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ST LEONARDS PRIORY

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Benedictine priory, founded circa 1082, traditionally on the site of an earlier monastery founded in 658 and destroyed in the 9th century. Excavation at St Leonard's Priory has revealed the plan of the monastery, with its single-aisled church with a long apsidal presbytery, and transepts with apsidal chapels. To the south lay the cloisters surrounded by three ranges of buildings. The western range, probably the cellar was originally a long open building with a first floor, later subdivided by cross walls in the late Medieval period. The south range probably contained the monks' refectory, and the eastern range would have contained a small chapter house. There was no sign of the monastery alleged to have been founded by Bishop Wilfred in 658. However, the discovery of a very large drain in the South-West corner of the cloisters suggests that the usual monastic plan may have been modified. The drain was exceptionally well built, and entirely enclosed within the angle of the claustral buildings formed by the inner and outer walls of the west and south ranges. The drain was rectangular at the top, with steeply battered west and east sides towards the base. The southern wall was pierced by a round-headed archway running under the south wall of the claustral buildings. Layers immediately above the drain floor contained products of a late Medieval laboratory, or alchemy including fragments of glass distillation vessels, crucibles, mercury, sulphur and copper. Possibly associated with this assemblage, a buried group of clippings from the edges of silver coins was found in the adjacent cellar. Many complete pottery vessels were recovered from the drain. A broken, but largely complete Spanish lustre-ware altar vase was also found. There are also amorphous earthworks associated with the post-dissolution use of the priory.

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