The History of Clementhorpe Nunnery


list of authors
R. B. Dobson
S. Donaghey
list of contributors
D. A. Brinklow
D. A. Stocker
Is Part Of
The Archaeology of York [Series]
Historical Sources for York Archaeology after AD 1100 [Volume]
Council for British Archaeology for York Archaeological Trust
Date Copyrighted
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Digitally available on 11 August 2023
Excavations in 1976–77 by the York Archaeological hunt on a site outside the city walls at Clementhorpe offered the special opportunity to amplily as well as to analyse the meagre documentary records surviving for the history of the priory of Clementhorpe. This priory was the only medieval nunnery in the immediate vicinity of York and the first post Conquest house for women to be established in the whole of Yorkshire.

Founded by Archbishop Thurstan between 1125 and 1133, Clementhorpe Priory played a much neglected but significant role in the lives of the inhabitants of York until its dissolution in 1536. From a detailed study of early medieval cartularies and late medieval York archiepiscopal registers a clear impression emerges of the status of the nunnery’s prioresses, nuns and lay residents as well as its servants. Documentary evidence also shows the widely scattered and varied nature of the medieval estates and economy of the nunnery and the relationships of the inhabitants of the suburb of Clementhorpe with the monastic establishment in their midst. The evidence of wills and property deeds, largely unpublished, throws especially novel light upon benefactions to the priory by the inhabitants of York and its region.

The nunnery’s dissolution in 1536 was an inevitable result of Henry VIIFs suppression of all religious houses worth less than £200 per annum; copious surviving evidence in the Public Record Office details the disposal of the nunnery’s possessions and the pensions awarded to a number of the religious and their servants.

The later history of the nunnery buildings and their occupants and owners is comparatively well documented among the York city and national records (especially royal patent rolls) from the 16th to the 18th centuries. During this period the medieval buildings of the nunnery gradually became more and more dilapidated, and the area around the derelict priory was largely devoted to grazing purposes. By the late 19th century only street-names in the district preserved the memory of the nuns of medieval Clementhorpe.

The excavations, described by D. A. Brinklow, uncovered fragmentary structures and some 250 medieval burials. Exact identification of the features exposed proved difficult because of the massive disturbance of the area in post-medieval times, but the relative position of the burials suggests that they lay within the nunnery church itself. It therefore seems probable that the church lay to the north of where it is located on 19th century maps of York. The excavation report will be published in AY 12.

David Stocker’s supplementary study of the drawings of the buildings of Clementhorpe Priory made by James Poole (c. 1705) and George Nicholson (c. 1825) suggests that the structures there depicted were part of the south claustral range of the nunnery and not, as previously assumed, those of the nunnery church.
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