Penwortham Priory

A Lost Benedictine Cell

Penwortham Priory was situated to the south-west of the parish church of St Mary's, in the area of Priory Crescent. However, although historical details, such as the names of the priors, have been recorded, there is little specific information relating to the nature, or even the layout, of the site.

The Priory was founded in about 1140, by the lord of this part of Leyland Hundred, Warin Bussel, as a cell of the Benedictine Abbey at Evesham. Warin granted two oxgangs of land (c 20 acres) and the church at Penwortham, on the understanding that the cell would house three monks and a chaplain, who would act as the Prior. The Priory thus did not own any private property independent of Evesham Abbey, and was therefore what was called an obedience. The impression given by the historical accounts of the appointments of priors by the abbey suggests that Penwortham was considered to have been a minor holding, perhaps even held in little esteem. Nevertheless, some profit was made available to Evesham from the fisheries in the Penwortham estate, which were managed by the Priory.

Both the Priory and the parish church remained under the control of Evesham until the Dissolution of the Monasteries, when, in 1539, they were leased to John Fleetwood. He bought the site and lands of the Priory outright in 1543. The Fleetwoods were a Protestant family and maintained a stipendiary minister at St Mary's church, but converted the former priory buildings into a residence. According to a description of c 1823, the house was an unpretentious old building arranged around a quadrangle about 40 feet (12.1m) square, of which all but the north side, which may have contained a church, then survived.

The estate remained in the possession of the Fleetwood family until 1748, when the last male heir died, and the accumulated debt on the estate forced its sale. It was then sold several times more until it was acquired by Lawrence Rawstorne in around 1810. In 1832, the old buildings were demolished and the house shown as Penwortham Priory on nineteenth-century maps was constructed. This is likely to have been built on the same site as the former priory, perhaps even partly reusing existing buildings. The estate was retained by the Rawstorne family into the twentieth century. Penwortham expanded rapidly in the 1920s and Penwortham Priory House was demolished to make way for housing, though its memory is still preserved in a street name of the modern housing estate: Priory Crescent.

Ink drawing of Penwortham Priory House in the later nineteenth century. The windows are very similar in size and layout to those shown in the Buck print.

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The remodelled house in the mid-nineteenth century. This seems to match the layout of the earlier house very closely, perhaps suggesting that the old house was not fully demolished.

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Plan of the parish church and the Ordnance Survey map of 1890 Fleetwoods' residence in 1715.

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