HeritageGateway - Home
Site Map
Text size: A A A
You are here: Home > > > > Devon & Dartmoor HER Result
Devon & Dartmoor HERPrintable version | About Devon & Dartmoor HER | Visit Devon & Dartmoor HER online...

See important guidance on the use of this record.

If you have any comments or new information about this record, please email us.


HER Number:MDV4488
Name:Priory of St Mary Magdalene, Barnstaple

Summary

The Clunaic Priory of St Mary Magdelene in Barnstaple was founded in the 11th century and dissolved in 1536. The principal buildings stood broadly in the area bounded by Boutport Street, Coronation Street, the Telephone Repeater Station and the leat, although the grounds probably extended to Vicarage Street or Bear Street.

Location

Grid Reference:SS 559 335
Map Sheet:SS53SE
Admin AreaDevon
Civil ParishBarnstaple
DistrictNorth Devon
Ecclesiastical ParishBARNSTAPLE

Protected Status: none recorded

Other References/Statuses

  • Old DCC SMR Ref: SS53SE/156
  • Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division: SS53SE11
  • Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division: SS53SE11

Monument Type(s) and Dates

  • PRIORY (Founded, XII - 1107 AD to 1107 AD)

Full description

Swete, R. J. (Revd), 1792-1801, 564M 'Picturesque Sketches of Devon' by Reverend John Swete, 564M/1(1792)122-23 (Record Office Collection). SDV337942.

According to Swete, writing in 1792, the site of the priory became 'a resorting place for dissenters' and later a warehouse'.

Unknown, 1826, Unknown, 7-18 (Article in Serial). SDV342184.

During construction of Rackfield Tannery in May 1819, workmen recovered 'many extensive walls' (though no plan recovered) and building debris, including glazed tiles, fragments of columns and vaulting, and two stones decorated with coats of arms. Also two skeletons (one with a bell) and several coins. An underground passage was also revealed.

Gribble, J. B., 1830, Memorials of Barnstaple, 27-32 (Monograph). SDV342187.

The priory had been razed to its foundations by 1830. Only small portions of walls remained.

Oliver, G., 1846, Monasticon Diocesis Exoniensis, 196-203 (Monograph). SDV57424.

Post-dissolution ownerships described, and important documents connected with the priory cited and transcribed.

Chanter, J. R., 1882, Memorials of the Church of St. Peter, Barnstaple, 132-49 (Unknown). SDV91853.

History and archaeological evidence discussed. 1819 discoveries located in area of Rackfield Cottages. Included is borough surveyor's description of the supposed church. The priory buildings mainly occupied the lower part of Rackfield, principally between Pilton Bridge and the mill leat and at some distance from the (?detached) Priory church.

Chanter, J. R., 1888, Cluniac Houses in Devon, 383-90 (Article in Serial). SDV339450.

Report of a visitation made in 1279 describes cob walls, a corn store or grinding house and 'other buildings' in good condition. The church was a 'good one, strongly built, handsome'.

Birch, W. G., 1892, On Three Lists of Monasteries Compiled in 13th Century (Article in Serial). SDV131388.

Priory appears as 'Bernestaple, Sancti Mariae Magdalene', in a list of monasteries compiled in the 13th century.

Amery, P. F. S., 1900-1901, A Tour across Dartmoor into North Devon by the Rev. John Swete 1789, 171 (Article in Serial). SDV18670.

Ordnance Survey, 1904 - 1906, Second Edition Ordnance Survey 25 inch Map (Cartographic). SDV325644.

'St Mary Magdalene's Priory Cluniac (Site of)' recorded on 1904-1906 25 inch Ordnance Survey map.

Boggis, R. J. E., 1915, History of the Parish Church of St. Mary Magdelene, Barnstaple, 11-58 (Unknown). SDV78640.

History of the Medieval priory discussed in some detail, and ownership of site to 19th century given. There is insufficient evidence to reconstruct the priory plan, but the west range of the cloister may have been on the site of Rackfield Cottages at SS55833357, priory cottage being a detached outbuilding.

