13th-century undercroft to be restored
Posted in Medievalists.net
August 23, 2022

13th-century undercroft to be restored

Restoration work to the medieval undercroft at Dunstable’s Priory House, to repair and protect this important historic structure, will begin next month. The total cost of the project will be close to £1 million.

The Priory House is a Grade II* listed site. Its undercroft is constructed of vaulted stonework and is of national significance because it’s a rare and almost complete example of its kind from the 13th century.

The undercroft is suffering from environmental and structural issues, including movement and cracking in the stonework. Dunstable Town Council and Historic England teamed up to provide £986,752 in funding for the project. They are working with structural engineers The Morton Partnership to sensitively repair the undercroft, protecting and retaining as much of the original 13th-century material as possible.

Sarah Tattersall, Conservation Accredited Engineer for The Morton Partnership commented that “the project team have worked hard to understand the causes of the complex structural and environmental issues that have resulted in deterioration to the stonework, through research, investigation and monitoring. On the basis of this detailed understanding, proposals have been developed to conserve and sensitively repair the fabric, sourcing “clunch” stone from the local quarry at Totternhoe. We are delighted that works are about to commence.”

Priory House is one of the oldest buildings in Dunstable, along with the Priory Church. Alongside the repair and conservation work, new research will record the rare features of the medieval undercroft and look to more fully understand its relationship with Dunstable Priory.

“The really exciting thing is that the undercroft, about which we knew very little, other than it was reported to be 13th century, now reveals itself as the ground floor and part of the first floor of a 13th century building, with evidence of partitions,” says Trudi Hughes, a Heritage at Risk Surveyor for Historic England. “There’s a lot more medieval fabric within that 18th and 19th century shell than anybody ever thought before. It’s important that we save, restore and protect this much-loved building for local people and visitors to continue to explore and enjoy.”

The Priory House – photo courtesy Dunstable Town Council

Priory House has had a varied history. It was built on the site of Dunstable Priory’s guest house for travellers. It became a private house in 1545, and one of the first owners was the local Crawley family, who used part of the building to create an early mental health hospital.

In 1743, the original stone vaulted hall was incorporated into a much larger house with the Georgian façade and interior details that can still be seen today. By the 19th century, Priory House was owned by the Munt family, who built a hat factory next to it, on the site of the present gateway from High Street South. The factory was demolished in 1907. Since 1956, the building has been used as offices and is now a heritage centre and tea rooms.

The restoration work will begin on September 12th. “It’s been a long time in the planning to get to the stage where works are due to commence,” says Cllr Peter Hollick, Chair of Community Services for Dunstable Town Council. “The Town Council is thrilled to be in the position where works are due to start to ensure that this important building is restored for future generations and to be removed from the ‘At Risk’ register. It’s pleasing to see that the Town Council is investing in and preserving our town’s heritage.”

Medievalists.net August 23, 2022 at 07:16AM

Comments & Reviews

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *