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Site of Aconbury Priory, Aconbury

SMR Number
: 4701
Grid Reference
: SO 516 334

The Priory stood high on woody summit of Aconbury Hill, and must have been a building of very considerable size, although little of the conventual edifice remains except a few fragmentss built into the Court House or incorporated with the Church... It was probably by James Pearle that the conventual buildings were converted into a mansion-house which was sufficiently commodious to form the occasional residence of the Lords Chandos in later times. Robinson then quotes from Hill's Manuscript: "The Church is yet standing, as also a room called the Lady Abbess's room, wherein is a window which looks down into the Church. The Church was repaired and adorned by James, Lord Chandos, who put up the altar rails, and underneath made a vault where he now lies (buried October 1714) near the ashes of Sir Henry Bernard." (died 25 April, 1680). Robinson then notes that the Church was again restored in 1863. (1)
Parish Church of St John the Baptist stands near the middle of the parish. The walls are of coursed rubble with ashlar dressings all of local red sandstone; the roofs are tiled. A priory of Austin nuns was founded in Aconbury early in the 13th century by Margery, wife of William de Lacy. The existing Church, being that of the convent, was built c. 1230-40; it probably extended to the east of the existing building, but which portion, if any, was parochial in the Middle Ages is uncertain. The cloister lay on the south side and also extended to the east of the existing church, but there are no remains of the conventual building except some traces of the western range, where it adjoined the Church. The West Porch was added late in the 15th century. The priory was suppressed in 1536, and the conventual buildings subsequently destroyed. The upper part of the east, and probably the eastern part of the north walls were re-built probably after the dissolution. The Chandos vault was constructed, beneath the chancel, late in the 17th or early in the 18th century. The church was restored in 1863. The church is of some interest as that attached to a monastic house, and the west window is an interesting architectural feature. [A more detailed description of the church follows.] (2)
A Priory for sisters of order of St John founded in the time of King John [1199-1216], still recorded as such in 1237. It probably became Augustinian soon after this date. (3)
The Church was dedicated formerly to St Catherine, now to St John the Baptist. It is thought to have been built by the Foundress of the Priory, Margery de Lacy, in the early years of the 13th century. It is remarkable for its excellent proportions and simplicity. The architecture is Norman, with later additions. It consists of a nave and chancel of equal width and height and is without a chancel arch. At the west end is an Early English doorway, with a fine triple lighted window above it, under a pointed arch with graceful tracery on the stonework at the sides; above are two heads supposed to represent the Foundress and her husband. At the east end is a simple tracery window; in the north wall are two double lancet windows and a single lancet window for the chancel. On the south side, where the convent buildings joined the church, are still to be seen on the outer walls, some springs of the stone arches and corbels inserted in the walls to carry the different floors or cloisters; placed high on the wall near the western end is an arch-way having a square squint looking into the church, for the use of invalids unable to attend the services; two early doorways, now walled up, gave access to the church from this side, one to the nave and the other to the chancel. There is a trefoil-headed piscina of early date in the south wall. The Priory or Nunnery of Canonesses of the Order of St Augustine was founded in the time of King John by Margery, wife of Walter de Lacy. In the Register of Bishop Cantilupe there is an entry of the election of Beatrice de Gammages in January 1280, and in the Register of Bishop Swinfield the election of Katherine de Genewyle in October 1288, as Prioresses of Aconbury. (4)
Holy Cross, Austin Priory. Margery wife of Walter de Lacy founder temp King John. (5)
Margaret de Lacy and her husband Walter spent 600 marks on legal action to remove the house from the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem and transfer it to the Rule of St Augustine. The matter was resolved by papal judgement in 1237. (6)
The conversion of part of Aconbury forest to farmland was granted in 1216 by King John. Three carucates of land (c. 360 acres) were to be assarted and cultivated in [the] forest of Aconbury for the establishment of a house of nuns. (7)
Students of the Sixth Form College at Hereford spent a morning examining the main obvious features of the Augustinian Nunnery site, including the three fishponds stretching down the Tar Brook and the irregular precinct bank surrounding the church and court with stone work. Reference is made to an article (in The Builder, 1863) concerning the restoration work on the church. Historical details are given. (8)
I don't think that the field surrounding the churchyard has been ploughed in my lifetime so any evidence should be preserved. There are signs of banks/hollows/platforms which may indicate buildings, dwellings or boundaries. No extensions have been made to Aconbury Court House in recent years to my knowledge. At the edge of the brook to the south-east of the church there is an area of what look like stones from a wall or building. On the other side of the brook opposite the church there is a small ridge which is probably mainly natural contours, but there is a substantial rounded hollow at the base containing water. There is also a seemingly man-made rounded bank about 2ft high and 5ft wide running away from the brook at right angles. Perhaps this was a causeway running through the boggy ground to a bridge and connecting this area - possibly quarries - to the priory. (9)
First founded for Sisters of St John with a hospital and changed to Augustinian canonesses c. 1235. Church built c. 1230-40. Many original deeds and documents exist, especially in the British Museum and Record Office, which give extensive details of gifts and properties, eg the possession of ten houses in Tetbury (Gloucestershire) and land in Corsham (Wiltshire). At the end of the 13th century the prioress made several visits to Goodrich Castle as the guest of the Countess of Pembroke to celebrate religious festivals. In 1354 there occurred the rare instance of an illegitimate nun becoming prioress following a bishop's dispensation. (10)

Monument Type(s)

  1. NUNNERY (Medieval - 1066 AD to 1539 AD)

Associated Files

    Sources and Further Reading

    1. <1>SHE11771 - Bibliographic reference: Robinson, Rev C J. 1872. A History of the Mansions and Manors of Herefordshire. 4.
    2. <2>SHE350 - Bibliographic reference: Royal Commission on Historical Monuments. 1931. Inventory of Monuments, Herefordshire South-West, Vol I. Herefordshire South-West, Vol 1. 12-13.
    3. <3>SHE9689 - Bibliographic reference: Knowles D and R N Hadcock. 1971. Medieval Religious Houses. Book (Longman).
    4. <4>SHE12174 - Bibliographic reference: Seaton. 1903. History of the Deanery of Archenfield. 9-10.
    5. <5>SHE11188 - Bibliographic reference: E Power. 1922. Medieval English Nunneries. 339.
    6. <6>SHE13923 - Article in serial: Nicholson, H J. 10/1999. Margaret de Lacy and the Hospital of St John at Aconbury, Herefordshire. Journal of Ecclesiastical History. 629-651.
    7. <7>SHE14551 - Unpublished Report: Lovelace, D. 2001. History of Aconbury Woods. unpublished woodland management report for the Duchy Estate.
    8. <8>SHE15633 - Serial: Halliwell, P R (ed). 1989. Herefordshire Archaeological News No. 51. Woolhope Club Archaeological Research Section. 51, page 21.
    9. <9>SHE18382 - Unassigned: Unidentifiable. 1994. Personal communication written on HWCC SMR Record Card (part record).
    10. <10>SHE18383 - Bibliographic reference: R Midmer. 1979. English Medieval Monasteries 1066-1540. 48-49.

    Associated Historic Landscape Character Records

    1. HHE536 - Small Compass Enclosure of the Landscape - Reconfiguration of Intake/Enclosure of Woodland
    Last Updated: 23/07/2010 12:35:57