Reichel, O. J., 1916 - 1917, History of the Parish Church of St Mary Magdalene, Barnstaple (Article in Serial). SDV342186.

A history, 1107-1536 is reviewed.

Chope, R. P., 1918, The Itinerary of John Leland, 2-3 (Article in Serial). SDV337763.

According to Leland in circa 1538 it was the burial place of Philip and Eleanor Columbars (died circa 1344) and the 'Barons of Slane'.

Graham, R., 1922, The Cluniac Order and its English Province, 171 (Article in Serial). SDV339444.

Cater, W. A., 1922, The Priory of St Mary of Prittlewell, 157 (Article in Serial). SDV342192.

Shapland, H. R., 1930 - 1931, Carvings at 'The Priory', Barnstaple, 289 (Article in Serial). SDV342193.

Carbonell, B. M. H., 1930 - 1931, Carvings at 'The Priory', Barnstaple, 289-93 (Article in Serial). SDV342194.

Joce, T. J., 1930 - 1931, Carvings at 'The Priory', Barnstaple, 348 (Article in Serial). SDV342195.

Masterman, J. H. B., 1931, Address of the President: The Monasteries of Devon, 74 (Article in Serial). SDV136066.

Small monastery founded at Barnstaple.

Graham, R., 1948, The Cluniac Priory of St Martin des Champs, Paris, and its dependent Priories in Engalnd and Wales, 37-50 (Article in Serial). SDV339446.

History of the Priory given including conflicts with the Diocesis of Exeter, and with the townspeople of Barnstaple over the use of the priory mills etc. The priory was suppressed in 1536 and granted to Lord William Howard. Author lists priors of Barnstaple from foundation to dissolution and describes and illustrates the Priory's Seal.

Graham, R., 1952, A History of the Buildings of the English Province of the Order of Cluny After the Suppression of Some Priories and the General Dissolution of the Monasteries, 17 (Article in Serial). SDV339447.

Pevsner, N., 1952, The Buildings of England: North Devon, 49-50 (Monograph). SDV336196.

Lomas, J., 1967, The Old doors and Doorways of Barnstaple, 38-9 (Article in Serial). SDV85818.

St Mary Magdalene's Priory was situated without the town walls on a site now known as Rackfield. The great semi-circular wooden door, measuring circa 11 feet (3.35 metres) in width, forming part of the Prior's Gateway which faced the town beside the 'Magdalene Passe', now part of the lower end of Boutport Street. All evidence of this entrance has been lost. The last remnant of Norman architecture remaining may be found in the blocked doorway of the entrance to the priory church, still in existence at the rear of Priory Cottage in Coronation Street.

Lockett, R. B., 1971, A Catalogue of Romanesque Sculpture from the Clunaic House in England, 46 (Article in Serial). SDV342191.

Knowles, D. + Hadcock, R. N., 1971, Medieval Religious Houses: England and Wales, 96,98 (Monograph). SDV323253.

Priory of St Mary Magdelene in Barnstaple. An alien Cluniac priory, dependent upon St Martin des Champs, Paris, and founded by Judhael of Totnes circa 1107. A population of 6 monks in 1279, but only a prior and 1 monk in 1350, after the Black Death. Ceased to be Denizen after 1403. Dissolved 1536.

Timms, S. C., 1976, The Devon Urban Survey, 1976. First Draft, 70 (Report - Survey). SDV341346.

Judhael, lord of the manor, granted lands outside the walls of the town to Barnstaple Priory in 1107 which was dedicated to St. Mary Magdalene. The priory is not known to have had more than six monks attached to it and in 1350 only the prior and one monk are recorded. The priory was dissolved in 1536 and became the property of Lord Howard. Remains of the priory were uncovered in the early 19th century during the construction of a tanyard on open ground to the north-east of Boutport Street. Priory Cottage is thought to contain remnants of a medieval building.

