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Originator:Gibbons, P.
Summary:Monument includes the known extent of the upstanding and buried remains of a priory of Augustinian canons in occupation from the early 13c until 1536. Visible remains exist in the form of a number of ruined and adapted stone structures terraced into the natural slope and laid out in the traditional monastic plan in which a church and 3 ranges of buildings of 2 stories were grouped around the central square open court of the cloister. They include the substantial remains of the priory church, which abuts the parish church, and the remains of the cloister ranges incorporated into the buildings of cloister hall farm. Fields adjacent to the farm contain a series of low earthworks. Walls are of random-rubble utilising local slate, with carved details in a coarse red sandstone and oolitic limestone. Principal upstanding remains are those of the 13c priory church, aligned EW, and of 39.6m by 14.1m overall size. It consists of a simple in-line arrangement, 8.95m in width, of nave, quire, presbytery and Lady Chapel, with a single square tower abutting the W end of the nave. The w gable-end of the nave survives to 13.2m, almost its full original height, and is of symmetrical, austere and dramatic design, having 3 tall lancet windows above a small central doorway. Most of the N wall of the church survives to a considerable height, as do the buttressed NE and SE corners of the presbytery, and the S wall of the nave. Despite the apparent simplicity of the design, details of the fabric of the church indicate a complex structural history. The W end of the a wall of the nave has a high pointed arch supported on its E side by a 1m square pier with chamfered ashlar edges on 3 corners. The presence of this pier indicates that the church was originally designed with a S aisle, but that this was abandoned, the arch blocked and the S wall of the church constructed in-line with the proposed arcade. The N and S walls of the church are not however, symmetrical in terms of the number, size and location of the windows. The N wall has a tall lancet window to the nave and 4 high windows to the quire and presbytery; the S wall has a tall lancet to the nave and presbytery with, from the evidence of an 18c engraving, 4 high windows placed between them. The Lady Chapel and tower were added in the 14c, although it is not clear from the ruins how these additions were fully integrated into and altered the existing fabric of the church. The tower appears to have blocked the tall lancet window to the S wall of the nave, the lady chapel does not appear to have involved an equivalent blocking of the long lancet windows in the E gable-end of the presbytery. By the mid-15c, rebuilding in the parish church resulted in its NE corner being structurally bonded to the SW corner of the tower of the priory church. The S wall of the priory church is terraced into the hillside by some 1.5m and the difference in level between the 2 churches is some 2.6m. Cloister is on the N side of priory church, at about a 1m lower level, and with sides of about 20m square. This area is now mostly gravelled and contains flower beds forming the garden of the farm. The W range of the cloister abutted only the NW corner of the church. The range is for the most part incorporated into the W half of thepresent farmhouse, the rooms at the N end are of 16/17c date and form its earliest part. Traditionally the W range would have included the apartments of the prior. Abutting the N end of the E half of the farmhouse is a large storage building of some 9.1m width that occupies the position of the N range of the cloister. The S wall of this building appear to include medieval fabric. Traditionally this range would have contained the refectory (dining hall), with the area between the N and W ranges occupied by the kitchens. The E range of the cloister is less well defined in terms of the current structures. The N face of the N wall of the presbytery has part of the toothing for an external, W wall, and two corbels beneath the high windows, which together suggest that the E range abutted the presbytery, and was some 9m wide. The E range extended N into the area now occupied by the stables. Traditionally this range would have contained the sacristy (vestry) and chapter house, with the canon's dorter (dormitory) at 1st floor level. The late-15c granite doorway forming the main entrance to the farmhouse would appear to be a reused part of the priory structure. In 1976 a well was uncovered in the NW corner of the cloister. It consisted of a vaulted passage, large enough to walk in, some 2.5m below the present ground level and some 5m in length, leading S from the N range of the cloister. At the S end of the passage there was a well over 6m in depth. The feature remains intact but is no longer visible. The purpose of the subterranean passage is not at all clear. The land forming the monastic precinct was traditionally enclosed behind a wall. At Frithelstock part of the line of the precinct can be defined. In the late 18c it was reported that the priory gatehouse remained standing in-line with the s wall of the graveyard. The graveyard was extended in the early 20c, but its earlier limits are shown by lines of lime trees. It has been argued, on the evidence of a small area of more pronounced earthworks, that the gatehouse stood to the eE of the old s wall of the graveyard. The layout of the cloister however, with the entrance of the priory church to the W, and the prior's apartments in the w range, indicates that a gatehouse is more likely to have stood to the W of the s side of the graveyard. In either case the S wall of the precinct was to the N of the present road. In the pasture to the N of the farm there is a low bank which follows the top of the natural, steeper, ground slope to curve around the NW of the farm buildings before becoming lost in uneven ground. This probably represents the line of the N wall of the precinct, which contained, in addition to the nucleus of the church and cloister, all the buildings and structures, agricultural and industrial pertaining to the abbey. Many of these structures would have been of timber or cob construction. A number of low linear earthworks are visible to the SE of the priory church forming 3 terraces in the natural ground slope. The middle terrace contains a rectangular depression some 35m by 12m which may indicate the site of a building or small fishpond. To the immediate W of this feature is a curvilinear depression which may be a hollow way. The canons graveyard would traditionally have been located to the S of the priory church in the area that has since been partially encroached upon by the graveyard of the parish church. A linear earthwork extends S from the SE corner of the Lady Chapel which may define the E side of the monastic graveyard. There are areas of more pronounced earthworks in this field outside the SE corner of the graveyard and along the E side of the E range of the cloister. No earthworks are visible in the cultivated land to the E and N of this area. Founded in the early 13c by Robert Beauchamp. Colonised by canons from Hartland Abbey, and dedicated to St Gregory. Entries in episcopal registers of the Bishops of Exeter give an indication of the range of the monastic buildings: in 1333 there is a reference to the sacristy (vestry), in 1340 to the refectory (dining hall), dormitory and kitchen; in 1347 to the mill; in 1351 to the Lady Chapel; in 1378 Prior John Heyncie resigned and was allotted a room in the dormitory, which suggests that the priory did not at that time have an infirmary. In 1400 there are references to the Prior's Hall (Great Hall), Prior's Room, and a room called `hevytre'; in 1434 to the chapter-house, and a high chamber in the N part of the court. The parish church was in existence before the priory, and in 1333 was appropriated by the canons. In 1536 there were only 4 canons and the prior in residence. Dissolved in 1536. In 1537 it was acquired by Viscount Lisle, by which time the cloister ranges had largely been destroyed, apart from a house used by the tenant farmer which has been identified with part of the present farmhouse. In the 18c there were several references to old walls remaining in the vicinity of the farmhouse. Excavations were undertaken within the priory church in 1929. The recorded finds were architectural fragments, including 7 small grotesque heads, 15/16c stained glass, ceramic ridge tiles of a rare type that are both moulded and glazed, and decorated floor tiles. Sections of the landscaped excavation cuts remain on the S side of the church. At the time of the excavations parts of the fabric were consolidated, and it seems very probable that this, and/or subsequent consolidation, has obscured structural detail essential to the interpretation of the monument. Although detailed plans of the parish and priory churches were made at that time, there are no detailed plans of the cloister ranges and earthworks. Cloister Hall farmhouse and the building on the N side of the cloister are together listed as a Grade II historic building. The parish church is listed as Grade I, with the wall to the W of the tower as Grade II.

Associated Monuments (1)

MDV419Frithelstock Priory, Frithelstock, Torridge (Monument)