The Priory, Market Street

Bradford on Avon, Wiltshire


The Priory, street view


The Priory was a late medieval mansion with later additions at the upper end of Market Street in Bradford on Avon. Most of the building was demolished in 1938.

The earliest parts were perhaps built in the 1430s by the Besill family and, on the death of William Besill in the latter part of the 15th century, came into the hands of Thomas Rogers, husband of Besill’s daughter Cecilia. Rogers was a Sargeant-at-Law, a high-ranking legal official. The house would then have consisted of an open hall with cross-wings at each end and a porch opening on to what is now Market Street. Separated by a short distance was a large barn of the same date with residential accommodation at one end, which is now known as Priory Barn, in Newtown. It became known as Rogers’ Manor and had land that spread up the hillside to the present Winsley Road and a farming estate outside the town at Maplecroft, Frankleigh.

By 1657 it had been purchased from Hugh Rogers by Paul Methuen, “the greatest cloathier of his day”, who died in 1667 and it remained in the Methuen family until 1763, when they moved to Corsham Court. During the Methuen ownership a new wing in the early Georgian style was added on the southern side and some of the land on the hillside began to be developed as a New Town. The next owner was Mawbey Tugwell, a clothier and banker who died in 1811. It was bought by John Saunders, another clothier and remained in the Saunders family until the early 20th century. It picked up the “Priory” name by the mid-19th century, but its only religious connection came later when it was briefly let to the Anglican Sisterhood of the Sacred Heart in 1850. The last of the Saunders family to live there was Emily Maria (1860-1916), widow of Robert William Collett and daughter of lawyer Thomas Bush Saunders (1808-1894).

It was sold in 1920 and in 1927 the house and remaining 14.5 acres of land were put up for sale, but failed to sell. Other attempts were made by Harrod’s estate agent in 1930 and 1937, but the house itself was not sold. At this point all the house’s architectural features were ripped out and put up for auction and the site described as an ‘eligible building site’. A local builder called Alexander demolished most of what remained. Only the barn, a medieval wall on Market Street, the kitchen wing that had been built by the Saunders, a thatched cottage at the junction of Market Street and Masons Lane and a coach house in Newtown remain. A plan to make the grounds into a public park was not taken up by the Urban District Council.

Some scattered parts of the house can still be seen. The fan-vaulted roofed porch of the medieval house was re-erected at Corsham Court; the Great Hall roof, initially bought by Richard Christopher, the antiquarian owner of the Museum’s chemist shop, with the intention of reusing it somewhere in the town, but after many years in storage has been installed in a house in Gloucestershire. The hall fireplace of Hopton Stone can now be seen at the National Trust’s Clevedon Court in Somerset. The Elizabethan stairs are at Athelhampton House in Dorset, but the location of the Georgian staircase and many other features is unknown.

Remains of the Priory, Market Street, Bradford on Avon

The top of Market Street, showing the remaining medieval wall of The Priory. The entrance porch would have been in about the position of the street name sign.