Markuson, K. W., 1980, Barnstaple Survey (Un-published). SDV356766.

The priory had disappeared, unrecorded, by the 19th century but traces of it have been found just north of the Vicarage Street/Boutport Street junction.

Timms, S. C., 1983, Worksheet (Worksheet). SDV342188.

The layout of the priory and its precinct cannot be proposed with any certainty on the available information. Generally it lies within the area bounded by Boutport Street, Pilton Causeway, Yeo Vale Road, Higher Maudlin Street and Vicarage Street. Boggis' siting of the cloisters and church on the south side of the mill leat would seem much more likely than Chanter's suggestion that the church was divorced from the priory buildings which lay north of the mill leat. Wood's Town Plan of 1843 however shows a tanyard on either side of the leat, so the site of the 1819 discoveries is in some doubt. A proposed urban relief road cuts through the Rackfield area.

Griffiths, D. M., 1984, An Archaeological Assessment of the Proposed Route of the Barnstaple Urban Relief Road Stages II and III, 3-7, 10, 12 (Report - Assessment). SDV74017.

The Priory was found in 1107 by Judhael of Totnes, one of only two Cluniac priories in Devon. It was located outside Boutport Street in the north-east suburbs of Barnstaple; the foundation charter refers to 'land without the walls which is between the north gate and the east gate'. It is thought the main buildings occupied the north-west area of Rackfield, that is around the Telephone Repeater Station and to its south and west, although the Priory lands probably extended to Vicarage Street or Bear Street (see Map 2).
The Prior of Monte Desiderii made a visitation to the Priory in 1279 and reported that the Prior had 'enclosed his house with fairly good walls of earth. He has also constructed a small store or grinding house. The other buildings are sufficient and maintained in good condition. The church is a good one, strongly built , hadsome'
Following the dissolution the site was granted by Henry VIII to William Lord Howard whose heirs sold on the site in the early 17th century. The plan of the Priory buildings is difficult to reconstruct; the location of the church is unknown. It is referred to in some post-dissolution documents.
Messuage houses, edifices, granges, barns, stables and dovehouses are referred to in a document of 1608 but a further document of 1698 referring to the 'scyte of the demolished Priory' suggests that many of the Priory buildings were destroyed in the 17th century. Revd. Swete, who visited Barnstaple in 1792, wrote that the priory had 'past through various fortunes', for having been used by Dissenters it was now a warehouse.
'Many extensive walls' were discovered during the construction of Rackfield Tannery in 1819 together with architectural fragments and two skeletons. 'Large quantities of bones' were also recorded from Rackfield in 1830. Walls are also said to have been found when the Telephone Repeater station was built in 1958 but no details are known.
The only definite presumed standing building from the Priory is that on the corner of Boutport Street and Coronation Street, now 10 Boutport Street and Priory Cottage. It has also been suggested that the rectangular stone building with buttresses, the southern end of which abuts the lane running past Priory Cottage may also be a Priory building.
The Rackfield area is considered to be the most archaeologically sensitive area on the line of the proposed relieve road.
Although the plan of the medieval priory cannot be reconstructed with any degree of certainty and buried deposits will have been disturbed by the industrial use of the area since the dissolution, there are nevertheless open areas where it is considered that least ground disturbance has taken place (map 6A) and where trail excavations could evaluate the survival of archaeological deposits.
See report for further information.

Thompson, M. W., 1986, Unknown, 305-21 (Article in Serial). SDV233104.

Thompson links the foundation of the priory with the construction of Barnstaple Castle.

Lovatt, A. M. + Lee, E. S., 1990, Excavations at Rackfield Lane, Barnstaple, 1987 (Report - Excavation). SDV76387.

