White Ladies Priory

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White Ladies Priory


The remains of White Ladies Priory
Location: 52°39’57"N, 2°15’30"W
Owned by: English Heritage
Website: White Ladies Priory

White Ladies Priory (often 'Whiteladies Priory'), once the Priory of St Leonard at Brewood,[1] was a priory of Augustinian canonesses, now in ruins, in Shropshire, in the parish of Boscobel, some eight miles north-west of Wolverhampton. The name 'White Ladies' refers to the canonesses who lived there and who wore white religious habits.

Dissolved in 1536, the priory was replaced by a grand country house, and in this guise it became famous for its role in the escape of King Charles II after the Battle of Worcester in 1651.

The mansion which stood here also, built after the priory was dissolved, was demolished in the eighteenth century.


The origins and exact date of foundation of the priory are not known. The surviving ruins show work typical of the late 12th century, and the first documentary evidence dates from 1186 or earlier. In it, Emma, daughter of Reynold of Pulverbatch, in the process of giving land to Haughmond Abbey mentions that she has already granted land in Beobridge to the white nuns of Brewood.

The priory acquired the church and some tithes at Montford very early in its history. So it is possible that the Lacy family or the FitzAlans, who succeeded them as holders of the manor of Montford with Forton, may have been important in its founding.[2]

The dedication was to St. Leonard of Noblac, a saint associated with the liberation of prisoners, who was extremely popular after a number of miracles claimed fro him earlier in the 12th century.

Building and endowments

The view from the south-east

The church building was a simple cruciform, sandstone structure, with a nave of five bays, and a chancel of three bays. The transepts were small and without chapels.[3][4] Today, the lay-out of the building is still easy to discern, although little remains of either transept, and only the north wall of the nave and chancel is fairly intact. There is a fine, round-headed Romanesque arch leading into the north transept, through which the residents would have passed to reach the cloister and the monastery. The windows on the north side are largely intact, making it easy to identify the bays of both nave and chancel. The south wall would have been windowed in the same way. It seems that the stone for the church was obtained locally – perhaps even in a field adjacent to the site, as one of the fish ponds seems to have been created from a quarry scoop.[5]

The priory buildings are long-gone, and may have been timber-framed,[6] but appear to have stood against the north wall of the church. Charles II commissioned a painting of the later house around 1670, and details of the painting suggest that it may have incorporated parts of the prioress' residence, which must have stood west of the main priory buildings and cloister.[3]

The priory held many very small pieces of property, mostly donated by local families – sometimes probably as the dowries of canonesses on their admission to the community. Sometimes the gift would be fishing rights, a watermill or advowson of a parish, rather than land.

By the Dissolution, there were lands, property or rights at Beckbury, Berrington, Chatwall (in Cardington), Donington, High Ercall, Humphreston (in Donington), Ingardine (in Stottesdon), Highley, Rudge, Haughton (probably in Shifnal), Sutton Maddock, and Tong, as well as Montford – all fairly local. There were also properties in Calverton, Nottinghamshire and Tibshelf in Derbyshire.

Decay and dissolution

In 1338 Bishop Northburgh criticised Prioress Alice of Harley for her financial mismanagement, her extravagant dress, and for hunting and keeping hounds. By the sixteenth century its income was declining and the buildings in poor repair. Its condition brought it well within the threshold of the Dissolution of the Lesser Monasteries Act of 1536, which dissolved all houses worth less than £200 per annum, clear of expenses.[3]

The priory was dissolved in 1537 and the land bought from the Crown by William Skeffington (also Skevington) of Wolverhampton on a 21-year lease.[7] The reversion was sold to William Whorwood, the Attorney General in 1540

After dissolution

Skeffington built a house on the site, probably incorporating some of the prioress's residence. After his death in 1550, his widow married Edward Giffard, who appears to have bought the reversion from Skeffington. After Edward, White Ladies passed to his son, John, who extended the old farm buildings north of the priory site to create Boscobel House about 1630. In 1651, White Ladies belonged to John Giffard's daughter, Frances Cotton, at that time a widow.

White Ladies was not occupied by Frances Cotton during the escape of Charles II. It was being run by housekeepers and servants. Among the tenants of the estate were five brothers called Penderell. (There had been six but one was killed at the Battle of Edgehill.) The Penderell family were small farmers but the sons seem to have worked part of their time as woodmen, farm servants and retainers of the Giffard family, living at different places in the neighbourhood and caring for some houses such as White Ladies Priory and Boscobel House, which is about a mile away.

Charles Giffard, a cousin of Frances, escorted King Charles to White Ladies Priory early on 4 September 1651, after riding through the night after the previous day's battle. They were admitted by George Penderell, a servant of the house, who sent for Richard Penderell, who lived in a farm house nearby, and for their elder brother William, who was at Boscobel. After failing to cross the River Severn, Charles returned to the estate on 6 September and spent the day in the grounds of Boscobel House hiding in the famous Royal Oak.

The house was demolished some time in the 18th century. The estate and Boscobel were sold to Walter Evans, a Derbyshire industrialist, in 1812, but the Fitzherbert family retained the White Ladies site. In 1938 the then owner, Edward Fitzherbert, 13th Baron Stafford placed White Ladies in the care of the Office of Works, a government department.[6] Today it is in the care of the Ministry's successor, English Heritage

Outside links

("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about White Ladies Priory)


  1. National Monuments Record: No. 75115 – White Ladies Priory
  2. [1]Victoria County History – A History of the County of Shropshire, Volume 2, pages 83–84
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 VCH Shrophire, volume 2, p. 83
  4. R. Gilyard-Beer: White Ladies Priory in O.J. Weaver (ed): Boscobel House and White Ladies Priory, English Heritage, 1987, p. 34-35.
  5. National Monuments Record: No. 75115 – White ladies Priory
  6. 6.0 6.1 R. Gilyard-Beer: White Ladies Priory, p. 37.
  7. R. Gilyard-Beer: White Ladies Priory, p. 35.