Following on in my series of blog posts reflecting on the history of old buildings in and around Southend-on-Sea. Today I wanted to focus on Prittlewell Priory and Priory Park, situated just to the north of Southend town centre. A mini exhibition of my photographs taken during several visits to Prittlewell will be included at the end of this post.
Prittlewell Priory is considered to be perhaps the oldest surviving buildings in Southend-on-Sea. Initial construction was considered to be circa 1110 AD. It is documented to have been granted to Lewes by Robert, son of Sweyn, and as Sweyn appears as the holder of Prittlewell in the Domesday Book, the foundation of the priory can be placed somewhere between 1086 and 1121.
Prittlewell Priory was established in the 12th Century by the monks of the Priory of St. Pancras at Lewes, East Sussex, which subsequently became Lewes Priory, as a small cell containing no more than 18 monks. Much of the original building was destroyed in 1536, and although rebuilt, the Priory experienced significant alterations in both the 18th and 20th centuries respectively, with the partial rebuilding and restoration of the refectory.
One noteworthy point in the Priory’s history came in the early 14th Century. In 1311, Lewes elected William le Auvergnat to the post of Prior for Prittlewell Priory. However, le Auvergnat was soon to be accused of corruption and incontinency in the City of London in 1314 and attempts by the Priory at Lewes to remove him resulted in a prolonged period of conflict between the two institutions, with le Auvergnat refusing to step down and Lewes attempting to replace him with James de Cusancia. William was subsequently called before the King in 1318, and whilst outwardly agreeing to resign his position, he subsequently returned to the monastery and forcibly occupied Prittlewell. This lasts until 1321 when the monks of Lewes took action into their own hands, by invading Prittlewell by force with William apparently receiving a fatal blow at the alter (Prittlewell Priory – Wikipedia, no date) allowing James de Cusancia to accede to the priory.
The Priory continued as a religious institution until the period of the Dissolution of the monasteries under King Henry VIII. At this time, “…[the Priory’s] revenues were valued at £194.14s.3d per annum, and it was granted to Lord Chancellor Thomas Audley, who conveyed it to Robert, son of Lord Rich. It afterward passed with the manor to various families.” ( William White, Directory of Essex, quoted in Prittlewell Priory – Wikipedia, no date). As a residential property, the Priory was purchased by the Scratton family in the 19th Century. By 1917 it has been purchased by local Southend jeweller Robert Jones and in May 1922, it was opened as Southend’s first Museum. At the time of his purchase, Robert Jones also purchased the land around the Priory which, along with the building, he donated to the town of Southend for the creation of what is now Priory Park.
Substantial restoration of Prittlewell Priory was completed in 2012 as a result of Heritage Lottery funded project to help restore the Priory to its former glory. In the words of Claire Hunt, then Head of Southend Museums, “Now it can really shine and tell its own story, from the cellars used by the monks in the 12th century, to profiling the Scratton family, who were the last people to live here.” (£1.8m restoration of Prittlewell Priory is complete, no date, p. 1)