An indenture of 1608 refers to the Priory grounds as 'all messuages, howses, ediffices, granges, barnes, stables, dovenhouses, orchards, gardenes, lands and soyle ... being within as withouts ... the precincts of the late desolved Priorye and to the same late priorye belonging'. Excavation within the presumed precinct of the former Clunaic Priory of St Mary Magdalene at Rackfield revealed a Medieval courtyard on the south bank of the mill leat. Buildings associated with this courtyard were also identified. Decorated tiles from the demolition layers above the cobbling of the courtyard represent at least three different tiled floors.

North Devon District Council Rescue Archaeology Unit, 1991, North Devon Archaeological Site Code Index, Site 49 (Report - non-specific). SDV63429.

No 51 Boutport Street (Roberts Wines) in Barnstaple. There are cob walls at the back of this building with arches described as bread ovens. Recorded iin 1985.

Henderson, C. G., 1997, Archaeological Assessment of a Development Site at Rackfield, Barnstaple, 2 (Report - Assessment). SDV78641.

Collings, A. G., 1998, Archaeological Assessment of a Proposed Development at Boutport Street, Barnstaple, 2 (Report - Assessment). SDV336400.

Bayer, O. J., 1998, Archaeological Recording at a Development Site at Rackfield, Barnstaple, 3 (Report - non-specific). SDV336402.

No elements relating to Barnstaple Priory were observed during excavations at a development site adjacent to the inner relief road at SS558335.

Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division, Unknown, SS53SE11 (Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division Card). SDV342181.

1. Site of St Mary Magdalene's Cluniac priory at SS55823355 and 'Remains of St Magdalene's Chapel' at SS55813354.
2. A Cluniac Alien Priory founded by Joel de Totnes circa 1107 denizened in 1403 and finally dissolved in 1536.
3. Ruins of the greater part of the priory buildings were found in 1819 when the tannery and Rackfield Cottages were built. They stood within a precinct built northeast of the town ditch and bounded by Charles Street, Vicarage Street and the River Yeo.
4. A building known as St Mary magdalene's Chapel is more likely to have been one of the domestic buildings of the priory. The east, north and eastern part of the south walls with 12th century buttresses, remain but the masonry is crude and no east window ever existed.
5. The building known as St Mary Magdalene's Chapel is orientated northeast to southwest. The original walls are partly faced with concrete.
6. No trace of the priory remains. Rackfield Cottages at SS55803358 and SS55813357 and the tannery at SS55833360 have been demolished.
7. Priory Cottage at 10 Boutport street contains part of a building belonging to the 12th century Priory of St Mary Magdalene incorporated into an outhouse. It consists of one battered wall with slit window and angle butresses.
8. The rear of Priory Cottage at SS55813354 incorporates two walls of random rubble construction, approximately 6 metres and 4 metres long, with three square buttresses and a small slit window. This represents part of the priory but has no significant dateable features. Nearby at SS55833357 a substantial building, 16 metres by 10 metres, has similar masonry with two square buttresses and a large relieving arch. At a height of 3 metres there is a set-off which may indicate subsequent heightening with no dateable feature but it seems possible that this may be part of the Medieval Priory. The building has been re-roofed and is used as a workshop.
9. The Ordnance Survey 1932 siting for St Mary Magdalene's Chapel is most probably erroneous. The buildings in this area have all been demolished.

