The End of the Priory

Impression of Bath Priory at the Dissolution (J.Manco)In January 1539 Prior Holloway surrendered Bath Priory to the Crown. A way of life was at an end. Lead was stripped from the roof of the church and iron and glass ripped out of the windows. Then it was left to rot. A building will crumble at an alarming rate if it is left open to the weather. Water would seep into the stone vaulting, while the nave would soon lose its timber roof altogether. The materials of the cloister, refectory and dormitory were sold. The aim here as elsewhere was to make it impossible for communal life to be resumed. Since the north cloister had been propping up the south transept, the south wall was to weaken and eventually collapse.

There is a story that the Crown Commissioners offered to sell the church to Bath's citizens, who turned it down. That is more than likely. In Tewkesbury the townsfolk and the abbey shared a church. At the Dissolution locals were faced with the prospect of Crown Commissioners stripping lead from the whole east end and leaving them with half a church. This they averted by buying the church, although they removed the Lady chapel, which was not needed in the Church of England.

However, Bathonians were well supplied with churches: St Mary Northgate, St Mary of Stalls, St James, St Michael by the Baths, St Michael Without. They clearly saw no reason to burden themselves with the maintenance of a former cathedral. In March 1543 Matthew Colthurst purchased the site of the priory. His chief residence was Wardour Castle, but he was MP for Bath in 1545 and spent time here. Colthurst had no use for the gutted church, but the open space before the west front made a fine site for a tennis court!

Continue to The Phoenix Rises.