Wenlock Priory through the pines ~ an enduring landmark




How impressive then must the beautiful church have been in the days of its prosperity, when the pilgrim came down to it from the grassy hillside and its bells made the stillness sensible.

Henry James on Wenlock Priory Portraits of Places

Much Wenlock has many historic landmarks, but its Priory is the one with the oldest roots, dating back to the seventh century when  the Saxon princess, Abbess Milburga, presided over a dual house of monks and nuns.  In medieval times, under Norman rule, it was expanded to become one of the most imposing (male only) religious houses in Europe.

Then along came Henry VIII with his marriage problems, and in 1540, as part of his Dissolution of the Monasteries campaign, (i.e.the  liberation of monastic wealth), the lead was stripped off the roofs. The Priory has been ruinous ever since. Meanwhile the Corsican pines have grown up along the boundary wall.  I don’t know when they were planted, or by whom, but spiring above the ruins, they somehow give a sense of lost architectural glory.

There is of course much romance in dilapidation as Henry James’ description in the quote above betrays. He was certainly taken with the place, and came here two or three times as guest of the Milnes Gaskells  who lived in the Prior’s House abutting the ruins. The Priory was at that time the Milnes Gaskells’ own private garden feature, and part of the tour for all their many house guests.  I particularly like this next, perhaps unlikely image of a recumbent Henry James gazing up at the remains:

You may lie upon the grass at the base of an ivied fragment, measure the girth of the great stumps of the central columns, half smothered in soft creepers, and think how strange it is that in this quiet hollow, in the midst of lonely hills, so exquisite and so elaborate a work of art  should have arisen.

You can read more about Henry James in Wenlock HERE.

Now please visit Paula at Lost In Translation for more Black & White Sunday  landmarks.

34 thoughts on “Wenlock Priory through the pines ~ an enduring landmark

  1. Henry James is one of my favourite writers, but I was unaware of his connection with Wenlock. You gave Priory an exquisite treatment, Tish. Much obliged for this outstanding contribution 🙂

  2. Most interesting post, Tish! I visited Wenlock Priory a couple of years ago and was most struck by it….sadly, it was a dull day, but not overcast in a dramatic way, more’s the pity,,,.

  3. Beautiful photographs and the words of Henry James are so perfect….like you, I particularly enjoy the last paragraph you shared. I can imagine being in that place and wondering. One of the other places that King Henry VIII sacked was Llanthony Priory on the Welsh borders….not too far from Crickhowell….and there I would do exactly that….lie in the grass and simply wonder at it all. Thank you, Tish. 🙂

    1. Crumbling romantics, Ark. And anyway who can see the damage if they haven’t got their specs on. So – you’re right – no face lift needed.
      Trouble is, you keep making me laugh, and it’s a well known fact that this activity adds to wrinkles.

  4. ruins to ruinous marriages – the Henry James connection is intriguing – his portraits of places reads better than that of the lady!

    1. Yes, he’s a writer who turns one off and on by turns. Was very keen on him in my late teens. Read Turn of the Screw lately, which is said to have been partly plotted in Wenlock. A very troubling text in all sorts of ways. But as a travel writer, he is really quite jolly.(Well here and there anyway).

      1. An unusual novel indeed and very well filmed with Deborah Kerr as “The Innocents”

    1. Thanks. I forgot to say in the post that these shots were taken with my Lumix ‘point and shoot’ in its dynamic monochrome setting of which I am rather fond. It definitely captures a bit of drama.

    2. Many thanks. I didn’t say in the post but these were taken with my Lumix ‘point and shoot’ in its ‘dynamic monochrome’ setting. I really like it as it definitely adds some drama.

    3. Gosh, I didn’t know that “The Innocents” is a film version of “Turn of the Screw.” I found “The Innocents” one of the most disturbing films I have ever seen. Not sure why, but I found it chilling. Love the photos.

    1. Oh indeed, and a very powerful woman she was too. She owned all the land around Wenlock. Her fathe was a Mercian king and had interesting career strategies for all three of his daughters. They were all abbesses, controlling their domains. Milburga was much loved – even now I think.

  5. Love the photos Tish, though a bit wet today for lying on the grass. I don’t think I have ever read any Henry James, but I like the bits you quoted. I really must visit the priory, but maybe not until the weather improves, and if I do ever get there I shall try and let you know so you can take me on a tour 🙂

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