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The Priory Ruins

One of the oldest religious presences in Dudley lies just down the first section of the Broadway from the Earl of Dudley's statue, in the shape of the Dudley Priory ruins. The Priory was founded circa 1182, having been mooted around 1161 by Gervase Pagnell in accordance with his father's wishes. (Gervase's name is thus the source of two adjacent street names.) Local landowners allocated land for religious purposes, and Cluniac monks came from Wenlock Abbey to get the Priory under way.
They proceeded to make claims on lands whose transfer was in dispute, and were successful in their pursuit of the income-rich church of Wombourne and its parishes of Seisdon and Trysull. But the Priory remained small in numbers - perhaps six monks at any time - at least partly because the local landowners had not yielded all their rights to the allocated land. This meant the Priory was never fully independent of them and of Dudley Castle, and in consequence did not develop much.

When Henry VIII came into contention with Rome (partly because of his multiple marriages), it led to the Act of Supremacy which placed Henry at the head of the English church. Yet the monasteries were still allied to Rome. This became unacceptable in itself, especially since some of them were both rich and corrupt - but also offered an opportunity to fill his empty state coffers. The monasteries were therefore dissolved from 1536 onwards, with the land sold off and the monks given pensions of some kind. Dudley was not, apparently, among the corrupt ones, but was dissolved along with the others.

The building passed into other hands, but was already showing signs of decay in 1596. It did remain usable however, and was successively used as a tannery, for thread manufacture, and for grinding glass and polishing steel. Part of it may even have been used as a house at one stage. But in the 19th century it ran out of practical uses and was left to deteriorate.

Priory Ruins 1

The view above shows the ruins from what is now Paganel Drive - though it
probably didn't exist when the card was created. The card is from the Fountains
series, and was printed in Bavaria, which suggests a date before World War I.

Priory Ruins 1

      G. Warburton created the sketch above in 1989 from an old print, and it
      appeared in the The Blackcountryman's Autumn issue the same year.
      As the caption says, it could have been a house at one time, and certainly
      looks like it. But the activities carried on there don't suggest it would be a
      very nice place to live. It's surprising, too, that the end wall could already
      be this precarious and still have survived to the present day

Priory Ruins 2 By the end of the 19th century, much of its stone had disappeared (often to be incorporated in other buildings), and
what remained was covered in ivy. While ivy looks decorative, of course, it also advances the destruction.

Then in 1926, the Priory, Priory Hall and the surrounding grounds were bought by the Corporation to create a public park. They engaged in preserving what remained of the ruins, and that was probably when the greenery was stripped back before it damaged the ruins further.

The card at right was never posted, so we have no date for it, but the above history makes it likely that it was before 1930. The photograph was taken by Herbert Whitford of Dudley, who may well have been the publisher. The picture below looks in the opposite direction and shows the effect of the clean-up.

Priory Ruins 3This is another card that was never posted, so we have no idea when it was first published. But the style (e.g. card lettering), the high negative number, and the glossy quality suggest the 1930s or even as recently as the 1950s.

The ruins get maintainance work from time to time (most recently 2013-4) and revealed foundations show the building's earlier extent. These days, the ruins are the backdrop for a lot of wedding photos. At times a queue of wedding parties forms, with stretch limos waiting nearby!

Text: Harry Drummond

This page includes information from R.E. Boffey's article "Monasteries in the Black Country - Dudley Priory"
from The Blackcountryman, October 1968.

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