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Llanthony Secunda Priory

The remains of the 12th-century Llanthony Secunda Priory are located next to Gloucestershire College campus along the canal, south of the Docks. They comprise the ruins of a stone tithe barn and two restored ranges around an inner court, plus sections of the precinct wall and the ruins of the western gatehouse into the priory estate. None of the claustral (or conventual) buildings – the church with its chapter house and cloisters, the monks' dormitory, the refectory, kitchen or infirmary, etc. – survive.

The priory was established in 1136 as an alternative for the monks of Llanthony Priory in the Honddu valley (in what would later become Monmouthshire), following attacks there by the Welsh. It was located to the south-west of Gloucester, outside the city walls. The priory estate covered the area approximately bounded today by St. Ann Way to the south, Hempsted Lane (A430) to the west, Llanthony Road to the north and the Bristol Road to the east, with the priory buildings located around a great court roughly corresponding with the surviving remains. There is evidence to suggest that the first structures were temporary, indicating that the monks planned to return to the Welsh priory. By the end of the 12th century, a more substantial church had been built, and in 1205 the two priories separated.

Llanthony Secunda benefitted enormously from the patronage of nobility, being endowed with extensive estates as far away as Ireland and title over hundreds of properties in Gloucester. Between 1143 and 1304 fifteen members of the families of Hereford earls – beginning with the priory's founder, Miles of Gloucester, 1st Earl of Hereford, commonly known as Milo, and continuing with his descendants in the De Bohun family – were buried in the priory's chapter house. Additionally, Humphrey IV De Bohun, 2nd Earl of Hereford, was buried before the high altar in the Quire after his death in 1275, to be joined there by his wife in 1290 (some sources state their effigies were later transferred to the south aisle of the Cathedral, though other sources cast significant doubt on this). 

The church was rebuilt after a fire in 1301, and towards the end of the century the chapel, cloister and granary were rebuilt. In 1481 the two priories were re-united when the prior of Llanthony Secunda bought Llanthony Prima.

King Henry VII stayed at the priory during his visits to Gloucester in 1500 and 1501, but by 1518 the church was said to be in a ruinous state. It was subsequently rebuilt again in Perpendicular style, resulting in a building of two storeys displaying similar fan-vaulted styling as the Cathedral cloisters. Llanthony Secunda was at this time one of the largest Augustinian priories in England, and the wealthiest.

Dissolution and Destruction

In 1538 the priory was surrendered to the Crown as a result of the dissolution of the monasteries. Two years later it was sold to Arthur Porter, Justice of the Peace for Gloucestershire and a future Member of Parliament for Gloucester, who established Llanthony House as his residence. The exact location of this mansion is not known, but it is likely that it was adapted from the Prior's lodging and the western range of the priory cloisters (the original abbot's lodging at Gloucester Cathedral is also attached to the western alley of the cloisters). The priory church remained in use as a parish church, though typically the chancels of monastic churches were removed to prevent any restoration of the monastery and it is likely that only the nave was used. There is evidence to suggest that sometime in the period 1550–1585 Porter demolished part of the priory complex, possibly the chapter house, the stone of which was then re-used in the construction of the wool barn at Manor Farm in Frampton, which from 1557 was owned by Porter's son-in-law.

In 1615 the priory passed to Sir John Scudamore. An ardent Royalist, Scudamore was captured at Hereford by Parliamentarian forces in April 1643 during the English Civil War and his properties plundered. At Llanthony, just outside the walls of Parliamentarian Gloucester, the "tower of an old chappel" (assumed to be the priory church) was pulled down to prevent its use by any Royalist attackers. During the siege of Gloucester, which began four months later, Royalist forces did indeed make use of the priory, and buildings were further damaged by Parliamentarian raids on Royalist artillery located there.

In 1660, Scudamore wrote that the church had been "utterly demolished", and from that year it ceased to be used as the parish church. Llanthony House disappears from the documentary record after 1670. In his book, Ancient and Present State of Glostershire, published 1712, the antiquarian Sir Robert Atkyns described the tombs of the De Bohun family as heaps of rubbish under the sky, and in 1717 a visitor observed that the priory had been reduced to a hillock. In 1727 it was noted that "of the conventual church 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 south gates..."

