The Priory of St. James

The priory was founded by Gervase Paganel, whose father Ralph Paganel had intended to establish a religious community in Dudley. The priory was Gervase’s own private church, little more than a burial place for his family, which also acted as a guesthouse for the castle. The Cluniac priory of Dudley was founded in about 1160 with just three or four monks and Osbert the first prior. It was part of a Benedictine order, founded at Cluny in eastern France in 910.

When founded it had little influence in the area and was just an appendage of the castle. It was also dependent on the priory at Much Wenlock. The priory was largely supported by income from a number of parish churches, as well as from the two half hides of land that it owned, and various rights of pasture. The castle estates provided a tithe of bread, venison and fish, as well as rights to take wood for building and other needs. The priory was surrounded on at least three sides by large fishponds and mill pools. The monks seem for the most part to have led a quiet uneventful life under the protection of the Paganel family.

The priory was cruciform with an aisleless nave and two chapels on the south side of the choir, the eastern chapel being separated by a blank wall from the western chapel, which opened directly out of the south transept. Gervase Paganel appears to have built only the crossing with the transepts, each with a small apse and a very plain east cloister building, with a chapter house and day room below, and a dormitory and a toilet. The east end was erected in about 1190 and the nave was probably built in the early 13th century.

The cloister and monastic buildings were to the north of the church, rather than the usual position to the south. In the north east corner of the north transept are remains of a newel staircase that ran between the dormitory and the church and also traces of four central arches. The stonework is very plain, but of good standard. During the late 14th century, John Sutton, Lord of Dudley bequeathed 20 pounds for his burial within a grand tomb, and a very fine stone vaulted chapel of three bays was built on the south side of the choir.

Based on the image on the public information panels, beside The Broadway and Paganel Drive.

An engraving of the priory before industrialisation. From an engraving by S. & N. Buck, 1731.

A view from the 1770s.

The prior of Dudley, like others from Cluniac monasteries, was probably suspected or implicated in the rebellion of Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, in 1322. He was arrested by order of the king and then released in October, 1323.

The population of the priory is never thought to have exceeded around five monks and a prior. When it was dissolved in the 1530s it was valued at 36 pounds and 8 shillings. In 1545 the estate was granted to Sir John Dudley, and the church and buildings fell into decay.

Although Dudley’s ruling families did not possess a water mill in the 16th century, the priors of Dudley had one in their possession, which had been taken over by Lord Dudley in around 1610. In the 1640s the priory was used to store ammunition during the Civil War.

The site was later used for various industrial purposes, including a tannery, a water mill and an iron works. A large kiln was also inserted in the western range during the industrial period. A tanner built a cottage in the ruins in the 1770s, using one of the walls and some dressed stones from the site.

By 1776 a thread manufacturer also occupied the site and a steam mill was built there, possibly in the area once occupied by the cloisters. In 1801 the mill was using ground glass to polish items made from steel, including fire irons.

A drawing from the 1880s showing the steam mill and the other industrial additions.

In 1825 the Earl of Dudley constructed Priory Hall on the north western side of the priory ruins as a family residence. The ruins were then incorporated into the grounds of the new house and the industrial additions including the cottage were removed. The site was cleaned-up, the walls were planted with ivy and the remains of the medieval fishponds were drained. The grand drive from The Broadway to the house was then constructed through the park-like grounds.

The ruins include some spectacular arches. The outlines of the monastic buildings and cloisters are marked in the grass by stones, put there by the archaeologist, Rayleigh Radford, in 1939. The remains of the priory are now Grade 1 Listed.

The Priors were as follows:
Osbert, circa 1160.
Everad, circa 1182.
Robert de Mallega, recorded in 1292 and 1298.
Thomas de Londiniis, recorded in 1338 and 1346.
William, recorded in 1351 to 1352 and 1354.
Richard de Stafford, circa 1400.
John Billingburgh, who died in 1421.
William Canke, appointed in 1421 and resigned in the same year.
John Brugge, appointed in 1421, recorded in 1434.
John Webley, circa 1535.
Thomas Shrewsbury, who received a pension in 1539 to 1540.

Another view from the 1770s.

A view from the eastern end of the site in the 1770s.

The industrialised site.

From the Saturday Magazine, December 1839.

From an old postcard.

The priory and the castle in 1831. From an engraving by H. F. James.

Gardeners at work in the early 1900s. From an old postcard.

Photos from 2012:

The main entrance.

The main entrance and the nave.

Inside the nave looking towards the entrance.

The Priory, seen from The Broadway.

The internal arch at the end of the nave.

The eastern end of the site.

The monastic buildings and cloisters as marked out, and the remains of a staircase.

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