Tuesday 18 March 2008

Yes, you can visit Kilburn Priory today...

I have wanted to write a post on Kilburn Priory for some time and it's only in the last few days that I have had the time to wander round getting the pictures I needed in order to illustrate the story. It's quite good and there is much more to see than people realise, so here goes...

Early in the 12th century there was a small hermitage - not that unsual - near the Kilburn river (Kilbourne and various other spellings) and prob also on the edge of the wooded area that led from Kilburn up to Shoot-up-Hill.

Amazingly Hermit Place still survives by Kilburn Vale (pictured right) and hints at the probable location of the hermitage - of course the strategic location is very good and is perhaps confirmed by the Kilburn High Road railway station - i.e. this a good place to stop and alight. The hermit was apparently called Godwyn - his existence is placed at the start of the 12th century in the reign of Henry I (1100-1135). Around this arose a community of religious - probably nuns - and in time a priory. The geography is important because this was a major crossing point for the river and for accessing Watling Street (later Edgware Road, the High Road Kilburn, now Kilburn High Road) which was the main road from London to St Albans - a major place of pilgrimage.

Today, three elements survive - Kilburn Grange Park, the Red Lion (now sadly The Westbury - pictured right - you can see the dating claim above the Red Lion itself) founded in 1444 and part of the series of inns that lined the travellers road north and also The Cock Tavern (first licensed in 1486 and boldly emblazoned on the front of the building - pic right).

It is likely that the Priory was founded under Henry's reign - there was something of a growth of religious patronage at this time - the nuns who settled there founded an Augustine community and this is dated to 1134. The Priory grew in size, but rarely in wealth and was dogged by financial problems. However, it was still a significant estate and had a number of elements - church, guesthouse (possibly on the site of the Bell Tavern today - this may even have been the original Red Lion), farmhouse as well as the associated outhouse for animals, grazing, harvest etc - some of these were thought to be on the edge of what is now Grange Park.

Precisely where the Priory itself lay is a little unclear and I have not had the time to sit down and examine archaeological reports for the area, but I have always been under the impression that much/most was on the now Camden side.

However the gem I recently discovered were the actual remains of the priory.

Just down Coventry Close opposite the Bell Inn, are the actual physical remains of the well (below left) and massive lumps of the priory - the story has always been that the priory was poor (financially) and yet looking at the surviving chunks of masonry you realise the massive scale of the building. Sure, it may have had low disposable income (to use modern jargon) but the resources to build it were not spared! I reckon these pics are pretty incredible and don't seem very widely known or recognised.

The Priory, of course, came to an end with the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII - an audit in 1535, full closure in 1536 and demolition soon after. many of the buildings will have survived and been used for other alternatives - apparently part survived until 1790 when it was finally taken down and the stone re-used.

I suspect that the remains we can see today are from the church/prioriy itself rather than the residential parts - i.e. demolished at the time of the dissolution which is why they lay unoticed until the construction of the current estate in the 1950's.

So enjoy one of the little seen and unknown treasures of Kilburn Priory - still visible, still massive and impressive - what else it there out there - I suspect much much more...


Anonymous said...

I believe the ruins of the priory were bombed in WW2 and then removed to the nearby churchyard in Priory Road.
One of the nuns was Henry's sister.


Ed Fordham said...

The sister line in interesting - there is some debate about how many sisters there actually were. It is possible that we are into half sister land but the children of William the Conquerer are generally now agreed as being:

1. Robert (c.1054–1134), Duke of Normandy
2. Adeliza (or Alice) (c.1055-?), Her existence is the one most in doubt
3. Cecilia (or Cecily) (c.1056–1126), Abbess of Holy Trinity, Caen
4. William Rufus (1056–1100), King of England
5. Richard (1057–c.1081)
6. Adela (c. 1062 – 1138), married Stephen, Count of Blois
7. Agatha (c.1064 –c.1080), betrothed to (1) Harold of Wessex, (2) Alfonso VI of Castile
8. Constance (c.1066–1090), married Alan IV Fergent, Duke of Brittany
9. Matilda - very obscure references exist, her existence is questioned
10. Henry (1068–1135), King of England


Victoria said...

My mum great up in Kilburn and played among the ruins of Kilburn Priory before the (and during) World War II. We've recently discovered that the house she and my great-grandmother had been bombed out of on Priory Park Road is still standing (they were told it was destroyed and they moved elsewhere in Kilburn.) I would love to learn more about this area.

Anonymous said...

The site of the Kilburn well is at
the junction of Belsize Road (H&B)
a stone, hidden by some scaffolding
indicates. A Roman fort AD43 also
sited nearby does not appear to be
documented in local history, along
with apparent remains of Kilburn Abbey - these were railway sidings
for LMWR, it is very unlikely that
parts of a 12th century building
could emerge after 700 years, when
the railway was built in 1854, the
foundations would bury everything !

Anonymous said...

A sudden flash-back to where I saw
these remains nearby in the 1970s !
Across from St.Augustine's church
there is a small site, which is now
a football pitch ! fenced at street
level, to stop people falling into
what must have been a vault, 20ft
deep, we called the charcoal pit ?
as there was a large black stone &
similar masonry to what is now at Coventry Close NW6.