Several 18th-century paintings and drawings show that nothing of the church and its associated monastic buildings survived. Maps drawn in 1780 and 1792 show only partial boundary walls and a handful of buildings largely corresponding with the walls, tithe barn and ranges that survive today around what was the priory inner court. In the 18th and 19th centuries this area was used as a farmstead, and in the late-19th century a farmhouse, attached to the south side of a medieval range, was built on the site of a gate between the outer and inner courts.

Impact of the Gloucester & Sharpness Canal

In 1794 construction of the Gloucester & Berkeley Canal began at Gloucester. By the time work was halted due to technical and financial difficulties in 1799 (the canal would not be completed until 1827, with a shorter than originally planned route that met the Severn at Sharpness), the canal had cut an approximately 100ft-wide, 14ft-deep swathe through the site of the priory.


In his An Original History of the City of Gloucester, published in 1819, Thomas Fosbroke wrote, "In digging the Berkeley canal the foundations of the old church were discovered, and some bodies disturbed, but no stones appeared. They had been carried away at the dissolution...". In A Popular Account of the Interesting Priory of Llanthony near Gloucester, published in 1853, John Clarke reports that the construction of the canal unearthed stone coffins and "many large stones...but, unfortunately, no care was taken to preserve any record whatever of them". The near contemporaneous documentary record therefore sheds little light on the impact this phase of canal construction had on the priory.

In 1846 work began on digging a new basin at Llanthony, on the site now occupied by the Gloucestershire College campus, but the plan was changed in favour of widening the canal to create Llanthony Quay. The unfinished basin was filled in and a railyard laid down on top, the works being completed in 1854. The excavation of the basin had unearthed two stone coffins and, according to a report in the Gloucester Journal, "Five old church pillars of the Norman period." The subsequent widening of the canal also exposed and truncated two substantial medieval walls where the Sula lightship is now moored, opposite the currently derelict Downings Malthouse extension.

Clarke regarded the walls as proof of the site of the priory church, east of the current priory grounds, in the area now cut through by the canal. Notwithstanding the evidence found during the excavation of the basin, to the north of the current priory grounds and now the site of the Gloucestershire College campus, Clarke's 'proof' was accepted for 150 years, and illustrations on infoboards in the priory grounds today still show the church to the east.

Revision and Restoration

The Scudamore family sold the farmstead to a chemical manufacturer in 1898, but in 1906, before plans to build a factory on the site could be put into motion, the site was appropriated by the Great Western Railway and leased to various concerns. The farmstead was declared a Scheduled Monument in 1949, and the area encompassed by the monument was expanded to the south and east in 1988 specifically to include the site of the priory church as hypothesised by Clarke. By the 1970s the site was occupied by various tenancies and used in part for industrial purposes, including a scrapyard, and in 1974 it was bought by Gloucester City Council.

The planned redevelopment of the railyard for Gloucestershire College prompted archaeological excavations and reviews of the historical record between 2003 and 2005. This led to a revision of Clarke's interpretation and concluded that the priory church, cloisters and associated monastic buildings most likely stood on the site of the railyard, to the north of the current priory grounds, in the area the college would soon be built upon. Evaluation trenches excavated in this area in 2003 found walls which could have belonged to the western part of the priory cloisters and post-dissolution mansion. The southern end of another trench revealed two 16th/17th-century burials, indicating perhaps the cemetery of the post-dissolution parish church. The northern end of the trench and two other trenches dug where the priory's cloister garth and church might be expected to be found according to the new interpretation of their location revealed only 18th/19th-century infill. This indicates the area excavated then quickly filled in 1846 for the abortive basin destroyed much of the archaeological remains of the priory church.

