The Old Priory in North Woodchester, Gloucestershire, is a Cotswold building dripping with history, yet also has one of the most glorious poolhouses we've seen in years. Penny Churchill tells more.
Atmospheric stone ruins scattered around the English countryside bear witness to the lost wealth and power of England’s medieval monasteries, yet lovers of all things ancient remain fascinated by houses built after the Dissolution using precious stone retrieved from former monastic buildings. This historic house, currently on the market, highlights that enduring appeal.
For sale through Savills and the Blue Book Agency at a guide price of £7.85 million, Grade I-listed The Old Priory stands in 85 acres of glorious gardens and grounds on the edge of the south Cotswold village of North Woodchester, between the popular market towns of Nailsworth and Stroud.
Reinvention is nothing new here. The building that stood on this spot was originally a Norman manor house before it became a priory, and each successive generation has added, taken away, rebuilt and refurbished, those disparate influences coming together and creating what is, today, a house of immense charm and character. And a place with perhaps the most beautiful poolhouse we’ve ever seen.
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Sadly, not much remains of the original priory that, according to the Victoria County History, stood on the north side of the 12th-century parish church of St Mary, to which it was linked by ‘a raised, covered passage from the church to the edge of the churchyard’.
The church was rebuilt in medieval times before being replaced in 1861 with a new, 14th-century-style building, using stone from the old church.
Towards the end of the medieval period, the Stroud valleys became famous as a centre of the woollen cloth industry following the arrival of Walloons from Flanders and, later, Huguenots from France, including the Paul family, who owned Woodchester Mill and lived at The Old Priory, among other places.
According to parish records, the former priory was rebuilt in 1512, although its Historic England listing describes it as ‘a large country house, built circa 1580 on the site of an earlier Norman manor house, with extensive alterations in the 18th century, c. 1830 and c. 1870’.
Known as the Manor until the late 18th century, the house was originally built on two storeys with an attic. The upper floor became the piano nobile in the 18th century, to which was added a 19th-century tower on the north side of the original H-Plan. It has much late-16th-century panelling on both main floors.
The entrance hall was remodelled in about 1830 and a gallery added on the south side with a timber balustrade. Some Victorian work was later removed, restoring the interior to its present late-Regency Gothic appearance.
Long before the Normans came, the Romans occupied this part of Gloucestershire between the early 2nd and late 4th centuries. In 1793, the Gloucestershire-born antiquarian Samuel Lysons rediscovered a Roman villa dating from AD325 on the site of the churchyard and former priory.
Its most famous feature was a vast mosaic depicting Orpheus charming all forms of life with his lyre. Although the villa is no longer visible above ground, some Roman bricks can be seen in the old church, with stone Roman culverts in the wall around The Old Priory grounds.
The present house, which retains its historic H-plan layout, has been beautifully restored by the current owners during their 20-year tenure. It offers some 9,550sq ft of well-planned accommodation, including an impressive vaulted entrance hall, a large family kitchen and various domestic offices on the ground floor, with three fine reception rooms, a library and a study on the raised piano nobile.
A wing of the first floor houses a spacious principal bedroom suite and a further en-suite bedroom, with access to a ‘secret’ Victorian tower room on the second floor. The opposite wing houses three further bedrooms and bathrooms.
Further living space is available in the restored, three-bedroom Stable Cottage (very popular as an Airbnb) and a range of period outbuildings could be adapted for residential use, subject to planning consent. The pretty, two-bedroom Priory Lodge, currently let, is available by separate negotiation.
The Old Priory’s magical gardens and grounds have been restored and reimagined by the present owners and a plantsman’s sure touch is evident throughout.
Enchantment abounds around the lake, the Victorian spring water garden, the kitchen garden, orchard, woodland walks, formal lawns, immaculate herbaceous borders and the pièce de résistance, the spectacular and secluded Roman-style infinity pool — a gracious nod to The Old Priory’s ancient heritage.
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