One of the oldest religious presences in Dudley lies just down the first section
of the Broadway from the Earl of Dudley's statue, in the shape of the
Dudley Priory ruins. The Priory was founded circa 1182, having been mooted
around 1161 by Gervase Pagnell in accordance with his father's wishes.
(Gervase's name is thus the source of two adjacent street names.)
Local landowners allocated land for religious purposes, and Cluniac
monks came from Wenlock Abbey to get the Priory under way.
They proceeded to make claims on lands whose transfer was in dispute,
and were successful in their pursuit of the income-rich church of Wombourne
and its parishes of Seisdon and Trysull. But the Priory remained small in
numbers - perhaps six monks at any time - at least partly because the local
landowners had not yielded all their rights to the allocated land. This meant
the Priory was never fully independent of them and of Dudley Castle, and in
consequence did not develop much.
When Henry VIII came into contention with Rome (partly because of his
multiple marriages), it led to the Act of Supremacy which placed Henry
at the head of the English church. Yet the monasteries were still allied
to Rome. This became unacceptable in itself, especially since some of
them were both rich and corrupt - but also offered an opportunity to fill
his empty state coffers. The monasteries were therefore dissolved from
1536 onwards, with the land sold off and the monks given pensions of some
kind. Dudley was not, apparently, among the corrupt ones, but was dissolved
along with the others.
The building passed into other hands, but was already showing signs of
decay in 1596. It did remain usable however, and was successively used as
a tannery, for thread manufacture, and for grinding glass and polishing
steel. Part of it may even have been used as a house at one stage. But
in the 19th century it ran out of practical uses and was left to deteriorate.
The view above shows the ruins from what is now Paganel Drive - though it
probably didn't exist when the card was created. The card is from the Fountains
series, and was printed in Bavaria, which suggests a date before World War I.
G. Warburton created the sketch above in 1989 from an old print, and it
appeared in the The Blackcountryman's Autumn issue the same year.
As the caption says, it could have been a house at one time, and certainly
looks like it. But the activities carried on there don't suggest it would be a
very nice place to live. It's surprising, too, that the end wall could already
be this precarious and still have survived to the present day
This page includes information from R.E. Boffey's article "Monasteries in the Black Country - Dudley Priory"
By the end of the 19th century, much of its stone had disappeared (often
to be incorporated in other buildings), and
what remained was covered
in ivy. While ivy looks decorative, of course, it also advances the destruction.
Then in 1926, the Priory, Priory Hall and the surrounding grounds were
bought by the Corporation to create a public park. They engaged in preserving
what remained of the ruins, and that was probably when the greenery was
stripped back before it damaged the ruins further.
The card at right was never posted, so we have no date for it, but the
above history makes it likely that it was before 1930. The photograph
was taken by Herbert Whitford of Dudley, who may well have been the publisher.
The picture below looks in the opposite direction and shows the effect
of the clean-up.
is another card that was never posted, so we have no idea when it was
first published. But the style (e.g. card lettering), the high negative
number, and the glossy quality suggest the 1930s or even as recently as
The ruins get maintainance work from time to time (most recently 2013-4) and revealed foundations show the building's earlier extent. These days, the ruins are the backdrop for a lot of wedding photos. At times a queue of wedding parties forms, with stretch limos waiting nearby!
Text: Harry Drummond
from The Blackcountryman, October 1968.
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