An archaeological excavation in 2005 extended over an area north and east of the surviving tithe barn, on the site approximately occupied today by the southern wing of the Gloucestershire College campus. The excavation found several medieval burials which "clearly" indicated the monastic cemetery at the eastern end of the area, close to the canal. It also found the walls of four substantial buildings erected between the late-14th century and the early-16th century. There is not enough evidence to establish beyond doubt their use, though a track that passed between two similar buildings strongly indicates the presence of a gatehouse. The remaining buildings appear to have been monastic service buildings, perhaps a dorter (monks' dormitory) and the prior's kitchen. The archaeological record shows that none of these buildings survived beyond the 17th century, and there is evidence to suggest one of them, the mooted dorter, was demolished in the 16th century, shortly after the dissolution. No further evidence of the priory church, which likely lay to the north of the excavated area, was found. The two substantial walls truncated by the widening of the canal in 1846, the main basis for Clarke's siting of the priory church to the east, have been tentatively interpreted as the priory infirmary.

In 2007 the charitable Llanthony Secunda Priory Trust was established. After 19 months of restoration and conservation work, the surviving remnants of the priory were opened in 2018. A video produced by the Trust in 2022, titled The Lost Library of Llanthony, includes an animation of how the priory might have appeared in the final days before dissolution. The location of the church reflects the current consensus, whilst its appearance is based on similar priory churches elsewhere in the country.

Surviving remnants

To the south of the campus lie the remains of a 15th-century tithe barn (grade I, list #: 1271698). The barn's roof had been removed by 1734, by 1834 the west porch on the south side had been removed and the south wall either side of it was taken down in 1887.

To the south of the barn's west end are the rubble footings of a medieval range that was part-demolished some time before 1882. The line of this missing structure is continued by the still-standing middle segment of that range (grade I, list#: 1271693). At the end of the range, where a gate between outer and inner courts was once located, is a late 19th-century farmhouse (grade II, list#: 1245765) which incorporates some remains of the the range to which it is attached.

Another range (grade I, list#: 1271697), dating to the 16th century, survives on the original southern boundary of the priory. Also surviving are lengths of the 15th-century northern wall (grade I, list#: 1271695) and 16th-century western wall (grade I, list#: 1271696), along with the ruins in the western wall of the late 15th-century outer gatehouse (grade I, list#: 1271694). The gate's pedestrian passage is complete, but a wagon passage on the north side is almost entirely gone and the porter's lodge that would have been part of the gate has not survived.

The restored south range is available for venue hire. An exhibition detailing the history of the priory has been installed in west range, open free of charge to visitors on the first Sunday of every month, with guided tours available for a small charge. The grounds of the former priory, including the remains of the tithe barn, are publicly accessible year round.

An Original History of the City of Gloucester, 1819, Rev. Thomas Fosbroke, pp. 290–294

A Popular Account of the Interesting Priory of Llanthony near Gloucester, 1853, John Clarke

St. Briavel's Castle (Addendum)Trans. Bristol & Gloucestershire Archaeological Society, 3, 18781879, pp. 364365 ("The Names of the Founders of the Church of our Blessed Lady in Lanthony, whiche ar Departid (sic.) ther"), J. Maclean

Effigies in Gloucester Cathedral, Trans. Bristol & Gloucestershire Archaeological Society, 27, 1904, pp. 298–300 (IV Unkown Knight), W. Bazeley & M. E. Bazeley

Sites and Remains of Religious Houses, Victoria County History, 1988, ed. N.M. Herbert

Gloucester Quays: Llanthony Priory Redefined? Glevensis, Vol 37, 2004, pp. 19–28, Martin Watts and Pat Hughes

Archaeological Investigations in the Great Court of the Augustinian Priory of Llanthony by Gloucester, Trans. Bristol & Gloucestershire Archaeological Society, 133, 2005, pp. 93–130, Tim Allen & David Score

Archaeological Excavations at Llanthony Secunda Priory, Gloucester, 2014, Glevensis, Vol 48, 2015, pp. 35–28, Nicky Garland, Peter Davenport and Ray Holt

The Lost Architecture of Llanthony Secunda Priory, Glevensis, Vol 52, 2019, pp. 43–52, Richard K. Morris & John Rhodes

The Lost Library of Llanthony, Llanthony Secunda Priory Trust, YouTube, 2022


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