St Botolph's Priory, Essex

Originally there was an Anglo-Saxon minster community in Colchester, and it was the former head of this church who founded the first English Augustinian priory here at the end of the 11th century. Lacking any relevant documentary records, it would appear that life at St Botolph's Priory was for the most part uneventful, and the foundation never attained the importance or wealth of other houses. After the Dissolution in 1536, St Botolph's Priory changed hands numerous times but the church remained in the possession of local parishioners. During the 18th and 19th centuries the nave of the priory church became a popular place for burials, resulting in the original floor level rising to some considerable extent. By the early 20th century most of the priory buildings had disappeared through quarrying and decay but what had survived to that point was reinforced to prevent any further loss.

Today's visible evidence comprises a section of the west front and a substantial part of the nave which, through its continued use, was reasonably well maintained. St Botolph's Priory was built mainly from flint and re-used Roman bricks, this masonry then being completely covered with plaster and possibly painted to enhance its simple appearance. Stone was a commodity not available locally, and it is doubtful that the canons had sufficient funds to purchase any, so they made use of materials that were already present in the town. Now devoid of its 12th century decoration, St Botolph's Priory looks very craggy with the exposed flint and small, reddened bricks making up its ruinous structure.

Sturdy circular piers run the length of the nave, and the arcading above is typically Norman. Given a glimpse of the interlaced, blind arcading spanning the west front of the church on two levels, and the depth of moulding surrounding the doorway, it is not difficult to imagine how ornate this would have been eight hundred years ago. So little physical evidence has survived that the plan of St Botolph's Priory can only be assumed to have followed a regular appearance, comprising a cruciform church, cloisters on the south side, and the claustral ranges housing the customary priory buildings.

Colchester is an ancient centre of Roman civilisation, and there is much of interest to see in the town. Only a short walk from the Colchester Castle, the fragmented remains of St Botolph's Priory now lie almost hidden among the town's sprawling growth over recent centuries, but it would be a shame not to find them if visiting. From its unusual beginnings to its urbanised enclosure, St Botolph's Priory continues to hold a mysterious fascination.


Colchester Castle
Also in the area...
CastleColchester Castle
read more about this location
The London Pass – find out more here