Priory ruins

Friends of Launceston Priory

At Newport, Launceston, Cornwall


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Launceston Priory

At the time of the Domesday Book ( 1086), their was a college of secular priest at St Stephens – secular priests could be members of a religious foundation but were also permitted to have personal wealth -  and they had one manor of 20 ploughlands which was free of tax. It is worth noting that at this time Tavistock Abbey held 6 manors in Cornwall and so at that time was the greater of the two houses. It is likely that the college at St Stephens was originally a Celtic foundation as its Domesday name, Lanscavetone, incorporates the word “Lan” which generally denotes the site of an early Celtic Christian site.

Some 40 years after the Domesday Book, Bishop William Warelwast converted St Stephen’s college into a foundation for regular canons who conformed to the rule of St Augustine; in 1127 this Augustinian foundation received its first formal charter. Only 13 years later, St Stephen,s was caught up in the disputes between the great landowning barons and  King Stephen and as a result the tower was destroyed by the action of Reginald de Dunstanville, the  earl of Cornwall during a Cornish rebellion. Following this destruction a decision was made to build a new site for the priory close to the ford across the river Kensey and the canons moved to their new home in February 1155.

St Stephen’s which  was left as wholly parochial was re-consecrated by Bishop Bronsescombe in 1259 and the tower was rebuilt some 250 years later with a legacy from Thomasine Percival who also founded Week St Mary College which in turn has links with the founding of Launceston College.

The new priory at St Thomas flourished and gained in wealth and lands. This was partly through encroachment on lands of other less powerful owners such as the priests at  North and South Petherwin and partly from the gifts of benefactors. 150 properties were acquired in these ways during the 11th and 12th centuries and over the next 300 years many others were added to the wealth of Launceston Priory. By the time it was dissolved on 24 February 1539 it had some 250 lands stretching around Launceston and to distant places such as Kilkhampton, St Gennys, Stoke Climsland, Looe Island and Pyworthy and Bradford in Devon..

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