Medieval secular college at Parsonage Farm
- 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.
- South Somerset (District Authority)
- Stoke Sub Hamdon
- National Grid Reference:
- ST 47324 17440
Reasons for Designation
The term college is used to describe a variety of different types of
establishment whose communities of secular clergy shared a degree of common
life less strictly controlled than that within a monastic order. Although some
may date to as early as the tenth century, the majority of English colleges
were founded in the 14th or 15th centuries. Most were subsequently closed down
under the Chantries Act of 1547.
Colleges of the prebendal or portional type were set up as secular chapters,
both as an alternative to the structure of contemporary monastic houses and to
provide positions for clerics whose services the monastic establishment wished
to reward. Some barons followed suit by setting up colleges within their
castles, while others were founded by the Crown for the canons who served
royal free chapels. Foundations of this type were generally staffed by
prebends or portioners (priests taking their income from the tithes, or other
income deriving from a village or manor). After 1300, chantry colleges became
more common. These were establishments of priests, financed from a common
fund, whose prime concern was to offer masses for the souls of the patron and
the patron's family. They may also have housed bedesmen (deserving poor and
elderly) and provided an educational facility which in some cases eventually
came to dominate their other activities.
From historical sources it is known that approximately 300 separate colleges
existed during the early medieval and medieval period; of these, 167 were in
existence in 1509, made up of 71 prebendal or portional colleges, 64 chantry
colleges and 32 whose function was primarily academic.
In view of the importance of colleges in contributing to our understanding of
ecclesiastical history, and given the rarity of known surviving examples, all
identified colleges which retain surviving archaeological remains are
considered to be nationally important.
The great hall forms the major part of the secular college known as The Priory. It is a particularly well-preserved example of its class of monument and retains most of its original medieval structure and plan. The site is on public display and is associated with contemporary documentary references which relate both to the foundation of the secular college and its subsequent survival. Both buried and extant remains of the monument will provide evidence about the lives of the inhabitants of the college and the duties which they undertook.
The monument includes a secular college which comprises a medieval great
hall and a group of buildings of medieval origin which together are known
as The Priory. The college is located on the west side of North Street and
includes the uninhabited parts of a Listed Grade I house which forms the
great hall, a medieval enclosing wall and gateway, two extant barns, the
remains of a third barn, and a dovecote.
The secular college was founded in 1304 by Sir John Beauchamp to house a
small number of priests attached to the chantry chapel of St Nicholas
which stood as a private chapel within the grounds of nearby Beauchamp
Manor House. The Beauchamps had held the manor of Stoke since at least the
12th century and it is believed that they acquired, or more likely,
already owned the house of the chapel's rector upon which they founded
their college following the resignation of the rector, Henry de Wyk, in
the same year of 1304. The new college was initially licensed for five
chaplains, one of whom was to act as Provost (head of college).
Documentary sources indicate that the buildings had fallen into disrepair
by 1444 when their restoration was ordered by the Bishop of Bath and
Wells, Thomas Bekynton, but the Priory remained in ecclesiastical use
until its suppression in 1548. The great hall and its associated farm
buildings subsequently became a tenanted farm known as Parsonage Farm from
the mid-19th century. The parts of the college included within this
scheduling are the great hall together with its porch, screens passage,
and an annexe attached to the south west. The inhabited parts of the
private house which are located to the east and south east are not
included in the scheduling. The great hall represents the earliest
construction of the house which mostly dates from the 15th century,
although it retains some 14th century features, including several
ogee-headed arches. It may also retain some elements of 13th century date.
It is single-storied with an exposed timber arch-braced, collar-beam roof,
unplastered walls and irregular stone-slab floor. Several structural
changes took place in the 16th and 17th centuries including the insertion
of an upper floor (removed in the 20th century) and the addition of
further stone-mullioned window openings. A small blocked arched doorway
set in the wall to the east of the fireplace is believed to be 14th
century or earlier.
An annexe, which has been interpreted as a chapel or oratory, is accessed
through a doorway in the south wall of the great hall and is similarly
exposed to the roof. The monument also includes an open area, which formed
an integral part of the original college precinct. This is located in the
area formed by the south wall of the Great Hall and the west wall of the
range of buildings which extend southwards and are now occupied as a
Several farm buildings which supported the college community are located
to the north and west of the great hall. All are Listed at Grade II and
all are constructed from cut and squared local Ham stone. The largest of
these farm buildings is a barn, located 25m north west of the great hall,
with a thatched gabled roof and porch on the east side. Three ventilation
slits are located in the south gable and also several dove-holes and a
blocked vent, and on the west side a pair of gable-high timber doors with
two ventilation slits either side and five staggered buttresses. A
ventilation slit, buttress and boarded doorway are located on the north
side. It was constructed as a threshing barn in the 15th century; the roof
and porch are an 18th century rebuild. The remains of a former barn
aligned from east to west is located 25m south west of the large barn and
dates from the 15th or 16th century. The building is now roofless although
both gable ends are intact. The north wall is an 18th century rebuild with
a small extension attached to the south wall. A small lancet light with a
cusped head located in the east end gable may be of 14th century date
possibly reused from the 15th century reconstruction of the great hall
porch. An extant barn is located 14m north of the great hall. It is
aligned from north to south and its east wall forms part of the boundary
which encloses the eastern side of the secular college buildings. The
present building is essentially of 18th century construction but appears
to incorporate earlier sections of masonry. The barn, which, it has been
suggested, was probably constructed originally as a stable block, is
single storied with an attic or loft above. The west face has two timber
doors with heavy frames and identical shuttered windows either side and
above. The east side which fronts the road is plain with two buttresses
towards the south end. The thatched roof is modern.
A dovecote which is identified as being of probable 14th century
date lies adjacent to the west end of the smaller ruinous barn. Now
roofless, it is circular in plan with four equidistant buttresses rising
almost to roof level and has a low moulded arched doorway set into the
north side and a square window at roof level on the south side.
Also included in the monument are a 15th century gateway and wall, which
are Listed Grade II, the gateway forming the entrance into the secular
college complex. The wall is constructed from squared Ham stone and is 15m
in length and approximately 5m high and topped with stepped, angled
coping. The gateway is situated just to the north of centre and is formed
by a three-centre arch of the same height as the wall and is 3.7m wide. A
lower pointed-arch postern gate which is now blocked, is located next to
the north side of the main archway.
The open fronted shelter located 50m north of the great hall together with
all modern gates and gateposts, fences and fence posts, all information
display board supports, and drain covers 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
Brebner, P, The Priory, Stoke sub Hamdon Historic Building Survey, (2000)
Ireland, P, The Priory, (1979)
Page, W, The Victoria History of the County of Somerset, (1974), 241
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