Leamington Priory: Part Two

Plan produced for the auction of The Priory in 1856.
Warwickshire County Record Office reference CR2012/14

(Continued from part one)

When the Rev. Downes exchanged livings with the Rev. John Craig in 1839 the Rev. Craig also purchased the Priory. Confirmed by the rate book for that year where the Rev Downes name has been struck through to be replaced by the Rev. Craig.

For sale by auction

As John Craig was living at the Priory when he passed away in June 1877, it could be assumed that he owned and lived in the property from 1839 to 1877. However, on 2nd August 1856 a notice appeared in the local newspapers for an auction that was to take place at the Bath Hotel on 5th. The main lots at this auction were to be the Priory and its Grounds, with an option to also purchase all the furniture.

Interestingly, the notice includes a fairly detailed description of the Priory’s layout. The auction was taking place at the instruction of the Rev. Craig’s mortgagees, most likely as a reaction to his being incarcerated in Warwick Gaol for contempt of court re a case of fraud. The …Courier for the 9th August carries a notice saying the property failed to sell. So when the Rev Craig was released from gaol on 21st September he was able to return to the Priory. That was after he had gone straight to All Saints to take the morning service! Plus, while the rate book for 1858 lists no one as being owner or occupier of the Priory, the ones before and after that date give Rev Craig as owner occupier.


Although a very wealthy man, having an estate in Dublin and ‘marrying well’, with the second of his three wives alone bringing the equivalent of almost £3 million to the marriage, the reverend Craig also spent vast amounts of money. This probably explains why the Priory was so heavily mortgaged and why in 1869/70 most of the gardens between the mansion and Victoria Terrace were sold off and the new General Post Office built on the site. Much of his money went on enlarging All Saints to the size of a small Cathedral. But he also spent large sums on other projects such as building a large astronomical telescope at Wandsworth.

In 1876, the year before his death, John Craig built an ice rink in the grounds of the Priory, which may well have been only the third artificial ice rink to be built in England. He was hoping no doubt that it would help solve his money worries. Unfortunately, this proved not to be the case. It had been planned for the rink to open in September so as to catch the late summer, early autumn season trade. However, the opening was delayed until 22nd December and it remained open only until 22nd February of 1877. During that time it took £22 2s 6d but had running costs of £109 15s!


The …Courier for 31st March 1877 carried a report on legal proceedings between Rev. Craig and the builders of the ice rink. In this the report John Craig is described as a bankrupt. The report concludes by saying there were rumours about that somebody had offered £6,000 for the land the rink stood on to build an Aquarium and Water Garden. This would be around £300,000 today.

However, even if these rumours were true, the offer came too late to help the vicar as he passed away on 30th June, still very much in debt. This is confirmed by an abstract of title held at the Warwickshire County Record Office1, a document of some 30, large, hand written pages of legalise. While I don’t profess to understand a lot of the legal language used, I believe it confirms that when John Craig passed away the Priory passed to his mortgagees, who eventually divided it up and sold it off. As such the Priory ended its life as the vicarage for All Saints.

Continued in part three.

1 Reference CR1274/5/37-38

More from Leamington Spa
More from Leamington
More from Miscellaneous