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Plan of Barnwell Priory by W H Hope

St Andrew the Less / Barnwell Priory

History of St Andrew the Less

This is a 13th century building, once part of the Barnwell Augustinian Priory complex. The Priory church would have covered the plots of the houses on the south side of Beche Road; the other priory buildings would have stretched along the line of Priory Road.

Further information can be found on the English Heritage website:

According to A Taylor, (Cambridge – The Hidden History), it was the first and largest religious house in Cambridge but never became involved in university life. It was one of the earliest Augustinian Houses and was intended to support six priests to serve neighbouring churches. The first foundation had been by sheriff Picot in 1092 near to the castle, probably next to St Giles’ church. This benefaction was allegedly in return for the recovery of his wife from illness.

After Picot’s death, Pain Peverel, the Norman knight who succeeded to Picot’s holdings, got permission from the king to refound the priory on more spacious grounds within the royal manor of Chesterton.

The new site had a holy well with pre-Christian origins that had been used for semi-pagan festivities in Saxon times. A hermit had also lived there in ‘a tiny wooden oratory.’ In due course the priory was granted the manor of Chesterton by King John, for a price. A new church was dedicated in 1170.

In there were 17 monks at the priory. When royalty visited Cambridge they generally chose to stay at the priory. A boys school was set up there supported by charity; five poor men were also supported and scraps used to feed three other poor people every day, plus general gifts of peas and beans to the townspeople in Lent.

Florence Ada Keynes records the following visits to the Priory:

1200 King John

1236 Lord Hugh Bishop of Ely held full synod

1258 Henry III

1293 Edward I stayed in the castle and his chancellor at the priory. The Chancellor had charge of the King’s treasure chest of £1,000.

1295 Two papal legates visited

1325 Edward II spent several days at the priory

1326 Queen Isabella

1388 Richard II stayed an summoned parliament, ‘The Cambridge Parliament,’ to meet him there

When the house was dissolved in 1538 it was too far out of the city to be considered being reestablished as a college and the estate was no longer a going concern.

In 1578 when the Chapel of Corpus Christi College was being built, it is recorded that 182 loads of stone were removed from the dismantled monastery to the college.

Vestiges of Barnwell Priory circa 1820 from a water-colour

Thomas Panton, Chief Groom, or Equerry, to George II, and master of the King’s “running horses” bought c. 1769 land all round Fen Ditton – he lived in Ditton Hall. His purchases included Sturbridge Fair Ground, the Leper Chapel, the Barnwell Priory site and probably other land.

His son, Thomas as well, left no heirs, and the estate passed to Lady Gwydir, his niece. In 1820 the estate passed to her son who sold it in lots to various persons. Fen Ditton and Barnwell was bought by Dr Haviland, a Cambridge doctor.

The Barnwell property changed hands several times. The Abbey House found tenants, the rest was neglected. In 1879 the estate was bought by Joseph Sturton who made roads and sold most of the land in small plots. Enough land was enclosed to for a garden for the Abbey House.


Enid Porter’s article on Barnwell Priory:

Barnwell Priory


Sketching Cambridge by Michael Large


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