St James's Priory


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
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Date first listed:
Date of most recent amendment:


Ordnance survey map of St James's Priory
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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 protection.

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.

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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

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