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Peeps at Some Historic Priories page 2

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Of the Augustine monastery a good deal was destroyed by Lord Darcy, its grantee after the Dissolution, in building his mansion, the considerable remains of which include portions of the old priory. There is also surviving from the thirteenth century a beautiful little building, now used as a chapel, with a groined roof supported on slender pillars, together with some very fine arcading on its outside wall. A round-headed gateway also remains, in appearance Norman, but actually of the fourteenth century.

But the most notable survival of the monastery is its splendid fifteenth century gateway with flanking buildings of a still earlier date. It is of stone and flint with two towers and two posterns, its exterior adorned with niches beneath decorated canopies and richly carved bosses. The quadrangle within, comprising the Prior's Lodgings, together with the priory church, have disappeared. The priory, in reconstructed form, is now a private residence. The buildings, together with the fine Norman and Early English parish church, form a great attraction to visitors at Clacton-on-Sea, only three miles distant.

Going north to Yorkshire, a county famous for its great abbeys, Bolton, though frequently styled one, but in actual fact a priory, is the most conspicuous of the lesser rank, and is a place, indeed, of note, familiar to all Yorkshire and thousands from the outer world. Its beautiful site is within a loop of the river Wharfe, which, with all the qualities of a clear mountain stream, runs beside it, while mantling woods and red crags overlook the scene, itself partly encircled by a background of moorland. The monastery arose out of a domestic tragedy, being founded in 1153 by William FitzDuncan in memory of his son, "the boy of Egremond," who was drowned in the "strid," a narrow, rocky channel in the river near by, tempting to a bold jumper and familiar to generations of tourists. The unconscious originator of this noble priory was checked, says the story, in his leap by the leash of his greyhounds and so fell into the chasm.

The church, now restored and in parochial use, forms the chief part of the ruins of the priory, which was an Augustinian house. It has a long presbytery, rebuilt in the fourteenth century and containing a Late Norman arcade.

The Early English west front is partly hidden by a tower, commenced in 1520 but never finished. The ancient gateway of the priory is incorporated in the Duke of Devonshire's house close by. Fragments remain of other parts, but of the priory buildings much has been excavated in the last three years, including the cloisters, a fourteenth century and a twelfth century chapter house.

Another Yorkshire priory, that of Kirkham, stands beautifully in the woody vale of the Derwent. The monastery owed its origin to the paternal grief of Sir Walter L'Espec, who in the battle of the Standards in the reign of Henry I led the corps of archers, but soon after lost his son through a fall from his horse while chasing the wild boar in this neighbourhood. In the young man's memory he founded the Cistercian abbeys of Rievaulx and Warden and the priory of Kirkham. Of this last the original south wall of the nave, 130 feet long, still stands. The whole church measured the great length of 180 feet. The splendid arched gateway is still standing, bearing the arms of Plantagenets, Clares, Vaux and other great baronial names. At the sides are the remains of the almonry, a guest house, and porter's lodge. The cellarage of the refectory and a fine Norman doorway, together with a beautiful thirteenth century lavatory, also survive.

Across the border in Northumberland three priories call for particular notice. The first encountered is that of Tynemouth, the remains of which, together with the castle, occupy a most commanding position on the north side of the mouth of the Tyne. of the original seventh century foundation of S. Oswald, thrice destroyed by the Danes, probably nothing was left. The present ruins are those of a monastery founded in 1075 by Waltheof, Earl of Northumberland, and bestowed on the monks of Jarrow. Partly surrounded by a cliff, with the remains of walls and a moat upon the landward side, the situation is impressive. For the Tyne has here almost of a sudden cast off the stir of shipbuilding and its resounding clangour which follows it down from Newcastle, and enters the sea amid a scene that, by comparison, is wild and lonely. Little now is to be seen but fragments of the old Norman church, and beneath it a restored oratory of Edward III date. Of the castle that stood beside it and had become vested in the monastery, all that remains is a massive gateway at the landward entrance.

In the heart of the same county stand the ample remains of Hulne Priory, by repute the earliest Carmelite house in England, beautifully situated on a woody height in the romantic Hulne Park within the Duke of Northumberland's domain at Alnwick Castle. Fine trees cluster round the priory ruins and the bright waters of the little river Aln sparkle in the glen beneath it. The monastery owes its origin to William de Vesci and Richard Gray, Northumbrian crusaders in the reign of Henry IV.

The ruins, covering an acre, are surrounded by a wall, entered through a turreted gateway - a provision, no doubt, against Scottish raids. Much of the walls and several lancet windows of a quite curiously long and narrow church remain. There are also portions of the chapter-house and fragments of other buildings. The priory is singular in having the remains of an abbey (S. Mary's) within the same park wall.

The third Northumberland priory on our route is Hexham - like others often inaccurately styled an abbey. It nobly crowns the town, which last covers a hill looking down on the broad, clear and rapid waters of the Tyne, the whole making a complete and striking picture. The crypt and foundations are the work of the patron saint of Hexham, Bishop Wilfrid of York, about 674, from funds provided by Queen Etheldreda, of Northumbria, who then owned the region still colloquially styled "Hexhamshire." On the division of the great northern diocese, though against Wilfrid's wishes, Hexham became a bishopric with its founder as its third bishop.

In 1112 ecclesiastical Hexham was refounded on the old foundations by Thomas, Archbishop of York. Whether he built the nave upon Wilfrid's shattered walls, only to be destroyed by the Scots, is uncertain. At any rate, there was no nave left. The transept, in its absence, forms one block 156 feet long, with a stone gallery and stairway. There are tiers of triple lancets, in all 50 feet high, on the north wall, and similar lancets over a long range of a reading on the west wall. It is rich in relics here collected - mostly Roman, for the Great Wall is near by, or Saxon, including the coffin lid of a murdered Northumbrian king.

Crossing the Border into Scotland, no antiquary would hesitate in making straight for Coldingham, even had it not been for most of its interesting history an English monastery.

The remains of this priory chiefly consist of about half the choir of its ancient church, carefully preserved and now used as the parish kirk. Its style is Transition-Norman, of a beautiful type.

It is situated in that outstanding region of Berwickshire terminating in S. Abbs Head and washed on three stern and rugged coastlines by the North Sea. The priory was founded in 1098 by King Edgar of Scotland, as a thank-offering of victory over a usurping rival. It was dedicated to S. Cuthbert of Durham, who had paid the king an encouraging nocturnal vision before the battle. So, naturally, it was stocked with Benedictine monks from Durham.

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