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Prittlewell Priory

A Scheduled Monument in Prittlewell, Southend-on-Sea

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Latitude: 51.5535 / 51°33'12"N

Longitude: 0.7063 / 0°42'22"E

OS Eastings: 587716.71279

OS Northings: 187320.38993

OS Grid: TQ877873

Mapcode National: GBR Y8L.2M

Mapcode Global: VHKHM.667X

Entry Name: Prittlewell Priory

Scheduled Date: 26 June 1924

Last Amended: 2 December 1998

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1018452

English Heritage Legacy ID: 29418

County: Southend-on-Sea

Electoral Ward/Division: Prittlewell

Built-Up Area: Southend-on-Sea

Traditional County: Essex

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Essex

Church of England Parish: Prittlewell St Mary Virgin

Church of England Diocese: Chelmsford


The monument includes the buried and visible remains of the Cluniac Priory of
St Mary, which lie alongside the Prittle Brook within a public park (Priory
Park) in the Prittlewell district of Southend-on-Sea.

The priory church and the majority of the conventual buildings survive only as
foundations and buried remains, although portions of the south and west arms
of the claustral range (which formed a square to the south of the church)
still stand, retained within a post-Dissolution country house which now serves
as the Priory Museum.

The first religious building at Prittlewell, a small wooden oratory, was
replaced by a stone church around 1150. This was partly excavated in the
1920s and its outline, 50m-60m in length with an apsidal chancel and side
chapels to the south, can still be traced from exposed sections of the
foundations which remain on display within the lawns to the north east of the
museum. The priory range was enlarged from 1180 onwards with the refectory,
chapter house, dorter (monks' dormitory) and other buildings arranged around
the cloister garth at this time.

The Priory Museum (a Grade I Listed Building which is excluded from the
scheduling, although the ground beneath is included) retains substantial
elements of the priory range - principally the 12th century refectory and 14th
century prior's chambers which, respectively, formed parts of the southern and
western arms of the claustral range. The 14th century prior's chamber, built
from local septaria and chalk rubble (mostly refaced with brick in the 19th
century) retains an original crown post roof and overlies earlier cellars. The
refectory (the monks' dining room) also retains a fine crown post roof of the
early 15th century, although apparently reset over a structure which was
mainly demolished and rebuilt after the Dissolution. Only the north wall of
the refectory is original. This contains a restored arched doorway (next to an
earlier blocked version) and a single original lancet window. A reset moulding
marks the probable position of a raised lectern from which the lessons would
have been read during meals. In 1985 excavations following a service trench to
the south of the refectory revealed fragments of walls and a hearth
interpreted as evidence for the site of the kitchen.

In addition to those buildings mentioned above, the Commissioners' Inventory
at the time of the Dissolution refers to `New, Lombardy, Italy and Pennys'
chambers, butler's and porter's chambers, a pantry, a bakehouse and a
brewhouse. Some of these structures, like the inevitable reredorter (latrine)
and probable infirmary, may have been attached to the claustral range,
although their precise locations have yet to be determined. Others
(particularly the service buildings) may have been detached, although still
enclosed within the precinct which isolated the priory from the secular world.
The existence of the precinct (and almost certainly a gatehouse) is supported
by documentary evidence and, although details are not recorded, its broad
extent is evident on the ground. The clearest estimation of the precinct is
that propounded by Leonard Helliwell, the former Borough Librarian and
Curator, in 1959. His interpretation remains substantially unchallenged and
is largely adopted for the purposes of this scheduling. The site of the
gatehouse is tentatively identified with the junction of park roads
immediately to the south east of the tennis courts, and the precinct boundary
is believed to have run north from this point, following a line perpetuated by
the road which flanks the western side of the prior's chamber. The boundary is
thought to have surrounded the hollow to the west of the former church before
turning to the east to contain the locations of the monastic and lay
cemeteries which are believed to underlie the sunken ornamental gardens on the
north side of the former church. The precinct boundary then crossed to the
east side of the Prittle Brook where the course can be seen to follow a series
of partly infilled channels which may have been intended to drain this low-
lying area as well as to define the limits of the priory. These channels led
south towards a pair of large monastic fishponds, revetted, cleaned and
incorporated within the landscaping of the municipal park. The boundary is
thought to have re- crossed the brook to the south of the southern pond (where
Helliwell noted slight traces of wall foundations), returning to the putative
site of the gatehouse.

The religious community, a dependant house of the Cluniac Priory of St Pancras
at Lewes, was founded on land to the north east of the medieval village of
Prittlewell by Robert fitz Suen in 1110. Although the priory at no time
contained more than 18 monks, it was endowed with a number of churches and
properties by its founder, and gained considerable influence as a result of
this and the gifts from his descendants. The priory was suppressed during the
Dissolution of minor houses in 1536 and sold, together with all its lands and
appurtenances, to Thomas Audley (the Lord Chancellor's brother). By the time
the estate was resold to Richard, Lord Rich, ten years later, the majority of
buildings were probably already demolished and the prior's lodging and
refectory converted into a substantial farm house. The estate, subsequently
divided into a series of tenancies held by the Earls of Warwick, passed to the
Earl of Nottingham in 1678. It was later acquired by the Scratton family and,
in the 19th century, sold off by Daniel Scratton who retained only the house
and its immediate grounds. In 1917 these were purchased by Robert Jones (a
local philanthropist known as `the childrens' friend') who converted the house
and landscaped the grounds, presenting both to the borough in 1920.

