Wenlock Priory, or St Milburga's Priory, is a ruined 12th century monastery, located in Much Wenlock, Shropshire, at grid reference SJ625001. The foundation was a part of the Cluniac order, which was refounded in 1079 and 1082, on the site of an earlier 7th century monastery, by Roger de Montgomery. It is thought to be the final resting place of Saint Milburga, whose bones were reputedly discovered during restoration work in 1101.
Parts of the building became a house later known as "Wenlock Abbey", which is privately owned, but most of Wenlock Priory is open to the public under the care of English Heritage and is used mostly for recreational purposes. The grounds have a collection of topiary.
Merewalh, King of the Magonsaete founded the original Anglo-Saxon monastery here circa 680 and Merewalh's daughter quickly became its abbess, and was later canonised. After her death circa 727, however, little is historically known of the monastery until the Norman Conquest. It is known that the priory was inhabited by monks until after the Norman conquest. In the 12th century, the abbey was replaced by a Cluniac priory for men.
Just after 1200 Prior Humbert obtained various grants from King Henry III, an occasional guest at the Priory, who imported his own wines to be stored there. The grants enabled the building of a newer, larger church.
Following the reformation of the monastery, in the early 14th century, the priory church was lavishly and completely rebuilt, and today considerable remains are left of the 350-foot-long church (110 m), including the north and south transept and the nave.
Around the Priory, the town of Much Wenlock was formed. The town is made up of a small network of intricate, narrow streets lined with timber-framed black and white buildings. Within the town is the well of St Milburga of Wenlock which was said to have cured sight impairments and helped Victorian women find a suitor.
Following the dissolution in 1540, several buildings, including the late 15th century Prior's House, were converted into a private residence later known as "Wenlock Abbey". In the 19th century it was purchased by James Milnes Gaskell MP for Wenlock, from his wife's cousin Sir Watkin Williams Wynn. It was restored and turned into a home by his son Charles Milnes Gaskell and his wife Lady Catherine, daughter of the Earl of Portsmouth, who entertained many eminent Victorians and Edwardians, including Thomas Hardy and Henry James. It remains inhabited to this day, and is currently owned by Gabrielle Drake and her husband. It is not open to the public, but the fine architecture can still be seen and incorporates Norman and 15th century work. This gives us a clue of how grand the original priory church would have been.
Media related to Much Wenlock Priory at Wikimedia Commons
- Adrian Fletcher’s Paradoxplace – Wenlock Priory Photos
- Photographs and Information from Strolling Guides
- Page at English Heritage
- Information for teachers: English Heritage
- Page on Topiary in the United Kingdom