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HER Number:MDV8407
Name:Cornworthy Priory


Cornworthy Priory of St Mary founded in the 13th century and dissolved in the 16th century. The remains of the gatehouse and possibly a chapel survive.


Grid Reference:SX 823 556
Map Sheet:SX85NW
Admin AreaDevon
Civil ParishCornworthy
DistrictSouth Hams
Ecclesiastical ParishCORNWORTHY

Protected Status

Other References/Statuses

  • National Monuments Record: 445973
  • Old DCC SMR Ref: SX85NW/10
  • Old SAM County Ref: 409
  • Old SAM Ref: 24839
  • Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division: SX85NW13

Monument Type(s) and Dates

  • PRIORY (Founded, XIII - 1201 AD to 1300 AD (Between))

Full description

Weddell, P. J., Devon Religious Houses Survey 1986/87. Preliminary Assessment Form. Cornworthy (Un-published). SDV358493.

Lysons, D. + Lysons, S., 1822, Magna Britannica (Monograph). SDV323771.

Oliver, G., 1841, Monasteries of Devon (Monograph). SDV346587.

Colby, F. T., 1872, Visitation of Devon, 1620 (Monograph). SDV346586.

Ordnance Survey, 1880-1899, First Edition Ordnance 25 inch map (Cartographic). SDV336179.

'Priory (Remains of Gateway)' shown on 19th century map and 'Chapel (Remains of)' shown to the south-east.

Harris, S. G., 1893, John Tucker: Parish Clerk of Cornworthy and Antiquary, 472-3 (Article in Serial). SDV346580.

Founded 1237 by the Zouch family. Dedicated to the Blessed Virgin for seven nuns of the order of St Augustine. It was subject to Totnes Priory. Ruins of the old gateway is all that now remains.

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

'Gateway Remains of Priory' shown on early 20th century map and 'Chapel (Remains of)' shown to the south-east

Reichel, O. J., 1911, The Early History of the Hundred of Colridge, 190-236 (Article in Serial). SDV155641.

Anon, 1920 - 1921, The Priory for Nuns of St Mary, Cornworthy, 1-57 (Article in Serial). SDV346585.

Other details: Plates and Map.

Windeatt, E. + Watkin, H. R., 1921, Priory of Cornworthy, 39-41 (Article in Serial). SDV346584.

Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division, 1953 - 1961, SX85NW13 (Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division Card). SDV346581.

No features can be identified on the ground other than the gateway and remains of priory church. To the east of the gateway, ground is uneven but no certain indication of foundations could be traced. The west wall of church is ivy covered and in poor condition. There is an arched doorway at its northern extremity. There is a smaller opening, slightly splayed, probably a window, at the south end of this wall. Only a fragment of the southern wall survives and the northern one serves as a field boundary.

Ministry of Works, 1958, Cornworthy Priory Gatehouse (Schedule Document). SDV346590.

Cornworthy Priory was a house of Augustinian Canonesses probably founded by Eva de Cantelupe (born Braose) Lady of Totnes or by her mother circa 1230. The endowments were largely from Marshall estates; the founder's rights passed with lordship of Totnes. Dissolved 1536. Surviving remains include a 15th century gatehouse and traces of a quadrangle to the south-east. Other details: Monument 409.

Copeland, G. W., 1965, Proceedings at the 103rd Annual Meeting, 29 (Article in Serial). SDV145408.

Snell, L. S., 1967, The Suppression of the Religious Foundations of Devon and Cornwall (Monograph). SDV346588.

Knowles, D. + Hadcock, R. N., 1971, Medieval Religious Houses: England and Wales, 278-9 (Monograph). SDV323253.

Cornworthy Priory, of St Mary. Foundation date uncertain; possibly 1205-38 or later (early 14th century), said to have been for 13 nuns; 7 were recorded at the time of the suppression in 1539.

Robinson, R., 1983, List of Field Monument Warden Visits 1983 (Un-published). SDV345762.

Department of Environment Field Monument Warden site visit 11th May 1983.

Weddell, P. J., 1986, Cornworthy Priory (Report - Survey). SDV347678.

