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WENLOCK PRIORY

ALTERNATIVE NAME:  PRIORY OF ST MICHAEL AND ST MILBURGA
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The site of Wenlock Priory. It originated as a Saxon religious house founded in circa 680. The monastery was replaced shortly before 1040 with a college of priests which survived until the Norman Conquest in 1066 when monks were sent from Cluny in France. This means that Wenlock had now become a priory, and it survived until the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1540. The buildings were sold in 1545 to the royal physician Agostino Agostini, who later the same year sold them to Thomas Lawley, and the infirmary and prior's lodge were converted into a private residence ('Wenlock Abbey'). The property passed through various families until 1858 when it was bought by James Milnes Gaskell. By this time the 'Abbey' (as it is erroneously known) had become a decayed farmhouse. Under Gaskell and his son C G Milnes Gaskell it was restored as a 'gentleman's country house'. The latter's wife, Lady Catherine, invited guests including Thomas Hardy and Philip Webb to Wenlock, and laid out new gardens around it in circa 1900. The priory ruins are now in the care of English Heritage, but the 'Abbey' remains in private hands. 'Wenlock Abbey' is an L-shaped building of stone with two storeys with a massive stone-tiled roof.

The remainder of the priory ruins lie to the north, separated from the 'Abbey' by a tall stone wall. Still standing to full height are parts of the transepts of the priory church, massively rebuilt with royal patronage in the early 13th century. Excavations have located much of the ground plan including the church. The cloister lies in a conventional position to the south of the nave; within it are the remains of a lavatorium. It and the Chapter House are 12th century and elaborately carved. The 7th century church was interpreted as a Roman building, reused as the church. Later reappraisal of the evidence refuted that the building was of Roman origin, and confirmed its Saxon date.

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