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:
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Ordnance survey map of St Leonard's Priory immediately adjacent to the Church of St Mary and St Leonard, Wombridge
© Crown Copyright and database right 2019. All rights reserved. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100024900.
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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.

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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

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