One of only three houses founded in Devon for nuns, the most westerly and poorest of the three houses. The identity of the founder has not been established with any certainty, although if founded after 1205 then it must have been by a member of the De Baose family who were granted the manor of Cornworthy at that time. The earliest reference to the site is in 1238 and in 1270 the Prior of Totnes transferred all tithes in the parish, except that of the mill and fishery, to the Prioress (the Zouch family did not acquire Cornworthy until 1274). It is said to have been founded for 13 nuns; eight nuns and a prioress are named in 1377. The priory was dissolved in 1536 and the property remained with the crown until 1558 when it was granted to Edward Harris and John Williams. There is little of the priory visible today, apart from the gatehouse and the lack of information given by post medieval writers and topographers of the 18th and 19th century suggests that most of the priory buildings were demolished soon after the dissolution. The remains of the gatehouse suggest it was a fine 15th century structure with two entrances; one for pedestrians and one for carriages. It survives in fairly complete form although most of the upper storey has gone. The church and other claustral buildings were suggested by Watkin and Windeatt in their article in Devon and Cornwall Notes and Queries in 1920 to have been about 38 metres to the south-east of the gatehouse. Their evidence appears to have been based on the walls of some farm buildings that lay in this area close to the road. Dean Milles circa 1770 mentions a barn which 'bears some marks of antiquity' and was supposed to be a chapel. The 1844 Tithe Map shows a barn and yard in this location. The arrangement of the buildings may have encourged Watking an Windeatt to think that they were looking at buildings around a cloister. Today some masonry is visible on the west side adjacent to the road. The yard is now the site of a well-established pond. Weddell finds the interpretation of this site as the claustral buildings difficult to fully accept; little is known of their antiquity of the buildings, they are not on an east-west alignment and furthermore they are alongside the road which would have been an unusual location. Nevertheless, there may well have been priory buildings in this location which were modified or rebuilt. The association of the barn with a chapel suggest that there was some reasons for thinking that it was old or ecclesiastical in origin. It is possible that they were part of an outer court. Another possible site for buildings is immediately north-east of the courtyard buildings where there is a slight terrace. Court Prior Farm does not appear to be earlier than the 17th century but it could have been the site of the priory home farm and could contain re-used stone from the priory buildings. The plan of the priory remains enigmatic, likely only to be revealed now by excavation.

Weddell, P. J., 1986, Devon Religious Houses Survey. Cornworthy (Archive - Survey). SDV358494.

Unknown, 1986 - 1987, Devon Religious Houses Survey (Un-published). SDV347681.

Griffith, F. M., 1988, DAP/JO, 3-5 (Aerial Photograph). SDV177387.

Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England, 1992, Cornworthy Priory (Report - Survey). SDV346583.

Site marked by a well preserved gatehouse and the remains of a building said to have been the monastic church. Earthworks define the probable extent of the precinct and positions of several buildings. These seem to reflect both monastic use and a post-dissolution phase as a minor country house, which probably incorporated surviving ecclesiastical buildings.

Department of National Heritage, 1994, Cornworthy Priory (Schedule Document). SDV346591.

