Wetheral Priory

Has been described as a Certain Fortified Ecclesiastical site

There are major building remains

NameWetheral Priory
Alternative NamesWetherall Priory
Historic CountryCumberland
Modern AuthorityCumbria
1974 AuthorityCumbria
Civil ParishWetheral

Gatehouse tower. C14, for Benedictine Priory of Wetheral. Dressed red sandstone walls with moulded dressings and stone-slate replacement roof. 3 storeys, 2 bays. Chamfered plinth course and moulded string-course to each storey, with battlemented parapet. Large round-headed moulded entrance arch with barrel-vaulted passage. Mullioned windows of 2 lights with chamfered dressings, hood moulds and trefoil cusped heads above entrance: windows in other elevations are similar, but of one light. Label moulds to sides show single storey roof line of original adjoining buildings now demolished. Internal spiral staircase gives access to floors and roof. Priory was founded c1100, but the gatehouse represents a later rebuilding, probably after the destruction of the buildings following successive border raids. (Listed Building Report)

Wetheral Benedictine Priory, located in the valley of the Eden a short distance to the west of the river. The upstanding remains include the priory's well preserved gatehouse and a length of medieval wall interpreted as the east wall of the chapter house. Below ground features include the remains of two buildings known, from visible fragments of roof lines, to have been attached to the north and south external faces of the gatehouse. The monument is divided into two areas. Originally the core of the priory occupied the whole of the area of the modern farm; the extent of any survival of the archaeological features in this area is not yet known. The gatehouse is constructed of red sandstone and measures 12.5m by 8.9m externally with a projection for a circular stair at the north east angle that is entered through a doorway in the east face of the gatehouse. The main entrance passage has a barrel-vault, runs east-west, and is situated towards the north end of the gatehouse

In the north face of the gatehouse there is a blocked door that originally gave access into an adjoining building known from visible remains of roof lines to have been attached to the northern end of the gatehouse. The south end of the gatehouse contains a room which originally functioned as the porter's lodge. It measures 5.3m by 3m internally and is lit by a narrow loop or window at the western end. There is a blocked window at the eastern end of this room. The upper two floors acted as domestic chambers for priory officials. The first floor is entered via a short passage from the circular stair. It consists of a single room measuring 7.6m by 5.2m internally and is lit by three windows. There is a fireplace in the east wall, a garderobe or toilet in the south wall, and two chambers each with a small window in the west wall. The second floor is also entered via a short passage from the circular stair. It is similar to the one below but the entrance to the two chambers in the west wall is blocked. The circular stair continues up to the roof. Just outside the gatehouse, to the south, is a cellar about 1.5m below the present ground surface. It measures 7m by 2.7m internally and has a barrel vault. Approximately 90m to the north east of the gatehouse is a length of free-standing red sandstone medieval wall up to 23m long and 2.4m high with three complete window openings and traces of a fourth at the northern end, indications of a stair at the southern end, and traces of a blocked doorway. Wetheral Priory was dedicated to the Holy Trinity and St Constantine. It was founded in 1106 from its motherhouse of St Mary's Abbey, York. In its present form the gatehouse dates from the 15th century and roof lines on the north and south faces indicate that it stood in the centre of a range of medieval buildings. The priory was dissolved in 1538 and its lands granted to the Dean and Chapter of Carlisle. The gatehouse was used as a vicarage during the 16th and 17th centuries before later becoming a hayloft. (Scheduling Report)

Gatehouse Comments

As with almost all monastic gateways the 'defensive' function, in the sense of being a physical defence against violence, was minimal since the precinct wall of the Priory was long, unguarded and easily breached or climbed over by even a small force of determined men. It is as a symbol and place of interaction between the secular and religious world that the gatehouse has its place. In this role the gatehouse had a function as the centre of political and financial management of the Priory estates and as such could be the target of discontent.

- Philip Davis

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law

This is a Grade 1 listed building protected by law

Historic England Scheduled Monument Number
Historic England Listed Building number(s)
Images Of England
Historic England (PastScape) Defra or Monument number(s)
County Historic Environment Record
OS Map Grid ReferenceNY468541
Latitude54.8789901733398
Longitude-2.83050990104675
Eastings346810
Northings554120
HyperLink HyperLink HyperLink
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Copyright Karen and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons license.
Copyright Karen and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons license.
Copyright Karen and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons license.
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Books

  • Harrison, Peter, 2004, Castles of God (Woodbridge; Boydell Press) p. 67
  • Yates, Sarah (ed), 2002, Heritage Unlocked; Guide to free sites in the North West (London: English Heritage) p. 48-9
  • Brooke, C.J., 2000, Safe Sanctuaries (Edinburgh; John Donald) p. 278-9
  • Perriam, Denis and Robinson, John, 1998, The Medieval Fortified Buildings of Cumbria (Kendal: CWAAS Extra Series 29) p. 223 (plan of gatehouse)
  • Emery, Anthony, 1996, Greater Medieval Houses of England and Wales Vol. 1 Northern England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press) p. 203
  • Pevsner, Nikolaus, 1967, Buildings of England: Cumberland and Westmorland (Harmondsworth) p. 201-2
  • Knowles, David and Hadcock, R. Neville, 1953, Medieval religious houses in England and Wales (Longmans)
  • Wilson, James (ed), 1905, VCH Cumberland Vol. 2 p. 184-89 online transcription

Antiquarian

Journals

  • Martindale, J.H., 1922, 'The Priory of Wetheral' Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society Vol. 22 p. 239-251 online copy

Primary Sources

  • Prescott, J.E. (ed), 1897, The Register of the Priory of Wetheral (London: CWAAS Record Series 1) online copy