its major function was to provide a place of burial
for the lords of the castle and hospitality, acting as a guesthouse for the
castle. The population of the priory is never thought to have exceeded around
five monks and a prior. When the priory was dissolved in the 1530s it was
valued at 36 pounds and 8 shillings. In 1545 the estate was granted to Sir
John Dudley, and the church and buildings fell into decay. The site was later
used for various industrial purposes, including a tannery, a water mill and an
iron works. The remains of a large kiln inserted in the western range survive
from this industrial period. Early maps and illustrations of the ruined priory
and its estates demonstrate that it had a semi-moated appearance being
surrounded on at least three sides by large fishponds and mill pools.
The first evidence for stone buildings date from the 12th century with
extensions and refurbishments during the 13th and 14th century. In contrast to
the rich quality of building at the mother house, most of the buildings at
Dudley Priory are architecturally plain. Although during the late 14th century
John Sutton, Lord of Dudley bequeathed 20 pounds for his burial within a
suitable tomb, and a very fine stone vaulted chapel of three bays was built on
the south side of the choir.
The standing remains include the church, which has an aisleless nave
constructed of grey rubble with a 13th century red sandstone west door and
sandstone dressings to the windows. The walls stand approximately 3m-4m high.
Beyond the remains of the crossing, the chancel survives largely as footings
and foundations. The cloister and associated monastic buildings lie to the
north of the church and include remains of the spiral night stairs
approximately 2m high at the east end; most of the complex survives as
footings and foundations measuring up to 0.5m high. The remains of the priory
are Listed Grade I.
Landscaping of the modern Priory Park has masked much of the earthwork remains
of the priory, however, to the west of the building range a long low earthen
bank identified as `Priory Dam' on early maps is believed to be the remains of
one of the retaining dams for the fishponds. This dam measures up to 0.5m high
and 1.5m wide and extends for up to 20m. In addition, archaeological recording
during landscaping of the park margins in the late 1980s revealed remains
believed to be of a further fishpond, and the eastern edge of the main island
upon which the priory stood. Located at the eastern side of the priory, 10m
from the church was evidence for a substantial revetment wall with deep silt
deposits on its western side. Further remains of the ponds and ancillary
buildings associated with their exploitation, during both its medieval and
industrial period of use, are believed to survive as buried features in the
open space surrounding the priory buildings on all sides.
All modern roads and paths, surfaces and park furniture 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:
- Legacy System:
Books and journals
County Borough of Dudley, (1974), 104-5
Boland, P, Dudley , St James Priory, (1991), 93
history, Chandler, and Hannah,, Dudley, (1949)
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