Priory ruins

Friends of Launceston Priory

At Newport, Launceston, Cornwall


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From Launceston Town Council

The Launceston Priory ruin is a designated Scheduled Ancient Monument (No Cornwall 268) and an important landmark and feature of the historic townscape of Launceston and the county of Cornwall.  Once the largest of the monastic houses in Cornwall, research suggests that the Priory building consisted of a north aisle, south transept, sacristy, chapter house, day room, dormitories, guest rooms, prior’s lodge, lavatory, cellarer’s buildings and cloister.  Today however the ruins of only a very small section survive, comprising the lower walls of the choir and choir aisles, altar, altar steps, a north tower (or side building with two storeys), four tombs and a collection of carved and worked stones. 

The aim of the Launceston Priory Project is to provide a long term means of conserving, celebrating and promoting the Launceston Priory site for the benefit of local people and visitors.  The Priory has suffered vandalism and has been neglected for many years, and its condition is now poor and continuing to deteriorate.  We fear that soon there will be no meaningful evidence left.  Due to this sad state of affairs the site has regrettably had to be closed to the public.

Over the last ten years there have been a number of initiatives to gain funding for the necessary consolidation and presentation work.  Sadly none of these, for various reasons, have been successful.  Now, at last, we have been successful in obtaining grants from the Heritage Lottery Fund, North Cornwall District Council and the SITA Cornwall Trust; we will never be in a better position to take the work forward. 

The project will consolidate and interpret the remaining above ground ruins of Priory, and record any below ground remains found during the consolidation process.  Following site preparation and recording, the work will involve returning loose and uncovered stones back to their rightful position, clearance of overgrown vegetation, some levelling of the ground, and the provision of paths over part of the site.  Improvements to the boundary walls and fences will be made, and seats and interpretation panels will be provided. 

An important aspect of the project will be to improve community access to the ruins and increase the learning opportunities for both the wider local community as well as visitors to the town.  We will ensure that these objectives do not compromise the site’s character as a peaceful and reflective place.

The project will increase community involvement and participation in the site both during the physical consolidation/conservation process and also in the longer term through events, activities with local schools/groups and links with other projects and heritage attractions in Launceston.  120 volunteer days have been identified to enable local people to assist the expert archaeologists with site preparation and the recording process as well as post consolidation tidying and presentation.

The funding raised will be spent on the physical consolidation and conservation of the ruins for the Priory; the provision of a new path and improved access to the site for both able and less able visitors; the development of both on and off site educational media and publicity materials (website pages, pamphlets etc) and the development of an educational programme of activities and events involving local volunteers.  There is a great deal of local support for the project.

On site, the consolidation work will be co-ordinated by Parkes Lees Architects of Launceston, who have a great deal of experience in the sympathetic conservation of historic buildings.  They have produced detailed drawings, and will ensure that the invitations to tender are only sent to contractors who can provide evidence of similar work experience.  The Priory Committee, lead by the town council, has consulted widely to ensure that the best advice has been sought. 

Cornwall County Council’s Historic Environment Service has been very much involved in the project from the beginning, and we intend that they will be involved in supervising and recording the works from an archaeological point of view.  They will also be leading on community involvement with the consolidation work.

Launceston Town Council is the owner of the site, and owns and maintains a number of other heritage sites and buildings in the town.  Once work is finished the details of its longer term management will be agreed with English Heritage’s Historic Environment Field Advisor, and the Friends of Launceston Priory group will
Be very involved in the day to day care of the monument.