Cornworthy Priory is located at the western end of the village of Cornworthy, at the head of a small valley to the south of Bow Creek, an inlet on the west side of the Dart estuary. The monument includes the upstanding and buried remains of an Augustinian nunnery in occupation from the early 13th century until 1536. The visible remains exist in the form of ruined stone structures together with a series of low earthworks. They include the substantial remains of the gatehouse and a small section of the precinct wall which encloses a natural spring on the highest part of the site. The walls are constructed of random dressed rubble utilising local grey slates and shales, with much of the architectural detail in contrasting Dartmoor granite. The most significant upstanding remains are those of the 15th century gatehouse which stands as an isolated structure of considerable visual impact at the head of the valley. It is rectangular in plan measuring 9.5 metres by 6 metres with two arched and vaulted passageways aligned east to west. The north wall stands to almost its full height. The main southern passage for mounted travellers and wheeled vehicles has a tunnel vault, decorated with chamfered ribs, bosses, moulded wallplates, and moulded outer arches in granite. The smaller pedestrian passage has a ribbed vault, with the ribs and decorated bosses in granite, between outer arches in shale. Both vaults were divided centrally by arches and jambs, which have been robbed, on which the doors were hung. In the south-east corner of the main passageway a door with a moulded granite arch opens onto a spiral stair which is in part housed externally in a turret. It leads to a second storey room furnished with three windows, a fireplace and garderobe (toilet) closet. The floor was supported by joists, allowing space in the northern half for an underfloor chamber, above the lower pedestrian passage, lit by one narrow window to the west. The north gable-end of the gatehouse has the vestigial remains of a single storey porter's lodge which has a squint into the pedestrian passage and facility for withdrawing the two draw-bars of the gate. The only substantial section of precinct wall has been recently revealed to the south-east of the gatehouse in the area of some ruined farm buildings which have been cleared of plant growth. The wall survives to some 15 metres in length and is 3.9 metres high at its eastern end. It is stepped down at its western end, and acts as a partial retaining wall to the land to the south. Two rows of putlog (scaffolding) holes are visible, and it retains a string course below a coping of semicircular stones set on edge. Both ends of the wall have been cut by later structures: by a two storied barn to the east, and to the west by an archway leading to the road. To the west of the archway the wall continues for 2.1 metres, and has then been set back into the hedge. From this point the alignment of the precinct wall is visible as an earthwork extending towards the gatehouse which has a wall-scar on its south-west corner, 3.6 metres in height. The earthwork continues northwards from the porter's lodge towards the field boundary to the north. The area of the ruined farm buildings is being allowed to regenerate its natural flora. Two other sections of walling exist in this area, one is now completely obscured by plant growth and could not be located, the other is visible in the field boundary on the north-west side of the regenerating area, being 7 metres in length and 1.3 metres high. Near these ruins is a natural spring which currently remains in use as a piped water supply. There are extensive low linear earthworks throughout the area to the east of the gatehouse, extending down the valley as far as Court Prior. There are also two substantial depressions on the hillside to the south-east of the gateway. The date of the foundation of the priory is uncertain as no charters or cartuleries have survived. Cornworthy was subject to Totnes Priory and was therefore linked with the Lordship of Totnes. The earliest reference to the site occurs in 1238. A list of eleven of the prioresses has been reconstructed from secondary sources, mainly the episcopal registers of the Bishops of Exeter. Some entries give an indication of the range of the monastic buildings: in 1381 there is a reference to the Chapel of St Mary Magdalene, in 1421 to the infirmary, in 1461 to the chapter house, in 1521 to the dorter (dormitory) and frater (dining hall). In 1536 there was a prioress and seven nuns in residence. The priory was dissolved in 1536, in the reign of Henry VIII, following an Act of Parliament which was originally intended to reform the religious houses by disbanding the smallest and poorest of their number. A condition of the subsequent sale of the buildings was that they were to be rendered unfit for monastic use, and this was greatly assisted by the crown's sequestration of all the roofing lead. Cornworthy remained in crown ownership until 1558-9 when it was sold to Edward Harris, and it remained with that family for two hundred years. In 1770 it was recorded in the survey by Dean Milles that only the gatehouse, an old house, and a barn near the gatehouse survived, the rest of the site being utilised as orchards. The 1844 Tithe Map shows that farm buildings had been constructed to the south-east of the gateway in the location of the present ruined structures. The use of the land for orchards has continued into the present century. The ruins of the gatehouse are Listed Grade I. The earthworks were surveyed by the Royal Commission in 1992. Some large architectural fragments in granite from the ruins are built into a curb in front of Court Prior. Within the designated area the following are excluded: overhead power cable poles and supports, the sheep dip, and gate and fence posts, although the ground beneath all these features is included. Cornworthy Priory was the most westerly and isolated of the houses founded specifically for nuns in England. Throughout its existence it remained the poorest of the three nunneries in Devon. The quality of the remains of the gatehouse at Cornworthy however places it amongst the most important buildings of this type and does not reflect the poverty of the priory. From the evidence of the earthworks the buried remains appear to be extensive and unharmed by subsequent activity. Other details: Monument 24839.

Gibbons, P., 1994, Cornworthy Priory (Un-published). SDV346295.

Site visited on 7th August 1993 when visible remains comprised ruined structures and a series of low earthworks. Substantial remains of gatehouse and small section of precinct wall enclosing a natural spring. Location of priory church and cloistral ranges unknown.

South Hams District Council, 2002, Cornworthy Conservation Area Appraisal (Report - non-specific). SDV356439.

An Augustinian Priory was founded here between 1205 and 1238. The Gatehouse is all that remains above the ground and dates from circa 1400. The absence of buildings along the south side Abbey Road is probably due to tis forming the northern boundary of the Priory's preciinct, while within its east ent, Court Prior may well preserve some of the Priory's domestic buildings in its fabric. The rest of the Priory buildings were doubtless 'quarried' after the disolution for use in village buildings. But it is the survival of the Gatehouse, that preserves the village's long and reverential association with priory occupation.

National Monuments Record, 2011, 445973 (National Monuments Record Database). SDV346592.

Earthwork remains indicate the site of an Augustinian Nunnery, founded circa 1205-38 and dissolved in 1539, and the successor post-dissolution country house.

Dean Milles, c1755, West View of Ye Gate of the Priory of Cornworthy, Collections, Vol. 9, facing p69 (Illustration). SDV358495.

Copeland, G. W., c1965, Photos (Record Office Collection). SDV358497.

