Building » Colwich – St Mary’s Abbey

Colwich – St Mary’s Abbey

Colwich, Staffordshire ST18

St Mary’s Abbey occupies a building of considerable architectural interest as an example of early nineteenth century Gothick, which has been occupied by Benedictine nuns since the 1830s. Features of note include the interior plasterwork of the chapel, which has been carefully converted and sensitively extended. 

The house has its origins in a convent in seventeenth century Cambrai in the Spanish Netherlands, which established a daughter house in Paris in 1652. This was suppressed in the French Revolution. After the release of the nuns they moved to England and settled in Dorset, then in Somerset before moving to Colwich, where St Benedict’s Priory was formed by adapting an existing building. This had originated as a house built by Charles Cope Trubshaw in about 1767. In 1791 it was sold to Charles Selleck Brome, and is referred to as ‘The Mount’ in a document of 1796.

In 1828 the building was acquired by Robert Shirley, Viscount Tamworth, and referred to in a document of 1829 as ‘Mount Pavilion’

In 1928 the community was raised to the rank of an abbey, when it was renamed St Mary’s Abbey. At this time the chapel was altered with the addition of an enlarged sanctuary in matching materials. The associated park and farmland were sold in the 1970s for housing. St Scholastica’s Priory was founded in Atherstone, Warwickshire, as a daughter house in 1859. It closed and merged with the Abbey in 1967. The chapel was reordered in the late twentieth century in accordance with the reformed liturgy.

The chapel is mentioned only briefly in the list entry (itself brief) for the whole building. It occupies ground floor rooms on the southeast side of the house, which is an extravagant Gothick style building, probably designed in part at least as an eyecatcher, with elaborate detailing and battlements. The chapel is entered via one of the principal entrance to the Abbey, where a door leads into a vestibule and sacristy, then on into the chapel via a doorway in the liturgical north side. The chapel consists of a canted apse with Decorated-style windows built in about 1928 with flanking chapels, and a nave formed from the original building, overlooked by a gallery on the north side, which was probably originally used by visitors. A Gothick arcade with pointed arches forms a north aisle and appears to be part of the original fabric. Furnishings, brought from St Scholastica when the institutions merged, are arranged with opposed or collegiate seating, traditional in religious houses. At the west end of the chapel a Gothic doorcase leads into the nuns’ chapter room, which has a very elaborate plasterwork ceiling and the Abbess’s chair framed by another doorcase, now blocked. Other furnishings include a high altar probably of 1928 and a forward altar of late twentieth century date. An ironwork screen shown in a photograph taken during the 1950s has been removed. Stained glass includes an early twentieth century window in the south chapel of some quality and glass in the apse, possibly by Hardman. It is known that Shirley had undertaken building work, which was uncompleted when he died in 1833, but it is not known if any part of the eighteenth century house survived, nor have the identities of the architects of any of the building phases been identified. In 1835 the estate was bought by the Very Rev. Mother Mary Clare Knight, the prioress of the Benedictine house at Cannington, Somerset. Other costs were met by sympathisers including Joseph Weld of Lulworth, Dorset. The adaptions for the nuns included modification of some of the ground floor rooms to form a chapel. The choir was blessed in 1837 and the chapel opened to the public.

*NB The chapel closed in 2020*

List description


0riginally called Mount Pavilion and built as a shooting box early in C19. Since 1836 it has been a convent of Benedictine nuns. A large irregular structure built round a central court and with many later additions. Stone and brick with slate and tile roofs end brick stacks; 2 storeys; front of Tudor character. The chapel on South was attractively enlarged some years ago.

Listing NGR: SK0081221374

Heritage Details

Architect: Not established

Original Date: 1828

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: Grade II