Warwick Priory

Lithograph of the front view of the Priory, Warwick, 19th Century.
Warwickshire County Record Office reference CR 26/5/2/3.

This image of the Priory is part of the Waller collection, which is a valuable historical resource spanning eight centuries. The significant families within the collection are Wise and Waller. The Wise family lived at the Priory in Warwick (now the site of Warwickshire County Record Office) for many years, moving to Woodcote, Leek Wootton, in the mid 19th century. The Woodcote estate later passed into the ownership of the Waller family. The collection includes household books, personal letters, maps, surveys, deeds and a number of Royal seals (Warwickshire County Record Office references: CR 26, CR 341 and CR 403).

 A Short History of the Priory

For nearly 900 years a succession of buildings has stood on the low sandstone hill to the north of Warwick, a site now occupied by the County Record Office. The Priory of Saint Sepulchre was founded here by Henry de Newburgh, the first Earl of Warwick, at some date between 1114 and 1119. It belonged to the order of the Canons of the Holy Sepulchre, who had the special duty of caring for pilgrims to the Holy Land. After the fall of Jerusalem in 1188 the house became indistinguishable from an ordinary Augustinian priory. The house was surrendered to the crown in 1536 by the then prior, Robert Radford, and three canons.

In 1546 the Priory was granted to Thomas Hawkins (alias Fisher), a servant of John Dudley. Dudley was the father-in-law of Lady Jane Grey and was created Earl of Warwick in 1547. Fisher pulled down the old buildings and on the site built a mansion, finished in about 1566, which, according to Dugdale, he called “Hawkyns Nest”. After Fisher’s son had wasted his inheritance it was sold by him to John Puckering in 1581. Puckering was a lawyer, who became the Speaker of the House of Commons, and was made Keeper of the Great Seal in 1592 and knighted. The house was remodelled, probably by Sir John or his widow between 1581 and 1611, and the west front made uniform, with the row of six great ogee headed gables rising above the parapet, familiar from photographs.

Henry Wise, Royal Gardener

The estate was later acquired by Henry Wise, royal gardener to King George I, Queen Anne and King William III. He purchased the property in 1709, along with the manors of Woodloes, Upper Woodcote and Lillington, for £10,553 10s. His son added a huge square wing facing the terrace in about 1745. The Wise family retained ownership of the Priory until 1851, when Henry Christopher Wise, great, great grandson of the royal gardener, sold the house and gardens to the Oxford Junction Railway Company.

The now very large mansion passed through various hands and restorations until it was bought by A.W. Weddell at a demolition sale in 1925.

The Priory estate was acquired by Warwickshire County Council in 1940, but plans for its development had to be postponed because of the war. In 1953 Priory Park (which had been sold to Warwick Borough Council in 1951) was opened to the public and in 1972 excavations in advance of building the new County Record Office revealed that the 12th century religious house had been built over three earlier limekilns. Traces of the monastery included burials, presumably under the floor of the church, and the outline of a small room with the base of a central column. Most of the foundations were, however, obliterated by the cellars of the Tudor mansion and its later additions.

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