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Monument Name Chelmsford - Dominican Priory
SMR Number 5875
Summary The site of Chelmsfords thirteenth century Dominican Priory
Dominican Priory, Chelmsford
Dominican Priory, Chelmsford
Dominican Priory, Chelmsford
Dominican Priory, Chelmsford
Dominican Priory, Chelmsford
Dominican Priory, Chelmsford
Dominican Priory, Chelmsford
Dominican Priory, Chelmsford
Associated Media
None Available
Description The site of Chelmsfords thirteenth century Dominican Priory was excavated during the construction of Parkway between 1969 and 1970. Further work was undertaken in 1973 and 1977. Much of the plan of the church and its associated buildings was recovered and investigated by members of the then Chelmsford Excavation Committee. <4> Part of the site had been revealed in 1938 when the foundations were dug for the new Chelmsford Rual District Council Offices at 108 New London Road. The work revealed masonry foundations for four walls; a photograph was taken, which survives in Colchester Museum, but so far as is known no plan was made. A stone coffin had been built into one of the walls. Its position and condition suggested that it had been reused as part of a conduit. Many oyster shells were found together with fragments of two stone mortars. These finds and the evidence for a fresh water supply entering the building suggest that the priory kitchen occupied this north west corner of the house. <6> In 1969 excavations in advance of a new road defined the east end of the Dominican friary church built of flint rubble with limestone dressings and measuring 30 feet by over 84 feet. Surviving wall courses are 3 feet wide and stand on flint and morta foundations 5 feet wide and 5 feet deep. <1> A second season's work (1970) by Mrs E. Sellers for the Chelmsford Archaeological Committeee and M.P.B.W. uncovered the foundations of the south treansept, parts of the nave, south aisle and southwest corner of the choir. The west end of the church and buildings to the north have since been seen in contractors' trenches. The church at its greatest extent was c. 59m long: choir 23 by 9.5m, nave c. 36 by 9.5m, south transept 14 by 8m, south aisle c. 36 by 3.8 m. The foundations north of the nave may be of a cloister, possibly c.22m sq with south and west walks 3m wide, and of adjoining buildings. A few fragments of flint and mortar walls survived and the church foundations incorporated parts of earlier structures. The south aisle arcade was built on the foundations of the northeast corner of an earlier building and other foundations were cut at the junction of choir and nave. East of the west end were the remains of an earlier west wall; one stone moulding for the base of the south side of the west doorway was still in situ and of Caen stone, which was also used for the dressings of a buttress of the choir. A buttress of the later west wall had dressings of upper greensand and a wall west of the cloister incorporated reused coarse shelly limestone. The demolition-debris included carved clunch, Caen stone and upper greensand, eight different kinds of floor-tile and stained and painted window-glass in good condition. About twenty burials were found outside the church, east and south of the transept. About seventy-nine inside the church included ten overlapping and west of the foundations of the earlier west wall. Parts of four burials were recovered from the cloister area. <2> Chelmsford Excavation Committee watched the completion of the contractor’s excavations on the site of the Dominican priory (in 1971). Inside the nave the south side of the earlier west doorway was seen and further human burials were recovered. To the north the junction of the later west wall with the west cloister range was noted; other evidence here suggested a possible enlargement of the cloister and rebuilding of the west range in a more westerly position. <3> In 1973 the former Eastern Electricity Board showrooms were purchased for redevelopment, excavation of the site being undertaken in July and August following demolition of the nineteenth century buildings. The north east corner of the main range was located, and much of the reredorter examined. <6> The Chelmsford Friars founded their church on the main route to London on the Moulsham side of the river close to the bridge. The cloister was on the north rather than the normal south face of the Church. This enabled the south side of the complex to be used as an open preaching yard where the townsfolk could gather. The priory was founded between 1234 and 1277 and consisted of a long narrow flint-built preaching nave approximately 26m x 9m (90’ x 30’) with a small attached chapel to the south. A walking space behind the altar divided this from the smaller 19m x 9m (60 x 30’) heavily buttressed choit Only the east range has been examined and was found to consist of a slype (through passage); the chapter house; a cellar; and the reredorter (lavatory). The reredorter was serviced by a sluice drain which was fed from the river and discharged back into it. In the mid-fourteenth century the church was extended to the west and an aisle was added to the south with some remodelling of the cloisters. A number of burials were found both within and outside the church; some still had traces of the wooden coffin which had been preserved by the damp soil. Two stone coffins and at least three stone-built tombs, no doubt used by the wealthy or the Prior himself, were also uncovered. In 1538, upon the dissolution of the monasteries on the orders of King Henry VIII, in common with most other monastic institutions, the priory was pulled down and the land sold. A map of Chelmsford drawn in 1591 by John Walker shows the site occupied by a half-timbered house and another structure, probably the retained monastic kitchen. The latter was also sketched by William Stukeley in 1751. These buildings formed part of the Moulsham School which was founded in 1551 and pulled down in the Eighteenth Century. The whole area was redeveloped in 1839 when the New London Road frontage was laid out running diagonally across the monastic precinct just touching the west wall of the church. There are many historical records relating to the Priory and its estates in Moulsham, Springfield, Great Baddow and Writtle. Royal patronage was also conferred upon the Priory by Edward I in 1277 and again in 1289, and by the Black Prince who paid for a window in the church in 1361 to be inserted by his own glazier from London. The number of friars is estimated at 30 in 1277, rising to 36 over the following century, though at the dissolution the number was just 7. <4> The site (51-57 New London Road, TL 708065) was excavated in advance of office and shop development. The dorter undercroft, parts of the north range , reredorter (Drury, 1974,40-81), cloister walk and notheast corner of the chapter house of the Dominican Priory were examined. The buildings were constructed on c.1.1m of clay make-up over marsh deposits; the clay contained debris from a kiln producing nibbed roof tiles. During the late 15th-early 16th centuries, the floor of the northern 6m of the undercroft had been lowered; within that area a complicated sequence of floors divided by partitions was recorded. Over most of the chapter house area excavated, the floor had been destroyed by a post-Dissolution lime kiln. The foundation plan established in the 13th century seems to have remained unchanged during the life of the buildings; but there is evidence of a major reconstruction above foundation level, probably in the late 15th century. <5>
Monument Type(s) PRIORY (Dated 1234AD to 1537AD)
Period 1234AD to 1537AD Medieval
Status Not Known
National Grid Reference Square: TL70NW
Ref: 709065

