Nine historical facts you didn’t know about The Priory

Diary posted

1st May 2019

The Priory retirement village in Devon
The Priory is now an adored retirement village in the beautiful South Devon village of Abbotskerswell. But having been built over two centuries ago, there’s so much history to uncover. And that’s exactly what the Residents’ Association and historian Peter Wade have done! We’ve written our top nine facts below, taken from ‘The Priory at Abbotskerswell, a short history’ and ‘Abbotsleigh Priory 1861 – 2018’.


How many of these facts did you already know?

The Priory, Abbotskerswell, Retirement Villages1. Joseph Aloysius Hansom was selected to create plans for buildings to cater for 50 nuns, at The Priory. The prolific architect worked primarily with a gothic style – a style that can still be clearly recognised at the current retirement village.

2. On 1st October 1861, The Priory became the home to 38 Augustinian nuns. To mark the occasion, the building was beautifully decorated with flags, flowers, and evergreens. The building was described as ‘barely inhabitable’ when the community moved in, but it was eventually complete on December 20th, 1861.

3. The sisters at The Priory had a momentous day on 2nd February 1862, when the first stone of the church was laid. This church became the first to be dedicated to the Holy Ghost in England. The Church was completed in September 1863.

4. The nuns had very little contact with the outside world until the end of their time at the priory. As the number of residents began to fall communicative restrictions were eased. This is when the nuns began to emerge in the village – and even sold products like eggs and honey.

5. The Priory ended its run as a nunnery in March 1983 and was later converted into retirement homes.

6. In the period that The Priory was unoccupied, the Devon and Cornwall Police occasionally used the site for police dog training.

The Priory, Abbotskerswell

7. The earliest recorded residence on site was Wotton Farm. The cottage and farm buildings eventually became the home of the priory’s farm manager and were later converted into the block of cottages which can still be seen upon entrance to The Priory today.

8. One of the residents was a man named Charles Braine. He was a passionate botanist and he is to thank for persuading Kew Gardens to supply the stunning trees and shrubs which now populate the collection at The Priory. The records at Kew Gardens indicated that most of our mature trees are now roughly 150 years old.

9. The most treasured antique preserved at The Priory was the shirt, made of haircloth, of Saint Thomas More – who was executed for treason at the Tower of London in 1535 for refusing to accept Henry VII as head of the Church.


So, how many of the above could you have guessed about The Priory retirement village that we know and love today? If you’re keen to discover more information about The Priory today, then click here.