St Leonard's Priory immediately adjacent to the Church of St Mary and St Leonard, Wombridge
- Heritage Category:
- Scheduled Monument
- List Entry Number:
- Date first listed:
- Date of most recent amendment:
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This copy shows the entry on 24-Oct-2019 at 05:35:45.
The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
- Telford and Wrekin (Unitary Authority)
- National Grid Reference:
- SJ 69122 11626
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.
Although much of the area of St Leonard's Priory has been extensively disturbed since the 18th century, the structural remains of the Lady Chapel survive reasonably well. The small-scale archaeological excavation has demonstrated the nature and extent of this building, and that structural features survive intact. These features will provide evidence for the use and development of the chapel over time. In the area immediately south of the chapel associated structural features are expected to survive well as buried features. In addition, the surviving skeletal remains of the medieval clergy will provide significant information about the living conditions, diet, health and funerary practices of a discrete medieval community. The importance of the site is enhanced by documentary sources, which provide information about priory life and the changing use of the site since the Dissolution.
The monument includes the known surviving extent of the standing structural
and buried remains of St Leonard's Priory, an Augustinian monastery, situated
at the top of the southern side of a shallow valley on the outskirts of the
modern village of Wombridge.
St Leonard's Priory was founded by William de Hadley in about 1130. The church
was damaged by fire shortly before 1232 and the king granted four oaks for its
rebuilding. Grants for the quarrying of stone indicate that building work took
several decades. A new Lady Chapel (a chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary) had
recently been completed by 1328. Documentary sources indicate that the priory
was small. From the early 14th century onwards there were rarely more than
four canons with a prior. Royal charters from about 1181 and papal bulls from
1187, together with numerous deeds, show that the canons were continuously
expanding their land holdings. All the major estates belonging to the priory
lay within about 20km of Wombridge. During the early 16th century income
dervived from agrarian activities was being supplemented by profits from coal
mining and iron working.
St Leonard's Priory was dissolved with the smaller monasteries in the region
in 1536. In the mid-16th century the priory and its demesnes (land holdings)
were sold to William Charlton, the priory's chief steward at the time of the
Dissolution. The gatehouse to the priory was used as the Charlton residence,
and is referred to as Wombridge Hall in the late 17th century. The priory
church continued to be used for worship after the Dissolution, but by the
mid-17th century it appears to have been in a ruinous condition. Parts of the
building were subsequently used for other purposes: for example, Mary, wife
of Lord Francis Charlton, used it as a coach house, and her tenants pounded
cattle there. Between 1693-98 the base of the `steeple', was used by the
tenant as a cart house. By then other parts of the priory, including the
chancel, had fallen down or had been demolished and the materials employed in
the building work nearby at Apley Castle. The last part of the priory to
remain in use for worship was the Lady Chapel, situated at the eastern end of
the former church. However, it was devastated during a storm in 1756, and soon
afterwards a new church was constructed to the west of the remains of the Lady
Chapel on the site of the priory church. This new building was enlarged and
largely rebuilt in stone in the 19th century. It continues to serve as the
parish church and is not included in the scheduling.
In 1931 a small-scale archaeological excavation was undertaken to the east of
the present church, which revealed the substantial remains of the Lady Chapel.
The bases of pillars were found at the western end of the building, together
with a piscina (a basin for washing items used in Communion or Mass) and an
ornate stone bracket. The chapel floor was paved with decorated tiles and to
the east the stone Lady Altar was discovered in situ. The Lady Chapel is still
partially visible as a standing structure. It is rectangular in plan, built of
stone, and measures approximately 12m north-south by 26m east-west. The walls
forming the the northern and eastern sides stand to a height of 1m, while the
southern wall, which acts as a revetment to the ground to the south, stands to
a height of 1.7m. More recent brickwork lines the internal face of this wall.
Several graves dating to the 18th and 19th centuries have been dug within the
interior of the chapel and in the area immediately to the south.
Limited archaeological excavations undertaken in 1931 to the south of the road
which bisects the priory site, focused on the buildings associated with the
priory church. Here, the remains of the clostiers and the foundations of the
infirmary and gatehouse were discovered. Further remains of priory buildings
were visible in the 1960s among the farm buildings that occupied this area. In
1967, prior to the redevelopment of the area for housing, a small
archaeological excavation was undertaken and a humic deposit, of probable
medieval date, was found. As the buried remains of the priory lying within
this area are very disturbed they are not included in the scheduling.
The grave memorials, the surface of the paths and the stone kerbs defining the
paths are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath all 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
The Victoria History of the County of Shropshire: Volume II, (1973), 80-83
The Victoria History of the County of Shropshire: Volume XI, (1985), 290-91
Cartlidge, J E G, The Vale and Gates of Usc-Con, (1982), 49-53
Gask, J, 'Shropshire Newsletter' in Wombridge Priory, , Vol. 29, (1965), 5
Information in the County SMR, Rowley, R T, Wombridge Farm, Shropshire, (1967)
Jones, R E, A Short History of the Parish and Church of St Mary & St Leonard, Booklet produced by the church
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