Events SALV EXCAV by Drury, PJ,

SALV EXCAV by Sellers, EE,

Sources Artifact : ARTEFACT Chelmsford Mus (Chelmsford Museum) Dated : unknown

Desc Text : Chelmsford Dominican Priory TL 709065 (Sellers, EE) Dated : unknown

Desc Text : Excavations in Essex, 1977 (Drury, PJ in Couchman, CR) Vol 11, p241 Dated : 1978

Graphic material : MS Top Gen e61, f40 (Stukeley, W) Dated : 1751

Map : D-DM (Walker, J) Dated : 1591

<1> Desc Text : Medieval Britain in 1969 (Wilson, DM and Hurst, DG) Vol XIV p.166 Dated : 1970

<2> Desc Text : Medieval Britain in 1970 (Wilson, DM and Moorhouse, S) Vol XV p 138 Dated : 1971

<3> Desc Text : Medieval Britain in 1971 (Webster, LE and Cherry, J) Vol XVI p.173 Dated : 1972

<4> Desc Text : Three Historic Information Boards in Chelmsford (Chelmsford Museums Service) Dated : 1988

<5> Serial : Essex Journal (Essex Archaeological and Historical Congress) 1978, Vol 13, p88 Dated : 1966 to

<6> Excavation report : Chelmsford Dominican Priory:The Excavation of the Reredorter, 1973 (Drury, PJ) Vol 6, pp40-81 Dated : 1974