Monday, 11 May 2009

St Nicholas Priory - Exeter

St Nicholas Priory

St Nicholas Priory was built in the 11th century on the orders of William the Conqueror. The part which survives today is just one side of what was a four sided Priory.

The priory was closed down by Henry VIII during the dissolution in 1536 and part of it was demolished. Local women attacked the men who demolished it.

After the religious building closed down this wing became a house. It was taken over by a local merchant, William Hurst, around 1580 in the time of Queen Elizabeth I.

After the Hurst family died out in 1604 the building fell into disrepair and it was rescued by Exeter City Council in 1913 and turned into a museum. In 2006 it closed for major repairs and re-opened last year.

St Nicholas Priory - the downstairs.

The Priory was lived in by 12 monks and this, the cellar, is probably the oldest room in Exeter. It was used to store food for the monks, their guests and to provide food and drink for the poor.

When the building was a Priory this room was probably just a simple room but when the Hursts lived here it became the parlour and is set out as it would have been in 1602.

The panelling and Elizabethan plaster- over-mantle are similar to how they would have been in the Hurst's day. The panelling was actually taken from a neighbouring property for installation in here when it became a museum. The panelling was painted by copying a pattern from another local property.

Elizabethan inventories (lists of goods attached to wills) from Exeter were used to decide what items to display on the dining table and elsewhere in the house.

If you want you can have a game of shovelboard (similar to shove ha'penny) while you are here.

This is the kitchen and it has two great hearths. One is for roasting food and the other for boiling food. The trestle table is set with medicines supposedly being created by Mary Hurst for her son, Nicholas, who was ill.

It probably looked pretty similar during the time of the priory as it did later, in the Hurst's time.

Whilst some of the equipment may look strange it has the same purpose as items in a modern kitchen - heating, storing, baking, preserving, chopping, weighing, pouring, mixing and serving.

Not many modern kitchen have a salt box for salting the meat to preserve it - like the hare hanging on the wall.

St Nicholas Priory - the upstairs

Like the downstairs, the upstairs is divided into different rooms. One of them - the great chamber - is very large and is the grandest room in the house. It was probably where the guests stayed when the building was a Priory.

William Hurst had a painted frieze running around the room and he painted around the windows.

The room never had a ceiling and you were meant to see the roof beams.

These shoes are made in the Tudor style but at least one pair was similar to ones I had when I was a child. (Mind you, that may say more about my age than about the unchanging styles of footwear!)

There were Tudor and Stuart chests all around this room and the carvings on them were attractive.

Next to the great chamber was this smaller room which was probably a luxury chamber when the building was a Priory as even then it had an en-suite! The Hursts added a plaster ceiling which curved under the beams but this has since disappeared. Around the walls are the remains of hooks on which would have hung cloth wall-hangings in Elizabethan times. The bed is an original Tudor one.

Whilst the en-suite was convenient it was probably rather smelly and the fact that the waste went down alongside the kitchen cannot have helped with sanitation.

If you are ever in Exeter I can thoroughly recommend calling in at the Priory and congratulate Exeter City Council and its partners in doing such a splendid job of making it come alive again.

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