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The Benedictine priory and precinct of St Mary, Nuneaton

A Scheduled Monument in Abbey, Warwickshire

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Latitude: 52.5253 / 52°31'31"N

Longitude: -1.4777 / 1°28'39"W

OS Eastings: 435529.807985

OS Northings: 292064.210063

OS Grid: SP355920

Mapcode National: GBR 6KP.R5Y

Mapcode Global: VHBWD.BSMG

Entry Name: The Benedictine priory and precinct of St Mary, Nuneaton

Scheduled Date: 25 September 1954

Last Amended: 5 December 1991

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1011033

English Heritage Legacy ID: 17005

County: Warwickshire

Electoral Ward/Division: Abbey

Built-Up Area: Nuneaton

Traditional County: Warwickshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Warwickshire

Church of England Parish: Nuneaton St Mary

Church of England Diocese: Coventry


St Mary's Abbey and precinct is a Benedictine priory, divided into two
areas by Manor Court Road. The eastern area consists of the remains of the
abbey complex and part of the precinct; the western area includes part of the
outer precinct. Both areas occupy the southern part of the complex; the
precincts are believed to extend under housing further northwards although
their full extent is currently unknown.
The priory church lies in the eastern area and occupies the highest part of
the site. The church would have formed one side of a range of buildings
enclosing an inner court. Further buildings were placed outside the main
rectangular complex, and the whole priory was enclosed by a bank boundary.
Little remains of the original 12th century church except the four massive
piers which supported the central tower. These are incorporated within the
mainly Victorian parish church now standing on the site. On one side of the
church, part of the eastern range of buildings belonging to the Chapter house
survives as above ground remains, while the foundations of further walls have
been traced in excavations of this area. Except for one piece of wall,
neither the southern or eastern ranges survive above ground. To the east of
the main complex, in what is now the Abbey meadow, are the buried remains of
the infirmary, while the perimeter of the priory is represented by an earthen
bank in the south-eastern corner of the site. The area to the west of Manor
Court Road contains the remains of the second part of the outer precinct where
documentary sources record the presence of several houses, barns, a
tilemaker's workshop and the Abbey mill.
St Mary's was one of only four Fontevraultine houses in England, and was
large, with as many as 93 nuns in 1234. It declined in the later medieval
period, and the number of nuns was only 23 in 1507. The priory was finally
closed in 1539, along with many others at the Dissolution, the manor being
granted to Sir Marmaduke Constable in 1540. In 1876, the site was returned to
ecclesiastical ownership, when it was sold by the lord of the manor, and a new
church was built on the ruins of the medieval priory. Excluded from the
scheduling are: the church which is a grade II listed building; the
new vicarage fronting Bottrill Street; the old vicarage building fronting
Manor Court Road; Manor Court old peoples' home and the garages in the
grounds. The ground beneath all these features is included in the scheduling.

The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

A nunnery was a settlement built to sustain a community of religious women.
Its main buildings were constructed to provide facilities for worship,
accommodation and subsistence. The main elements are the church and domestic
buildings arranged around a cloister. This central enclosure may be
accompanied by an outer court and gatehouse, the whole bounded by a precinct
wall, earthworks or moat. Outside the enclosure, fishponds, mills, field
systems, stock enclosures and barns may occur. The earliest English nunneries
were founded in the seventh century AD but most of these had fallen out of use
by the ninth century. A small number of these were later refounded. The tenth
century witnessed the foundation of some new houses but the majority of
medieval nunneries were established from the late 11th century onwards.
Nunneries were established by most of the major religious orders of the time,
including the Benedictines, Cistercians, Augustinians, Franciscans and
Dominicans. It is known from documentary sources that at least 153 nunneries
existed in England, of which the precise locations of only around 100 sites
are known. Few sites have been examined in detail and as a rare and poorly
understood medieval monument type all examples exhibiting survival of
archaeological remains are worthy of protection.

St Mary's Priory, Nuneaton was one of only four Benedictine nunneries in
England identified as belonging to the important Abbey of Fontevrault. The
preservation of the ground plan indicates that this was a high status
institution supporting a sizeable religious population in the medieval period.
It is also one of the few surviving nunneries with a church and outer precinct
complex which is preserved in a fully urban context.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Andrews, D, Cook, A, Quant, V, Thorn, J C, Thorn, E A, 'Transactions of the Birmingham & Warwickshire Arch. Society' in The Archaeology and Topography of Nuneaton Priory, , Vol. 91, (1981)

Source: Historic England

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