Sources / Further Reading

SDV131388Article in Serial: Birch, W. G.. 1892. On Three Lists of Monasteries Compiled in 13th Century. Journal of the British Archaeological Association. 28. Unknown.
SDV136066Article in Serial: Masterman, J. H. B.. 1931. Address of the President: The Monasteries of Devon. Transactions of the Devonshire Association. 63. A5 Hardback. 74.
SDV18670Article in Serial: Amery, P. F. S.. 1900-1901. A Tour across Dartmoor into North Devon by the Rev. John Swete 1789. Devon and Cornwall Notes and Queries. 1. Unknown. 171.
SDV233104Article in Serial: Thompson, M. W.. 1986. Unknown. Archaeological Journal. 143. Unknown. 305-21.
SDV323253Monograph: Knowles, D. + Hadcock, R. N.. 1971. Medieval Religious Houses: England and Wales. Medieval Religious Houses: England and Wales. Unknown + Digital (part). 96,98.
SDV325644Cartographic: Ordnance Survey. 1904 - 1906. Second Edition Ordnance Survey 25 inch Map. Second Edition Ordnance Survey 25 inch Map. Map (Digital).
SDV336196Monograph: Pevsner, N.. 1952. The Buildings of England: North Devon. The Buildings of England: North Devon. Paperback Volume. 49-50.
SDV336400Report - Assessment: Collings, A. G.. 1998. Archaeological Assessment of a Proposed Development at Boutport Street, Barnstaple. Exeter Archaeology Report. 98.54. A4 Stapled + Digital. 2.
SDV336402Report - non-specific: Bayer, O. J.. 1998. Archaeological Recording at a Development Site at Rackfield, Barnstaple. Exeter Archaeology Report. 98.49. A4 Stapled + Digital. 3.
SDV337763Article in Serial: Chope, R. P.. 1918. The Itinerary of John Leland. Devon and Cornwall Notes and Queries. 9. Unknown. 2-3.
SDV337942Record Office Collection: Swete, R. J. (Revd). 1792-1801. 564M 'Picturesque Sketches of Devon' by Reverend John Swete. Devon Record Office Collection. Unknown + Digital. 564M/1(1792)122-23.
SDV339444Article in Serial: Graham, R.. 1922. The Cluniac Order and its English Province. Journal of the British Archaeological Association. 28. Unknown. 171.
SDV339446Article in Serial: Graham, R.. 1948. The Cluniac Priory of St Martin des Champs, Paris, and its dependent Priories in Engalnd and Wales. Journal of the British Archaeological Association. 11. Unknown. 37-50.
SDV339447Article in Serial: Graham, R.. 1952. A History of the Buildings of the English Province of the Order of Cluny After the Suppression of Some Priories and the General Dissolution of the Monasteries. Journal of the British Archaeological Association. 15. Unknown. 17.
SDV339450Article in Serial: Chanter, J. R.. 1888. Cluniac Houses in Devon. Transactions of the Devonshire Association. 20. A5 Hardback. 383-90.
SDV341346Report - Survey: Timms, S. C.. 1976. The Devon Urban Survey, 1976. First Draft. Devon Committee for Rescue Archaeology Report. A4 Unbound + Digital. 70.
SDV342181Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division Card: Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division. Unknown. SS53SE11. Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division Card. Card Index.
SDV342184Article in Serial: Unknown. 1826. Unknown. Gentleman's Magazine. 96. Unknown. 7-18.
SDV342186Article in Serial: Reichel, O. J.. 1916 - 1917. History of the Parish Church of St Mary Magdalene, Barnstaple. Devon and Cornwall Notes and Queries. 9 Part 1. Unknown.
SDV342187Monograph: Gribble, J. B.. 1830. Memorials of Barnstaple. Memorials of Barnstaple. Unknown. 27-32.
SDV342188Worksheet: Timms, S. C.. 1983. Worksheet. Worksheet.
SDV342191Article in Serial: Lockett, R. B.. 1971. A Catalogue of Romanesque Sculpture from the Clunaic House in England. Journal of the British Archaeological Association. 34. Unknown. 46.
SDV342192Article in Serial: Cater, W. A.. 1922. The Priory of St Mary of Prittlewell. Journal of the British Archaeological Association. 28. Unknown. 157.
SDV342193Article in Serial: Shapland, H. R.. 1930 - 1931. Carvings at 'The Priory', Barnstaple. Devon and Cornwall Notes and Queries. 16. Unknown. 289.
SDV342194Article in Serial: Carbonell, B. M. H.. 1930 - 1931. Carvings at 'The Priory', Barnstaple. Devon and Cornwall Notes and Queries. 16. Unknown. 289-93.
SDV342195Article in Serial: Joce, T. J.. 1930 - 1931. Carvings at 'The Priory', Barnstaple. Devon and Cornwall Notes and Queries. 16. Unknown. 348.
SDV356766Un-published: Markuson, K. W.. 1980. Barnstaple Survey. A4 Stapled + Digital.
SDV57424Monograph: Oliver, G.. 1846. Monasticon Diocesis Exoniensis. Monasticon Diocesis Exoniensis. Unknown. 196-203.
SDV63429Report - non-specific: North Devon District Council Rescue Archaeology Unit. 1991. North Devon Archaeological Site Code Index. North Devon District Council Report. A4 Stapled + Digital. Site 49.
SDV74017Report - Assessment: Griffiths, D. M.. 1984. An Archaeological Assessment of the Proposed Route of the Barnstaple Urban Relief Road Stages II and III. Devon County Council Report. A4 + Digital. 3-7, 10, 12. [Mapped feature: #122823 Map object approximate, based on Map 2 of the report, ]
SDV76387Report - Excavation: Lovatt, A. M. + Lee, E. S.. 1990. Excavations at Rackfield Lane, Barnstaple, 1987. North Devon District Council Rescue Archaeology Unit Report. A4 Stapled + Digital.
SDV78640Unknown: Boggis, R. J. E.. 1915. History of the Parish Church of St. Mary Magdelene, Barnstaple. Unknown. 11-58.
SDV78641Report - Assessment: Henderson, C. G.. 1997. Archaeological Assessment of a Development Site at Rackfield, Barnstaple. Exeter Archaeology Report. 97.16. A4 Stapled + Digital. 2.
SDV85818Article in Serial: Lomas, J.. 1967. The Old doors and Doorways of Barnstaple. Transactions of the Devonshire Association. 99. Paperback Volume. 38-9.
SDV91853Unknown: Chanter, J. R.. 1882. Memorials of the Church of St. Peter, Barnstaple. Memorials of the Church of St. Peter, Barnstaple. Unknown. 132-49.

