Important work is being done to repair parts of St Oswald’s Priory in time to commemorate in 2018, 1,100 years since the death of Aethelflaed, Lady of Mercia and founder of St Oswald’s Priory,
Five areas of stone which have been worn down to their core have been identified at the site following a recent survey. Stone replacement is taking place to repair the grade I historic monument. The stonework along the top of the main wall is in poor condition, as is the stonework on the top of the transept arch. These areas will be repointed and any loose stone either fixed back into the structure or removed. Work will extend from the top of the structure to four rows of stones down.
The work will take place over the next couple of months, weather dependent.
The work has to be done by hand and an experienced team of stonemasons and conservators are currently working on it. Whilst the scaffolding is erected, it gives a fantastic and rare opportunity to inspect the top of the monument which is normally hidden from view. It also offers an opportunity for a detailed inspection of all areas of the monument.
The site, exposed to elements over the last 900 years has meant the ruin has suffered from weathering.
The repairs which are being undertaken will ensure that the monument will continue to be accessible for visitors. Where possible, old cement repairs and pins will be fully removed and the repairs carried out in traditional methods.
Cllr Paul James, leader of Gloucester City Council, said: “St Oswald’s Priory is an iconic landmark for Gloucester. It has a rich history which we want our residents and visitors to learn about and enjoy. Our officers and external specialists are working hard to make the site safe so it can continue to be viewed by local people and tourists.”
History of the site
St. Oswald’s Priory was founded by Lady Aethelflaed of Mercia, daughter of Alfred the Great, around 900. The Priory Church, initially dedicated to St. Peter, was constructed from recycled Roman stones. At this time it was a bold and unusual move to build a church as there were frequent Viking raids.
At first it was a Christian cemetery, but in 909 the relics of Saint Oswald were taken there. The building was rededicated to the saint and it is believed Aethelflaed and her husband were later interred in the crypt.
Archaeological excavations in the 1970s revealed a 10th century fragment of carved slab from the grave of someone extremely important. In the centuries that followed St Oswald’s grew rich as a place of pilgrimage and was at the centre of a large parish.
By the time of the Norman Conquest the place was in decline. It was taken over by the Archbishopric of York and its secular canons replaced by Augustinian ones in 1153. Although the building was subsequently repaired and enlarged – the arches are 12th and 13th century – it was almost literally in the shadow of the more successful Abbey of St. Peter, now Gloucester Cathedral.
In 1548 it became the parish church of St. Catherine. For a while it was a highly popular place of worship, but then came the Civil War and the Siege of Gloucester. Largely destroyed by Royalist cannon fire, the church was eventually demolished in 1653 and the stone was used to rebuild a new market house. Today the northern arcade of the nave survived and are managed and maintained by Gloucester City Council as a picturesque ruin in a park off Archdeacon Street.