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Statutory Address:

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

East Hertfordshire (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:
TL 35551 14312



TL3514SE HIGH STREET 829-1/9/137 (South side) 08/05/50 The Priory (Ware Town Council Offices and Community Centre)


Medieval Franciscan friary, later house, then local government offices, restored as Ware Town Council Offices, Community Centre and restaurant. C14 and mid to late C15, becoming a private house 1544 after dissolution, altered mid C18, rebuilt after 1849 (George Godwin, Architect), and extended late C19. Converted to offices for the former Ware Urban District Council 1920s and restored as local Council Offices and Community Centre 1993-94 (Donald Insall and Associates, Architects). MATERIALS: chalk blocks, stucco covered, part flint rubble with ashlar quoins, gabled and hipped roofs, covered with old tiles (northern and eastern slopes) and machine tiles (southern slopes). Brick chimneystacks, C18 and C19. PLAN/EXTERIOR: the surviving complex comprises the following buildings of the Ware Friary: together with the southern range, the frater behind and over the cloister (now the east wing) and the west or 'guestern' wing, above and extending west of the cloister. 2 storeys and attics with north facing gable, and a set back left hand range, creating an L-plan with an attached right hand range, extending in line with the north front. Investigation by the Hertfordshire Archaeological Trust during the building operations in 1993-94 confirmed that the west wing was the first built, and its surviving fabric was consistent with the founding date of 1338. The frater and cloister were subsequently butted against the west wing, entailing the removal of a projecting oriel on the first floor of its east front. This building phase appears to date from mid C15. The first floor of the left hand (east) range has 6 sash windows with glazing bars, recessed in reveals, ground floor with 5 segmental-headed late C15 windows, second from right blocked, flanked by 2 partly blocked. These windows mark the north arcade of the cloisters, with deep hollow moulded jambs and extrados inside and out. Triple light, moulded mullions, with cusped trefoil lancet heads. A similar window on the left hand east elevation is a copy made by Godwin c1850, while another on the north wing immediately right of the entrance was opened up after 1867. 2 further arched openings, without tracery, remain within the entrance hall in the south-west corner of the cloister. 2 attic dormers with sashes, under hipped old tiled roofs. The left hand (east) elevation of the central range, has one first floor sash window and one dormer with sashes under a hipped old tiled roof. Entrance porch in re-entrant, by Godwin c1850, single storey with lead flat roof, stucco faced, reproduces hollow and roll moulding from cloister windows, with re-set early C17 door, with studded nails, raised mouldings and 2 central raised panels. Raised lancet windows with leaded central lights, left and right of doorway. Central projecting gable has 2 recessed sash windows with glazing bars on first floor (with heavy mid C18 quadrant bars), 3 recessed sash windows with glazing bars on ground floor and one nearly flush set attic sash window, with glazing bars. Right hand (west) wing stucco faced. First floor with 3 widely spaced two-light windows, with moulded mullions and cusped trefoil heads, with moulded jambs and moulded flat heads, beneath projecting dripmoulds; centre and right hand window appear to be heavily restored C15 originals, left hand a copy by Godwin. Ground floor has 5 irregularly spaced windows of similar type, left hand window immediately below sill of first floor window, remainder lower set, and longer than on first floor. The second and third from left may retain some C15 fabric, the remainder are copies by Godwin. All windows contain recessed wooden casements with glazing bars, and pointed heads. Below ground floor left hand window is a cusped quatrefoil opening, with an iron grille, C15, chalk, said to be an alms window. Angle buttresses at west end of range. South elevation, largely stucco-covered, facing towards the river, has left hand (west) wing set back, former walled kitchen yard, cleared and rebuilt 1993-94 with single storey kitchen suite and large projecting steel-framed conservatory to form restaurant. First floor has 3 first floor restored 2-light C15 windows, with moulded jambs and head, mullion and trefoil cusped heads, under projecting moulded dripmoulds, projecting buttress with offset cap between second and third windows. C19 and C20 alterations on ground floor, with central pointed-arched doorway. Central gable; first floor with 3 recessed sash windows with glazing bars, attic with flush-set sash windows with exposed boxes. Ground floor has 4-light mullion and transom central casement window, in earlier opening, with splayed reveals to interior, and one recessed sash window with glazing bars. Right hand (east) wing first floor has 3 widely spaced recessed sash windows with glazing bars. Ground floor has garden entrance at left; recessed semi-circular half-glazed late C18 door, with glazing bars and 'Gothick' pointed heads, with original hinged shutter internally. 