“FIELDWORKER TRIP – ULVERSCROFT PRIORY”
Ulverscroft was founded in the mid 13th century, probably by Robert le Bossu, 2nd Earl of Leicester. It was an Augustinian house. The number of canons ranged from 3 to 10. In 1536 when it was spared dissolution, there were the prior, 8 canons and a corrodiary. There were also 20 yeoman servants. 14 children for the chapel and three women for the dairy. It was dissolved on 15 September 1539. It passed to the Earl of Rutland then through a number of hands. It never seems to have been converted into a tenanted farm and the priory buildings were never cleared, but mostly re-used.
The church was consolidated by William Keay around 1930. The guest hall functioned as a barn and the prior’s lodging as the farmhouse, while the refectory’s south wall was retained as a farmyard boundary. The cloister is, therefore, still easily discovered. A disastrous collapse of the south wall of the prior’s lodging has left the building in a parlous state. The new owner, Mr. Trevor Wells, has had the building weather proofed and a full archaeological survey has been undertaken.
Discussions are ongoing with English Heritage on the best way to restore the buildings and bring them back into use.
As part of this geophysical survey has shown an extensive range of buildings south of the standing buildings.”
Alison Keay - 2007
BY WILLIAM KEAY, F.R.I.B.A AND MARGARET KEAY
IN 1927, Ulverscroft Priory, with the adjoining farm, was acquired by Mr.Wm. Lindsay Everard, who generously undertook to preserve the ruins, then in an advanced stage of decay, from total destruction.
The writers became responsible for the direction and supervision of the necessary work which occupied five summers (1928-33). This period gave a unique opportunity of studying, measuring and preparing accurate plans and drawings of the fabric and the various objects found in the excavations.
IN 1927, this important ecclesiastical ruin was in a parious state. The church was covered with debris to a depth of 3ft., the north aisle was invisible, pigs occupied the refectory, fowls, the guest house, cows the coisters, and the nave and chancel had been turned into a stack-yard.
The tower was in a dangerous condition, the piers to the clerestory windows were in a tottering state and parasitic ivy had generally wrought havoc with the masonry.
Thanks to the owner and to the hearty co-operation and interest of the tenant, Mr. A. Chaplin, who occupies the prior’s lodgings, many of these unfortunate conditions have been greatly improved.
True, one would like to see the good work, so well started, continued; but it is a matter for profound satisfaction and gratitude that, at least, the remaining fabric has been preserved for future generations to enjoy.
The clearing of the moat, the restoration of the fishpond (now dry), the preservation of the 13century roof to the guest house, excavations to discover the cloisters, chapter house, library and kitchens and the reparation of the prior’s house, are all matters that, one hopes, may some day be undertaken.
It is not the writers intention to set forth in detail the history of the priory, but the following chronology may be found useful:-
1134 Priory founded by Robert Bossu, 2nd Earl of Leicester
for Eremites of the order of St. Augustine.
1345 Thomas de Ferrers left land and advowson of Bunney to prior and convent of Ulverscroft.
1361 Wm., 3rd Lord Ferrers of Groby (fundator modernus), bestows Considerable possessions.
1368 (June 1). In his will, the same lord Ferrers directed that his body should be “buried in the conventual church of Our Lady at Ulverscroft.”
1465 Priories of Ulverscroft and Charley United.
1534 Suppression of the smaller monasteries; Ulverscroft included, but afterwards reprieved temporarily.
Eight religious persons being priests, subscribed the
King’s Supremacy, Sept. 17, 1534 viz
Edward Dalby, prior
1539 Prior Dalby and his brethren were induced to surrender the priory into the king’s hands, 15 Sept. 1589. List of possessions at dissolution given by Curtis p.179.
1543 The priory and adjoining lands granted to Thomas, first Earl of Rutland who sold them to Sir Andrew Judd, Lord Mayor of London.
1550 Sold to Henry, marquis of Dorset, later, duke of Suffolk, on whose attainder in 1554 the site of the priory with Charley was granted by Queen Mary to Frideswide Strelley.
1565 John Wilson, nephew of Frideswide Strelley becomes the owner on the depth of his aunt.
1578 Ambrose Wilson, sone of John Wilson, becomes the owner.
1609 The Priory and 1358 acres sold by Ambrose Wilson to Robert Peshall; from whom it passed, by marriage with his daughter and heir Eliz. Peshall to Sir Robert Bossevile.
1829 On the death of Mrs. Bossevile, the Rev. A. Lyon Emerson, became the owner.
1847 Purchased by Harry Grey, 7th Earl of Stamford and Warrington.
1921 Sold to T. P. Towle, Esq., of Loughborough by Mrs. Grey.
1927 Purchased by W.Lindsay Everard, Esq., of Ratcliffe Hall, Leics.
DESCRIPTION OF THE BUILDINGS
The priory was evidently a strongly protected building, as is indicated by the moat and enclosure wall, both of which are largely in evidence. The wall encloses an area of 4half acres. Loopholes are set in the thick walls, traces of lock-out towers can be observed and there are indications of a boat-house on the east side of the fish-pond, and a bridge on the eastern arm of the moat.
The fish-pond, long since dry, covered an area of two half acres. The present pond to the north is a modern construction of 1861.
The arrangement of the buildings follows the monastic plan peculiar to this order.
The most northerly building is the church, comprising a nave and chancel, 115ft long by 28ft wide, with a tower at the western end and a north aisle (built in two stages) 92ft x 24ft.
The nave and part of the north aisle are of the 13century, the chancel and tower being added in the 14th century.
The clerestory and western end of the north aisle are of the 15century.
The guest house and prior’s lodgings belong to the period of the earlier church (13th century) but the refectory is of a later date, 15th century.
Such buildings as the chapter house, library, kitchens, dormitories and other portions necessary to the complete establishment of an Augustinian priory have not yet been discovered.
Label mouldings, some 10ft above the ground are the only evidence yet brought to light of the cloisters.
The priory is built mainly of Charnwood Forest stone, with dressings and tracery from the quarries at Attleborough. The original steep roof of the church was probably thatched, but the 15th century roof would have a lead covering.
Some interesting finds have attended the clearance of the debris, among them being the discovery of three tombs, presumably of the Ferrers family, fragments of ancient glass and a fine assortment of early 14century slip tiles. The last are unusually vigorous in design and decorative in character.
The early 14th century floor tiles at Ulverscroft are an important discovery, ranking high in variety and vigour in comparison with those of other monastic buildings and form a valuable addition to our knowledge of the subject.
Over sixty different patterns in a good state of preservation are to be seen, the types being geometrical, heraldic, alphabetical, zodiacal and grotesque.
They were probably made on the spot of the local red clay, the impressed pattern being filled with yellow or white semi-fluid clay or “slip” and the whole tile afterwards burnt in a kiln and glazed.
In one case, sixteen tiles are required to make a complete unit. Another pattern is the “tile-in-tile” type peculiar to Ulverscroft. This was found fixed vertically in the chancel steps, but the reason for its peculiar construction is puzzling.
The occurrence of tiles of similar patterns in neighbouring churches, viz:
St. Mary’s, All Saints, the abbey of St. Mary in the meadows and the Trinity Hospital Chapel at Leicester, suggests a common “tile factory” on the other hand, the wooden pattern blocks may have been “borrowed” a reasonable explanation for the similarity of pattern found at the places mentioned and at Cossington, Kegworth, Dale Abbey, Morley, near Derby and Repton. “
(From Leics. Arch.Society 1933-1934.