Friday, 27 April 2012

A Peaceful Dissolution (c.NZ323101)

Neasham Priory was founded in the early twelfth century for a community of Benedictine nuns. Today not a trace of it remains, having occupied a spot, it is assumed, somewhere under and around Neasham’s main thoroughfare on the north bank of the River Tees. It is remarkable, certainly, for one thing … and perhaps another.

The known ‘surprising fact’ is that it was the only religious house in County Durham which was independent of the Durham Cathedral Priory – an astonishing state of affairs considering the Prince Bishop’s lengthy legal – nay, regal – reach. However, despite many grants, donations and privileges being bestowed upon the institution, the nunnery was never especially wealthy.

Though the Dissolution came to Neasham Priory as it did to most other similar houses, the transition appears to have been a peaceful one. Thanks largely to the foresight of Prioress Jane Lawson, the building and grounds were able to be gently passed into the hands of her brother, James Lawson, a Newcastle merchant, in December 1540. Indeed, it is likely that Jane lived on as a tenant farmer in the nunnery buildings, which themselves seem to have remained intact and unplundered post-Dissolution, until her death in 1557.

Surprising, then, that not a single stone remains in situ today.

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