Clare Priory, Clare, Suffolk, CO10 8NX
The English mother house of the Augustinian Friars, reacquired by the order in 1953. The fourteenth century infirmary was converted to the priory and parish church, and in 2011-13 was substantially enlarged to create what was in effect a new church – a bold and successful marriage of ancient and modern. The site is idyllic and peaceful, and is of exceptional architectural, historical and archaeological significance.
The founding of Clare Priory in 1248 by Richard de Clare, sixth Earl of Gloucester, saw the establishment of the first house of Augustinian Friars in this country. Joan of Acre, second daughter of Edward I, married Gilbert, grandson of the founder, and was buried in the conventual church which she helped to build. Her daughter Elizabeth de Burgh, founder of Clare Hall (College), Cambridge, built the chapter house, dormitory and refectory. The church was consecrated in 1338; of this little more than the foundations and part of the south wall is now visible. Surviving elements of the monastic buildings include the west range (prior’s lodging), portions of the cloisters and chapter house, the foundations of the refectory and a long thin building of fourteenth-century origin to the southeast of the site, originally the friars’ infirmary (with novices’ quarters above).
Following the dissolution of the priory in 1538, the property of 38 acres was given by Henry VIII to his trumpeter, Richard Frende. In 1596 it was acquired by a branch of the Barnardiston family of Kedington, who adapted the prior’s lodging as a house, and in 1745 it passed to the Barker family. In 1748 (list entry) the infirmary became a barn, and by 1791 (SCC) the floor to the upper level removed had been removed. A large opening for barn doors was formed on the south elevation. In the nineteenth century the building was further adapted to serve as a schoolroom.
In 1953 the priory was sold back to the Augustinian Friars by Stella Fonblanque and Iris Johnston, daughters of Lady May Barker, at 15% of the then market value. Under the direction of Patrick Elliott (Bettley), the infirmary building was adapted to serve as a priory and parish church; it was consecrated on 4 July 1954.
Not originally built as a church, the long, thin building was found increasingly small and unsuitable for this use. In 2011-13 it was extended by Inkpen Downie of Colchester, to provide what was in effect a new church, with the old building retained as a narthex. The main contractor was T. J. Evers of Tiptree. New openings were formed on the south side, where the masonry had been disturbed to form barn doors in the eighteenth century. Because the site formed part of a scheduled ancient monument, and in order to minimise ground disturbance, the new building was constructed off a piled foundation. The first Mass in the new church was celebrated on 28 July 2013 and the building was consecrated by Bishop Alan Hopes on 6 October 2015. The project won two RICS awards in 2015.
The older part of the church is of fourteenth century origin, thought to be the original monastic infirmary and novices’ quarters, and is of flint and mortar construction with limestone dressings, with buttresses on the north and south sides and heavy diagonal buttresses at the corners (that to the northwest much rebuilt in red brick). The tiled roof is hipped at the east end. The west (entrance) elevation has an off-centre doorway with brick pointed head and the three windows with segmental Suffolk white brick heads and inset ogee arched tracery and leaded lights, all probably renewed in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. On the north elevation the windows have pointed arches with plain tracery and smaller rectangular windows originally serving the upper floor. Again, the windows have diamond lattice glazing. An attached north-south range at the east end was probably originally the reredorter (lavatories) and has four blind or infilled arches at the lower level. The south elevation is more altered and is now largely subsumed within the addition of 2011-13. This addition is substantial and square on plan, of white brick and stone with large areas of window on the east and west sides containing vertical oak blades or louvres. The south wall is largely solid.
The doorway on the west gable end of the former infirmary range leads into what is now the narthex, with a new stone-flagged floor and steps and a ramp up to the level of the new church. The originally two-storey building is a single volume open to the oak tie beams and braced collars of the roof. Furnishings include a stone font, its large bowl supported on clustered columns, which appears to be a composite piece of possible Norman origin, of uncertain provenance and not mentioned in the published accounts of the church. The windows at the west end includes twentieth century stained glass images of St Mary, St Joseph and Augustinian saints.
On the south side, three pointed arch openings with glass doors lead into the new worship space. This is broadly a square but arranged on the diagonal, with the sanctuary placed in the southwest corner. Steel columns support a curved laminated roof structure, and the interior is lit by large areas of glazing on the east and west sides. The masonry of the south wall of the old structure has been left exposed. The floor is stone flagged, the sanctuary raised by two/three steps, with pale brick risers. The altar is placed on a circular dais, which is raised one step from the nave. A plain tabernacle plinth and ambo are in matching stone. Seating consists of upholstered stackable timber chairs.
Church of Mother of Good Counsel (listed as chapel to Clare Priory)
Clare Priory was founded in 1248. The building now in use as the chapel of the Priory was originally the Infirmary and was made into a barn in 1748. In 1953 the Augustinian Order of Friars returned to the Priory and the Infirmary (barn) then became a chapel for the Order. There is a C20 tablet recording that here (Clare Priory) were buried Joan of Acre, Countess of Gloucester and daughter of Edward I and Eleanor of Castile, who died in 1305; also Lionel Duke of Clarence, son of Edward III and Phillipa of Hainault, who died in 1368; and his wife Elizabeth, grand-daughter of Joan of Acre, who died in 1363. A C14 rubble building with stone dressings with heavy diagonal corner buttresses and additional buttresses on the north and south sides. The lower windows have pointed arches with plain tracery and the upper windows are small stone dressed casements, formerly to a loft or upper storey. The west gable has 3 brick dressed windows with segmental arched heads and ogee arched tracery. The interior was renovated in the C20. Roof tiled, hipped at the east end.
Clare Priory was founded in 1248 by Richard de Clare Earl of Clare, Gloucester and Hereford, as a Friary for the Friars Eremites of St Augustine and a cell to the Abbey of Bec in Normandy. It was reconstituted by Edward II in 1326 as a cell to St Peter’s Westminster, converted into a college in 1490 by Edmund, Earl of March and made into a dwelling house by Sir Thomas Barnardiston in 1604 (This is recorded by initials and the date carved on a panel of the upstairs panelled room). The house is timber-framed and plastered with a C14 stone font to the west, with heavy buttresses and a C14 doorway, pointed arched with an old door and an ogee-headed wicket inset. 2 storeys and attics. The windows are multi-light, some mullioned and transomed, some mullioned, with arched lights, with leaded lights. The east front has gabled wings at the north and south ends, with 3 smaller gabled wings between them. The windows are mainly 3-light casements with segmental arched heads and leaded lights. Some mullioned and transomed windows, with leaded lights. Roof tiled, with 4 large gabled dormers with 5-light casement windows with leaded lights on the west front, and a number of octagonal shafted chimney stacks. At the back entrance is an early traceried window with an old door and inside a groin vaulted ceiling (being part of the original cloisters). There is a fine C17 panelled room with an arcaded overmantle. In the C18 and C19 the priory was owned by the Baker family whose arms, in stained glass, is set in one of the mullioned and transomed windows. The hall has fine late C15 carved ceiling beams and there is part of a C14 staircase. At the rear, to the south-west of the priory there is a good C18 room built into the old priory walls. It has stone dressed mullioned and transomed windows with leaded lights. The roof is ogee shaped, tiled, with a ball finial.
Original Date: 1338
Conservation Area: Yes
Listed Grade: Grade I