Today’s Saturday Snapshot is a romantic tragedy. Once upon a time in the dim and distant past, a brave and devout knight bid farewell to his beautiful wife and joined a Crusade to the Holy Land. While he was away fighting for his faith, his trusty steward importuned the lady (which makes him lusty rather than trusty), but she remained true to her absent lord, and spurned the advances of her unwanted suitor. Furious at being rejected, he sought revenge, biding his time until his master returned – then he accused the virtuous lady of being unfaithful. Our gallant knight, believing the lie, stabbed his wife through the heart while she protested her innocence. He had some anger management issues there, methinks, to say nothing of being a very bad judge of character: he’d rather accept the word of a man than that of the woman he loved and married. Anyway, when he finally did discover the truth, he was distraught with grief and shame, so he founded a priory, where prayers could be said, as an act of penance for slaying his wife.
I have no idea if this tragic tale is true, or merely a local legend – but Alvecote Priory, in North Warwickshire, was erected by William Burdet, who allegedly murdered his wife – and remnants of the building can still be seen. There is an archway and low walls, which are believed to date from from the 14th century, and to come from the priory itself. Established in 1159, it was a ‘cell’ of the Benedictine monks at Great Malvern, and remained small, with few benefactors. A meadow was gifted to the monks, and they had a mill, a dovecote, and fishing rights, but they couldn’t afford to maintain and repair the building, so they appealed to Edward III for help, and in 1334 were given Royal dispensation to raise money by collecting alms from other churches.
The priory and the main monastery at ‘Myche Malverne’, were both closed during Henry VIII’s dissolution of religious houses, and in 1543 the king gave Alvecote Priory, its lands and possessions, to Thomas Audley, the Lord Chancellor, who gave it to Joan Robynson, the widow of George Robynson, a London mercer. It seems to have become (or been incorporated into) a manor house, owned by many different families over the centuries. An 18th century building, known as Priory House, used earlier stonework, but was demolished in the 1960s.
There used to be the remains of the monks’ dovecote on the site, but I don’t know if this still exists – I couldn’t see it when I visited. It’s a long time since I’ve been there. Years ago there was a little car park, and at one stage there was a picnic area. When my daughters were small I used to take them there and we would sit on the grass to eat our sandwiches, and walk through the arch, and look at the ruined walls, and generally run about. You could see the canal, and walk by it, and it was a lovely, happy place. The car park and picnic area have both disappeared, due to vandalism apparently, and there is a locked gate, but there is space in front of it for a couple of cars, and a gap at the side, so I parked and walked through, ignoring the forbidding notice which says access is now available from a nearby country park. Much of the area was quite overgrown, and it felt very unwelcoming – slightly sinister and threatening, which was very peculiar.
The horse looks lovely in the photograph, but he was very unnerving. He was on a very long, heavy chain, and kept following me, and then blocking my way, and wouldn’t let me walk through to the canal – I could see a boat through the trees, but I don’t know if there were people there. It all seemed very deserted, and very quiet, and yet somehow all the time I was there I felt as if I was being watched, and I kept thinking of the Walter de la Mare poem, ‘The Listeners’. And it was a very hot, very humid afternoon, which made the atmosphere feel even more oppressive so, I was glad to get back to the car I don’t ever remember feeling like that about a place before, but perhaps it was just the heat, and the fact that there was no-one else around making me nervous. For more Saturday Snapshots see Alice’s blog at http://athomewithbooks.net/
Information in this post was taken from the Victorian County History of Warwickshire, which was largely based on accounts by William Dugdale, a 17th century antiquarian and historian.