2 mid C19 French windows with divided glazing, and twin fanlights above transom, and at right, restored C15 window with 2-lights, beneath flat projecting dripmould head. Projecting buttresses with 2 offsets at left hand adjoining gable and to right of garden door, and vestige of large projecting chimney (demolished by Godwin c1850), with 4 splayed offsets. Right hand 2 storey southward projection remodelled 1892. Projecting 5 sided corner oriel window at first floor with moulded stone corbel, projecting bold plastered cove, plastered spandrel, with incised ornament, and date, casement window, with glazing bars, and transom, incised ornament above head, with initials 'R W' (Robert Walters, owner), and polygonal tiled roof above. First floor plastered, pebbledashed and colourwashed. Ground floor has flint rubble facing, and ashlar quoins, plinth, window surrounds, and first floor band. At extreme right is billiard room, built 1892 for Robert Walters. Single storey, with projecting multi-light mullioned bay windows, old tiled roof with bonnet hips, and timber, glazed central lantern rooflight. East projecting tile-roofed porch added 1994. INTERIOR: the entrance hall contains the south-west corner of the cloisters, with 2 segmental-arched openings, with deep hollow mouldings, meeting on a corner pier. At the rear of the pier is a C14 3-centred arch, with chamfered head, supported on a carved grotesque and a moulded corbel. The door to the store room to the south is set within a chamfered pointed arch in chalk masonry. To the left, off the entrance hall, the large meeting room (the Main Hall) has the range of partly blocked mullioned windows of the cloisters, with C19 painted and stained glass in lead cames. Initials 'H G' in roundel in head of second window from left indicate [Martin] Hadsley Gosselin, who restored The Priory from 1850. The long beam in the ceiling reveals the position of the inner wall of the cloister, part of which survived until early C20, and was removed by Ware UDC after 1920. During the 1993-94 restoration traces of a trompe l'oeil Gothic decorative scheme were found on the north and west walls and have been stabilised and left exposed. A fragment of C15 painting has been exposed in the south window embrasure. To the south of the entrance hall is the principal stair, mid C18, fitted alongside a semi-basement, used as a wine-cellar in C19. The stair is dogleg in plan, rising between walls to the first half-landing, thereafter open string pattern, with brackets and moulded tread nosings and returns, column on vase balusters, and ramped moulded handrails. On the first floor landing a stone window head above the later sash window was exposed during the building work of 1993-94. To right of entrance hall is the principal room of the west wing, the dining room of the house C18, and used by Ware UDC as a Council Chamber from 1920-1974. Large triple-light C15 window restored early C20, three sash windows with shutters. C18 panelling, raised and fielded, moulded dado rail, heavy moulded wood cornice. Chimney-piece with a shouldered architrave fire surround, moulded shelf, and overmantel flanked by fluted Tuscan columns, with fluted fascia above, and modillion cornice. C19 ceiling of octagonal panels defined by moulded frames. Adjoining room, former Mayor's Parlour, has vernacular C18 panelling, brought in by Godwin, c1850, from a Somerset church. Built-in safe by Charles Wells, Ware, dated 1849. The remainder of the west wing was subdivided by Godwin into service rooms. The central wall subdividing this wing is of medieval origin, and contains a pointed arched doorway with plain chamfered jamb and arch, plastered, and forming a cupboard recess. This appears to have been rebuilt by Godwin from fabric demolished elsewhere. In the room used as a ladies wc before 1974 there was a stone tablet inscribed 'The temple of ease, 1756'. Early C19 engravings record that this part of the building was brought under a lean-to catslide roof, and the position of the main water closet was shown to be in this vicinity on the 1867 sale plans. The tablet was reset in the entrance to the conservatory restaurant in 1994. On the first floor several rooms in the west wing retain heavy moulded C18 cornices. 2 rooms in the east wing (now Greyfriars Suite) contain C17 panelling, part reset due to subsequent creation of the corridor to the south. The Ware Town Council Chamber, the principal room in the centre, facing south, has an early/mid C19 cornice with a modelled acanthus frieze and a guilloche ceiling border. On the first floor of the west wing the 2 eastern bays remained open as a 'guestern hall' or dorter until 1849, shortly after when it was subdivided by Godwin, to form bedrooms, with servants' attic rooms above. It had exposed tie-beams, and late C14/early C15 octagonal crown posts, with moulded bases and caps, with fore and aft bracing to a central collar purlin lateral collar bracing, and an exposed timber waggon roof, with scissor trussed rafters above. The mid C19 alterations removed one crown post, and part (in the western attic) of another, but the first (east) post remained exposed in the east attic, with part of its tie-beam. The next post westwards also remained, but is plain in section suggesting the existence of a partition, possibly forming a solar. The waggon roof was plastered over, but the scissor-trussed rafters, and collars, remained with some evidence of smoke-blackening. The crown post in the west end with its downward curved bracing appeared to survive, as indicated prior 1993-4 by pattern staining of the stucco of the gable end. In the 1993-4 restoration, the two-room pattern of the first floor of the west (guestern) wing