About the Priory

Llanthony Secunda Priory, also known as Llanthony by Gloucester, was a priory of the Augustinian Order, which was an order of canons set up in the middle of the 11th century and adhering the Rule of St. Augustine of Hippo.  The order (also known as Black Canons) came to England in 1106, and spread rapidly - at their height the Augustinians had over 200 priories/houses in England and Wales.  The monastic rule followed by the Augustinians was not particularly austere.  Each of the Canons was a priest and as such not bound to his house, but was fre to have outside responsibilities, such as to a parish, running schools, hospitals and almhouses.  However the lived the same type of communal life as monks and their priories shared the same basic components of those of the monastic orders.

 Llanthony's beginnings were in Wales.  In 1108 Hugh de Lacy, Lord of Ewias, founded an Augustinian Priory at Llanthony, Monmouthshire, on the site of a small religious settlement begun by his kinsman, William de Lacy. The priory prospered and by 1125 it had around forty canons.

After the death of Henry I in 1135 there was a major uprising of the Welsh against the Norman invaders and the priory was attacked; the canons were forced to abandon it and were granted refuge in Hereford, whose bishop, Robert de B.thune, had previously been their prior. He persuaded Milo, Earl of Hereford and Constable of Gloucester, to provide land for the displaced canons close to Gloucester, and a new church was begun there in 1136.  

The site, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, was to be a temporary one, and its name, LLANTHONY SECUNDA, reflected this intention.  However, after the initial emergency was over it was nearly fifty years before the original site in Waleswas gradually re-colonised. The new house had benefited greatly from Milo’s family, the de Bohunes, and many of the canons were reluctant to leave the safer and more comfortable environs of the new site. The contemporary cleric Giraldus Cambrensis praised the canons that had returned but lambasted those who stayed in the Gloucester house which had                                                      ‘odiously and enviously supplanted its own mother’

Eventually, in 1205, the two Llanthony’s were separated and both became independent houses. Llanthony Secunda was then already famous for its gardens and in the late 12th century was described as    ‘a noble house in a place so beautiful and peaceful, provided with fine buildings, fruitful vines, set about handsomely with pleasure gardens and orchards’.         Twelve acres of orchards belonging to the royal castle of Gloucester were granted to the priory in 1199, including an island in the river.  

When the queen mother, Eleanor of Provence, was living at Gloucester castle in 1277, she was granted permission to build a bridge over the river so that she and her ladies-in-waiting could exercise in the prior’s garden at Llanthony.  A century later when Richard II held a parliament in Gloucester he also made use of the priory gardens and it has been suggested this inspired his own island plesaunce in the Thames.

A late-15th century Priory seal noted in the Victorian County History has a crowned Virgin seated in a heavily canopied niche, the Child with numbus on her right knee and a lion passant at her feet. By that time the Priory’s fortunes were recovering from several major disasters. In Easter 1301 the priory church and its four bell towers had been destroyed by fire, leaving only the bare walls standing; in the following decades there were internecine disputes over the appointment of a new prior; and by the start of the 1340’s the Priory was heavily in debt. To make matters even worse, at the end of the 1340’s came an outbreak of the Black Death when perhaps as many as two-thirds of the canons perished; and there were problems in collecting the revenues from the priory’s extensive Irish estates.

In 1377 William de Cheriton was appointed Prior and held the post for twenty-four years in which time the Priory’s fortunes improved dramatically. However, its finances were again in a run-down state when Henry Deane, then still in his late-20’s, became prior in 1467. Deane remained Prior for over 30 years despite also being Chancellor of Ireland and, briefly in succession, Bishop of Bangor and then Salisbury, only relinquishing Llanthony when he became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1501.  

 
Fig.1: Extract from Buckler’s sketch of the Priory’s West Gatehouse, drawn in 1818.

He was clearly an efficient and dynamic administrator and set about rebuilding much of the priory and restoring its finances to such an extent that it became perhaps the most prosperous Augustinian houses in England and could entertain Henry VII and his court in 1500 and 1501 – the year Deane became Archbishop.

Whilst Llanthony Secunda prospered the former mother house was in serious decline with only a handful of canons. Due to Prior Deane’s influence, in 1481 it was reunited with its former daughter house, but, ironically, as its dependant.

In 1534 Llanthony Secunda acknowledged the Royal supremacy; there were then twenty two canons and the prior and it was worth nearly £.650 a year. The Priory was dissolved in 1538. The last prior, Richard Hempstead, received a remarkably generous pension of £100 a year.   Within two years the site was sold to Arthur Porter, a former under steward of the priory.  

Whilst part of the priory church was retained as a parish church, the rest together with the cloisters were converted into a house  for the Porter family who continued to use it until 1630 after which it was tenanted. The former inner and outer courts to the south were adapted for other uses, mainly agricultural. The site  passed by the marriage of Porter’s sole daughter and heiress, Elizabeth, to John Scudamore of Herefordshire. Roger Scudamore was a fervent Royalist but during the English Civil War Gloucester became a key Parliamentary stronghold in the west of England.

 
Fig.2: Extract from Speede’s 1610 map of Gloucester, with Llanthony at the bottom.

When the  Royalists besieged the city in the summer of 1643 Llanthony Priory was one of the sites they used and as a result it was badly damaged by both attackers and defenders through deliberate demolition and artillery.

The siege failed and in the same year Scudamore was taken prisoner at Hereford and his properties plundered. The house appears never to have been used after the Civil War, probably being too ruinous, and the part of the church used by the parish, presumably the nave, was demolished in 1666 and the smaller church at nearby Hempsted was rebuilt to replace it.

 
Fig.3 Extract from the Buck Brother’s 1734 engraving of Gloucester, showing Llanthony Secunda.

At the start of the 18th century there was little left of church or claustral buildings, and one writer wrote that   not one stone is left upon another that is not thrown down. All of the buildings belonging to the priory are likewise destroyed, except some of the meanest offices. Neither remain there any marks of its former greatness except the west and southgates’.

For most of the 18th century the site was tenanted by the Beale family. Contemporary maps and plans show the site cleared of most of its buildings, other than those still standing plus a few others probably of post-medieval date and since demolished, but it nevertheless remained a rural backwater.


Fig.4: Extract from 1792 estate plan, showing proposed course of the canal.

Then at the end of the 18th century the digging of the Gloucester & Berkeley (later Sharpness) ship canal through the eastern edge of the site inevitably led to large-scale excavation and soil dumping; whilst many large stones and other monastic fragments were encountered, no attempt was made to record them. Even then the rest of the site was undisturbed until a new basin was excavated in the 1840’s just to the north of the present Scheduled area.

Antiquarian interest was greater this time and William Jones, the landowner, paid for his workers to excavate some of the area in advance of the dock works and they encountered a series of five Norman pier bases in situ, assumed to be from the Priory church.  

 
Fig.5: Llanthony Secunda as indicated on Cole & Porter’s 1801 map of Gloucester.

The canal basin was never used and converted instead to a railway yard, providing transhipment between the canal wharf and the railway system. Despite this, Llanthony Abbey Farm, still owned by distant descendants of the Scudamores, remained a working farm until the late-19th century, after which it was used for a variety of purposes.


Fig.6: Extract from the 1902 1:500 Ordnance Survey map.

In the 20th century it became more and more run-down and the site was covered with spoil and caravans. Finally it was saved by Gloucester City Council who gained possession in the 1980’s and began the process of restoration of the site and the creation of an attractive public open space.