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Friday, 15 May 2015

Littlemore Priory: Oxford archaeologists find 92 skeletons at medieval church site

Ninety-two human skeletons have been found on the site of a medieval church in Oxford.

Archaeologists made the discovery near Abingdon during an evaluation which was carried out as part of a planning application for a new hotel.

Paul Murray, from John Moore Heritage Services, described the discovery of the burials as "amazing".

The Benedictine priory of Littlemore appears to have something of an uncertain early history, but was probably founded by Robert de Sandford, one of the knights of the abbot of Abingdon, in 1176.
Apparently by 1445 there were only seven nuns in the priory, the building was in a state of collapse and the nuns were not behaving as expected - they were eating meat every day, three lay women were boarding at the priory, and a Cistercian monk frequently visited and drank with the prioress!  Over the next 80 years a variety of other scandals were uncovered including unauthorised priestly visits, illegitimate children, embezzlement and violence. In 1525 the prior was dissolved.

History, of course doesn’t record details of the good things which were accomplished by the nuns during the Priory’s 400 years – but I imagine that, on balance, they out-weigh the bad things!

The priory became a farmhouse (Minchery farmhouse) and then a pub (The Priory), which closed in 2013.

Gillian Argyle, from Oxford Civic Society
Back in 2014 a campaign was launched to save the building which was once again in a state of near collapse with responsibility for the lease lying with the owners of a nearby football stadium.  It seems that a plan is now a-foot to develop the site.

According to the recent excavations, some of the burials are unusual and include a woman found in a face down position, another who was a victim of blunt force trauma to the back of the head, and a stillborn child – all of which matches with the descriptions above of inappropriate behaviour!

All of the skeletons will eventually be re-buried in consecrated ground.

Further information on Littlemore Priory can be found by following these links:

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