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St Botolph’s Priory

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Listed in Culture, Creativity & History, Places to Go, Religious Buildings


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The remains of one of the first Augustinian priories in England, founded about 1100.

An impressive example of early Norman architecture, built in flint and reused Roman brick, the church displays massive circular pillars and round arches and an elaborate west front.

Later badly damaged by cannon fire during the Civil War siege of 1648.

 

Even in its ruined state the priory church is an impressive example of early Norman architecture, and the elaborate west front is one of the best surviving examples from this period.

It had flanking towers to the north and south, unusually placed outside the nave aisles, and three doorways. The decoration on these – their mouldings and chevron ornament – are carried out in good quality limestone, but the individual stones are small and were evidently used with great economy.

Two rows of interlacing Roman brick arches originally ran continuously across the front between the towers. The remains of a large circular window just touching the top of the upper tier, in the middle of the façade, still has chevron ornament around its outer edge. Within this are traces of the rebate for the wooden frame that held the glazing. What remains of the upper levels of the west front indicate this richness of decoration continued all the way to the roof.

The church was built of flint rubble with arches and dressings in brick – the latter mostly reused from Roman buildings at nearby Colchester. Though simple in design the massive piers and arches of the nave are stunning in effect. The circular piers are strength-ened by triple courses of brick and the shallow pilasters running up from their capitals mark the division of the bays and the position of the roof tie-beams.

The masonry would originally have been plastered over inside and out and probably painted to imitate ashlar blocks; an effect that can be seen on the similar piers at St Albans Abbey. The base of a wall across part of the south aisle shows there was a chapel at this point, but other than that the internal arrangements of the church have been lost.

The fragments of a medieval glazed tile pavement in this aisle are probably not in their original position. Much of the north range of the cloister has been uncovered including the remains of its stone bench.

 

Open any reasonable time during daylight hours

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