was reinstated. The west room (Clare Room) had been ceiled C17 at tie-beam level, and the attic above, where the crown post structure had already been removed, was sealed off. The Hadsley Room was completely reinstated as a 2 bay open upper hall, with a free-standing crown post on the central tie beam, and the crown post structure of each end was restored. The central crown post is octagonal, with moulded base and cap, with 4 way curved bracing. the ceiling above is of a polygonal waggon profile following the scissor rafters of the roof structure. The roof over the central wing retains the scissor-trusses over the north end, but at the south has been replaced by C17 carpentry. In the east wing, creation of the attics (now Bowsher Suite) entailed removal of the crown post structures, but the collar purlin remains exposed at the west end, with a filled mortice for the end bracing, and a portion of the original east gable end of the roof, with close studding, and downward curved bracing. The scissor-trussed rafters survive above the plastered attic ceilings. HISTORICAL NOTE: Ware Priory is an C18 misnomer for the Franciscan house, given to Friars Minor of Ware by Thomas, Lord Wake of Liddell in 1338. The situation of Ware on the historic Ermine Street brought travellers and mendicant friars seeking lodgings. The complex probably included a Friary church, located to the north of the cloister, and excavations for drain trenches in 1954 and 1977 revealed the remains of a large stone building, confirmed during further excavations in 1993-94. The Duke of York, father of Edward IV and Richard III lodged in the Friary after the Battle of St Albans in 1455. In 1544 the Friary was sold to Robert Byrche, and converted to a private house. During the Commonwealth, the building was leased to Sir Richard Fanshawe, Secretary of War to the Prince of Wales, later Charles II. In 1685, the house was sold to Robert Hadsley of Great Munden, in whose family it remained until 1868. Probably between 1740 and 1765, during the tenure of his son, also Robert Hadlsey, the C18 alterations, including the staircase, panelling, and installation of sash windows were carried out. In 1847, ownership passed to Martin Hadsley Gosselin, who consulted the architect George Godwin, editor of The Builder, who prepared plans for alterations, involving the reinstatement of the Cloisters as a long gallery, and the conversion of the west wing to a service wing. These plans were only partly implemented, and the alterations are described above. In 1892 Robert Walters added the Billiards Room, and remodelled the south-east wing. In 1913, after his death, the building was acquired by Mrs Elizabeth Anne Croft, of Fanhams Hall outside Ware. Mrs Croft was the only child of Ware's richest maltster, Henry Page. During the First World War The Priory was used as a convalescent hospital. In 1920, Mrs Croft leased the building and grounds to Ware Urban District Council for 999 years at 3 shillings (15p) per annum. The Council used the building as its offices until 1974, when it passed to the East Hertfordshire District Council, the successor authority, to be returned to the Ware Town Council in 1979, to be administered by the Ware Priory Trustees, who commenced restoration in 1993-94. The setting of The Priory includes a reach of the River Lea, and grounds laid out in the picturesque Loudon style in the early C19. Prior to the 1950s, when Ware UDC opened out the frontage to High Street, the main entrance was from Priory Street, where a boundary wall, with a wide Tudor arch housed substantial studded timber carriage and pedestrian gates, removed for storage, and which subsequently disappeared. Property owned as ancillary to The Priory included The Lodge, No.89 High Street (qv) and a Gardener's cottage, now No.37 Priory Street, with a barn behind (qv). (Heath C: The Book of Ware. A Portrait of the Town: Chesham: 1977-: 41-4; 46-51; Hunt EM: The History of Ware: Hertford: 1986-: 84-94; The Buildings of England: Pevsner N & Cherry B: Hertfordshire: Harmondsworth: 1977-: 22; 378; RCHME: Hertfordshire: London: 1910-: 228-9; Smith JT: English Houses 1200-1800; The Hertfordshire Evidence: London: 1992-: 177-8; The Victorian County History of the County of Hertford: London: 1912-: 392; The Builder : VII: London: 1849-: 342; Godwin G: Plans of Ware Priory: 1849-: 9; 11; Hewlings R: The Priory, Ware Herts: 1982-).

Listing NGR: TL3555114312


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

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Books and journals
Doubleday, A, The Victoria History of the County of Hertford, (1912), 392
Heath, C, The Book of Ware A Portrait of the Town, (1977), 41-4
Heath, C, The Book of Ware A Portrait of the Town, (1977), 46-51
Hewlings, R , The Priory Ware Hertfordshire, (1982)
Hunt, E M, The History of Ware 1986-1946, (1986), 84-94
Pevsner, N, Cherry, B, The Buildings of England: Hertfordshire, (1977), 22
Pevsner, N, Cherry, B, The Buildings of England: Hertfordshire, (1977), 378
Smith, J T, English Houses 1200-1800 The Hertfordshire Evidence, (1992), 177-8
'The Builder' in The Builder, , Vol. 7, (1849), 342
Inventory of the Historical Monuments of Hertfordshire, (1910)


This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

End of official listing

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Date: 17 Jul 2001
Reference: IOE01/03902/01
Rights: Copyright IoE Mr A. Gude. Source Historic England Archive
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