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Avebury Manor


The alien priors

Avebury's present parish church, and former minster (see St James' – from minster to mother church, was not the village's only religious establishment during the medieval period. A priory of the abbey of St Georges de Boscherville near Rouen existed until the Dissolution.

Because the priors answered to an abbot who was not British they were deemed to be an 'alien priory'. Sounds more dramatic than it actually was! But more 'conventional' religious orders would no doubt have been contemptuous of these 'upstarts', and the king and his chancellor would have been peeved that wealth was being 'syphoned out' of the English economy (as, undoubtedly, would have been the case).

Rouen, and the abbey of St Georges de Boscherville, is on one of the roads of St James from the English Channel to Santiago de Compostella. Plausibly – although there is no actual evidence – the priory at Avebury was dedicated to St James.

The site of this priory has not been estabished. However it would have been separate from the parish church. Indeed, in some respects it was in 'competition' with the parish. In all probability this priory was superceded by Avebury Manor.

After the Dissolution the king, Henry VIII, sold off the lands and buildings formerly owned by the monasteries and priories. Anyone who was anyone at the time got their hands on one and converted the buildings into a 'posh house'. Posh at the time was not that big by later standards, so these houses keep on getting bigger over the centuries. The oldest parts – predating the Dissolution – end up being surrounded by later 'extensions' or becoming so decrepit that all but a small part is knocked down. The evidence for this can be found throughout England at dozens, if not low hundreds, of still-extant houses and the ruins of others.

The kitchens of Avebury Manor are the oldest part (on the right of the photograph at the top of this page), with the rest of the house added on at various times. Sadly none of the stonework in the kitchen, or under the floor (yes there have been archaeological 'firtlings') can be dated to before the sixteenth century. So it cannot be proved that this is the successor the the priory, but there is little in the way of an alternative suggestion.

The burh and its relationship to the much later manor house.

Standing in the gardens of Avebury Manor looking east along the the former burh.

Avebury Manor sits just outside the line of the burh earthwork (although the modern gardens now straddle that former boundary (see What was a bury?). This is entirely consistent with the Boscherville priory being near to, but technically separate from, the previously-existing village.

It would also explain why in the field to the north-east of Avebury Manor (which now has an avenue of trees running from the Stable Gallery towards the Swindon road) has the faint traces of a deserted medieval village (and you really do need to know what you're looking for to spot them, and then only when the grass is short!). These shallow 'humps and bumps' are the platforms on which houses once stood. The priors would have needed to farm, employing 'peasants' to do so. This would neatly explain the need for a new 'suburb' on the outside of the village, and for the demise of this area of housing after the Dissolution. The implication is that there may have been friction between the pre-priory inhabitants of Avebury, living within the burh, and the 'blow ins' associated with the priory.

There is no evidence that this was the case – but I'd be interested to hear from anyone who can put together a more logical scenario for the location of this 'alien' priory.


Articles about Medieval life in and around Avebury

St James' – from minster to mother church

St James dedications in Wiltshire

Skew passages

The alien priors

Medieval graffiti

The 'barber-surgeon'

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Articles about the prehistory of Avebury and environs

Overview of prehistoric Avebury and environs

Altars not burial mounds

Henges – brands or performances

Henges – dead or alive

Simulacra photos

Sound in the prehistoric landscape

Avebury sunrises and sunsets

Avebury and environs in the Roman period

Articles about Anglo-Saxons in and around Avebury

What was a bury?

St Afa

East Kennett: the church on the boundary


Wiltshire battles

Understanding the Wansdykes

Articles about Medieval life in and around Avebury

Overview of medieval Avebury and environs

St James' – from minster to mother church

St James dedications in Wiltshire

Skew passages

The alien priors

Medieval graffiti

The 'barber-surgeon'

Articles about aspects of Avebury's twentieth century history

Overview of twentieth century Avebury

Avebury ghosts

Keiller's occult connections

Halloween 1938

Mary's annunciation

photo gallery