Sources / Further Reading

SDV145408Article in Serial: Copeland, G. W.. 1965. Proceedings at the 103rd Annual Meeting. Transactions of the Devonshire Association. 97. A5 Hardback. 29.
SDV155641Article in Serial: Reichel, O. J.. 1911. The Early History of the Hundred of Colridge. Transactions of the Devonshire Association. 43. A5 Hardback. 190-236.
SDV177387Aerial Photograph: Griffith, F. M.. 1988. DAP/JO. Devon Aerial Photograph. Photograph (Paper). 3-5.
SDV323253Monograph: Knowles, D. + Hadcock, R. N.. 1971. Medieval Religious Houses: England and Wales. Medieval Religious Houses: England and Wales. Unknown + Digital (part). 278-9.
SDV323771Monograph: Lysons, D. + Lysons, S.. 1822. Magna Britannica. Magna Britannica: A Concise Topographical Account of The Several Counties o. 6: Devonshire. Unknown.
SDV325644Cartographic: Ordnance Survey. 1904 - 1906. Second Edition Ordnance Survey 25 inch Map. Second Edition Ordnance Survey 25 inch Map. Map (Digital).
SDV336179Cartographic: Ordnance Survey. 1880-1899. First Edition Ordnance 25 inch map. First Edition Ordnance Survey 25 inch Map. Map (Digital).
SDV345762Un-published: Robinson, R.. 1983. List of Field Monument Warden Visits 1983. Lists of Field Monument Warden Visits. Printout.
SDV346295Un-published: Gibbons, P.. 1994. Cornworthy Priory. Monument Protection Programme. Archaeological Item Dataset.. A4 Stapled.
SDV346580Article in Serial: Harris, S. G.. 1893. John Tucker: Parish Clerk of Cornworthy and Antiquary. Transactions of the Devonshire Association. 25. A5 Hardback. 472-3.
SDV346581Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division Card: Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division. 1953 - 1961. SX85NW13. Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division Card. Card Index.
SDV346583Report - Survey: Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England. 1992. Cornworthy Priory. Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England Report. A4 Stapled.
SDV346584Article in Serial: Windeatt, E. + Watkin, H. R.. 1921. Priory of Cornworthy. Devon and Cornwall Notes and Queries. 11.1. Unknown. 39-41.
SDV346585Article in Serial: Anon. 1920 - 1921. The Priory for Nuns of St Mary, Cornworthy. Devon and Cornwall Notes and Queries. 11 Part 2. Photocopy + Digital. 1-57.
SDV346586Monograph: Colby, F. T.. 1872. Visitation of Devon, 1620. Visitation of Devon, 1620. Unknown.
SDV346587Monograph: Oliver, G.. 1841. Monasteries of Devon. Monasteries of Devon. Unknown.
SDV346588Monograph: Snell, L. S.. 1967. The Suppression of the Religious Foundations of Devon and Cornwall. The Suppression of the Religious Foundations of Devon and Cornwall. Unknown.
SDV346590Schedule Document: Ministry of Works. 1958. Cornworthy Priory Gatehouse. The Schedule of Monuments. Foolscap.
SDV346591Schedule Document: Department of National Heritage. 1994. Cornworthy Priory. The Schedule of Monuments. A4 Stapled. [Mapped feature: #108439 ]
SDV346592National Monuments Record Database: National Monuments Record. 2011. 445973. National Monuments Record Database. Website.
SDV347678Report - Survey: Weddell, P. J.. 1986. Cornworthy Priory. Devon Religious Houses Survey. 12. A4 Stapled + Digital.
SDV347681Un-published: Unknown. 1986 - 1987. Devon Religious Houses Survey. Devon Religious Houses Survey. Mixed Archive Material.
SDV356439Report - non-specific: South Hams District Council. 2002. Cornworthy Conservation Area Appraisal. South Hams District Council. A2 Folded + Digital.
SDV358493Un-published: Weddell, P. J.. Devon Religious Houses Survey 1986/87. Preliminary Assessment Form. Cornworthy. Devon Religious Houses Survey. A4 Stapled + Digital.
SDV358494Archive - Survey: Weddell, P. J.. 1986. Devon Religious Houses Survey. Cornworthy. Devon Religious Houses Survey. A4 Stapled + Digital.
SDV358495Illustration: Dean Milles. c1755. West View of Ye Gate of the Priory of Cornworthy. Photocopy + Digital. Collections, Vol. 9, facing p69.
SDV358497Record Office Collection: Copeland, G. W.. c1965. Photos. Photocopy + Digital.

Associated Monuments

MDV50065Parent of: Building at Cornworthy Priory (Monument)
MDV50067Parent of: Building Platform at Cornworthy Priory (Monument)
MDV50066Parent of: Chapel at Cornworthy Priory (Building)
MDV50068Parent of: Garden at Cornworthy Priory (Monument)
MDV8408Parent of: Gatehouse at Cornworthy Priory (Building)
MDV50069Parent of: Landscape Feature at Cornworthy Priory (Monument)
MDV50070Parent of: ORCHARD in the Parish of Cornworthy (Monument)
MDV50072Parent of: Wall at Cornworthy Priory (Monument)
MDV50071Related to: Kiln Park Fieldname (Monument)

Associated Finds: none recorded

Associated Events: none recorded

Date Last Edited:Sep 27 2018 3:26PM