Associated Monuments

MDV126900Parent of: Gateway to the Priory of St Mary Magdelene, Barnstaple (Monument)
MDV12506Parent of: Priory Building off Rackfield Court, Barnstaple (Building)
MDV20764Parent of: St Mary Magdalene's Priory Cemetery, Barnstaple (Monument)
MDV96159Related to: 10 Boutport Street, Barnstaple (Building)
MDV20765Related to: 11 and 11A Boutport Street, Barnstaple (Building)
MDV14592Related to: Barnstaple Castle (Monument)
MDV38759Related to: Medieval Buildings in Rackford Lane, Barnstaple (Building)
MDV58915Related to: Medieval Courtyard, Rackfield Lane, Barnstaple (Monument)
MDV41714Related to: Medieval Wall in Rackfield Lane, Barnstaple (Monument)
MDV63747Related to: Pottery from 8 Boutport Street, Barnstaple (Find Spot)
MDV12503Related to: Priory Cottage, Coronation Street, Barnstaple (Building)
MDV20768Related to: Rackfield Tannery, Barnstaple (Monument)
MDV12513Related to: St. Margaret's Hospital, Pilton, Barnstaple (Building)
MDV23046Related to: The Maudlyn, Barnstaple (Building)
MDV882Related to: Town Mills, Barnstaple (Building)
MDV63746Related to: Wall of Telephone Repeater Station, Barnstaple (Monument)
MDV63404Related to: Workers Cottages at Rackfield, Barnstaple (Building)

Associated Finds

  • FDV1341 - ARCHITECTURAL FRAGMENT (Medieval - 1066 AD to 1539 AD)
  • FDV1340 - TILE (Medieval - 1066 AD to 1539 AD)
  • FDV1339 - POT (XI to Late Medieval - 1100 AD to 1539 AD)

Associated Events

  • EDV8187 - Archaeological assessment of proposed route of the Barnstaple Relief Road, Stages II and III

Date Last Edited:Nov 13 2019 4:17PM