Part of the slope to the east of the Prittle Brook (beyond the line of the
precinct) is also included in the scheduling. This area is thought likely to
contain further evidence of an extensive Anglo-Saxon cemetery dating from the
6th and 7th centuries AD, which was partly disturbed by adjacent road and
railway construction in 1923 and 1930. Excavations at the time revealed 16
certain and 11 possible inhumations, together with a range of grave goods
including spears, swords, pendants and other personal items which are now
displayed in Southend Central Museum.

A number of items are excluded from the scheduling; these are the Priory
Museum, the Crowstone - a Grade II Listed obelisk originally erected on the
Chalkwell foreshore in 1755 to mark the limit of the City of London's
jurisdiction on the Thames and re-erected to the west of the former priory
church in 1950, the commemorative cross within the cloister garth together
with the stone ledger and graves of two public benefactors (Robert Jones and
his son, Edward), all modern buildings and built items such as walls, steps,
fountains, bridges and concrete revetments, all fences, railings, seats and
waste bins, all garden structures such as frames, hoops and raised beds, all
sign posts and information boards and the made surfaces of all roads and
paths and yards; the ground beneath all these features is however included in
the scheduling.

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

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

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. The
Cluniac order had its origins in the monastic reformations which swept across
continental Europe in the tenth century. The reformations which occurred were
partly a response to the impact of Viking raids and attacks on established
monastic sites in the preceding century but were also a reaction against the
corruption and excesses which were increasingly noted amongst earlier
establishments. The Cluniacs were amongst the most successful of the new
reformed orders that developed. The founding house of Cluny in south-east
France was established in AD 910. Here the community obeyed a stringent set of
rules which, amongst other things, involved celibacy, communal living and
abstention from eating meat. The ideals of the Cluniac reformers passed on to
England in the tenth century. Influential Cluniac houses had been established
in England by 1077. Once established, Cluniac houses were notable for the
strong links they maintained both with the founding house of Cluny in France
and also with other houses of their order. Most Cluniac houses in England were
established near major towns and they particularly sought locations in valley
bottoms within the protection of a nearby castle. Cluniac monasteries are
notable for highly decorated, elaborate buildings. Cluniac houses are
relatively rare, with some forty-four houses known in England, and all
examples exhibiting good survival of archaeological remains are worthy of

Although a `lesser' house, Prittlewell Priory came to include all the
principal components required of a Cluniac foundation and to achieve a
position of considerable influence in the region during the four centuries
between its inception and suppression.

Although many of the buildings were demolished shortly after the Dissolution,
the buried remains of the church and other claustral buildings are known to
survive. Furthermore, the standing parts of the claustral range (excluded from
the scheduling) although much altered over the years, allow these remains to
be viewed in context and provide a vivid insight into the priory's original
appearance. As the area of the precinct has not been compromised to any
significant degree by subsequent development, buried evidence for other
structures and activities, including those attested to in the documentary
evidence, will also be preserved. One such aspect of communal life is clearly
represented by the fishponds which, in addition to ensuring a consistent food
supply, also enabled the members of the order to comply with the religious
strictures on their diet.

The earlier burial ground on the slope to the east of the priory precinct is
also the object of considerable interest. Cemeteries of the period between the
5th and 7th centuries AD provide one of the principal sources of information
about the early Anglo-Saxon period, allowing insights into the location of
settlements, population size, social structure, pagan ideology and even the
spread of Christianity. Inhumation is the predominant burial ritual of this
period - the deceased occasionally placed in coffins and normally accompanied
by grave goods which reflect, in death, the achievements or aspirations of
life. The areas of the inhumation cemetery which have been disturbed to the
east of Priory Park have already demonstrated a wealth of archaeological

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Helliwell, L, Prittlewell Priory: A Brief Guide to the Remaining Buildings, (1972)
Pollitt, W, 'Southend-on-Sea Antiq & Hist Soc Trans' in The Roman and Saxon Settlements, Southend-on-Sea, , Vol. 1 ii, (1923)
Tyler, S, 'Essex Arch & Hist.' in The Anglo-Saxon cemetery at Prittlewell, , Vol. 19, (1988), 91-116
DOE, List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest, Borough of Southend on Sea, (1951)
Gilman, P, Prittlewell Priory, (1989)
Helliwell, L, Prittlewell Priory: Brief Guide to the Remaining Buildings, 1972,
Museum Service Brochure, Prittlewell Priory: A Former Cluniac Monastery, Museum Service Brochure, (1990)
RCHME, Inventory of Historic Monuments in Essex, (1923)
SMR comments, Tyler, S, Prittlewell Anglo-Saxon Cemetery, (1993)
SMR entry (mainly from 1952 OS card), Gilman, P, 9632 Roman complex(?), Prittlewell., (1989)
Title: Map of Essex
Source Date: 1777
Copies in PRO & Priory Museum
Title: TQ 8787 SE
Source Date: 1990
Wright, A and Crowe, K, Prittlewell Priory: Report On Watching Briefs 1985 and 1989, 1989, Museum Service internal report

Source: Historic England

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