Medieval secular college at Parsonage Farm


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
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Ordnance survey map of Medieval secular college at Parsonage Farm
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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 private dwelling. 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.

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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

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