V.—Architectural Description of the Priory Buildings.

PLATE IV. Cloister Court, Newstead Priory.
PLATE IV. Cloister Court, Newstead Priory.

Newstead priory is situated upon the left bank of the small river Leen, which flows from its source in the hills between Annesley and Kirkby-in-Ashfield, to the north-west of the priory, to join the Trent at Nottingham. West of the priory, the dammed-up stream forms a lake, from which it descends in a south-easterly direction to another sheet of water south of the house, and thence to a broad lower lake. The ground south of the priory slopes to the stream, affording good drainage and plenty of sun, while to the north and east the rising ground of Sherwood forest shelters it from wind. Whether the present series of lakes which adds so much to the beauty of the site existed in the middle ages is uncertain; but we know that there was a dam, as to-day, on the west of the monastery, so that the water of the stream must have formed a large pool at any rate on this side, The precincts were surrounded by a dyke, such as may be seen to-day at Ulverscroft priory in Charnwood forest, and possibly by a wall. To-day the church and cloister buildings, which must have occupied approximately the middle of the site, are all that is left. The outer court, however, which contained such buildings as the granary, brew-house and bake-house, was on the west side of these, and the gate-house which formed the entrance to the precincts probably stood near the present dam of the lake, where the road from the modern village of Newstead and its railway-stations approaches the house.

The restorations undertaken by Colonel Wildman, and continued by Mr. Webb, were more than usually careful and thorough, and show so much appreciation of the original purpose of the buildings that it is very difficult in places to distinguish the new work absolutely from the old. Of the original 12th century priory, there are, however, considerable remains in the inner walls of the cloister buildings; and the cloister doorway of the parlour in the western, and that of passage between the eastern and southern ranges are of this date. It is probable that the early buildings were very simple. In the course of the 13th century the east and south ranges of the cloister were almost entirely rebuilt, the work of this period culminating in the beautiful chapter-house, which was probably completed c. 1240-50. The church was enlarged and most of the west front completed later in the century, when the western building was probably also taken in hand. Very little was done during the period of financial depression which followed, but a revival took place about the middle or in the later part of the 15th century, when important changes seem to have been made in the western building and the cloister walks were entirely reconstructed. With the conversion of the monastery into a dwelling-house after the suppression and with later additions we are concerned only in so far as they directly affected the monastic buildings themselves.

In describing the various buildings the most convenient plan is that which has been stereotyped by the late Sir William St. John Hope in his many articles upon English monasteries. We shall therefore take the church first and then follow the route taken by the Sunday procession along the east, south and west walks of the cloister in order.

Plan of Newstead Priory

The church was situated north of the cloister, with its south wall adjoining the north walk, and the west wall of its south transept overlapping the north part of the east walk. At first the nave was possibly aisleless, as may have been the case with many churches of canons regular; while of the plan of the eastern portion beyond the crossing of the transepts we have no indication. At present, all that is left of it is the south wall of the nave and the portion of the transept wall adjoining the cloister, both of the early period. The beautiful west front and the scanty remnants of the south aisle belong to additions made rather more than a century after the foundation.

In such churches the ordinary method was to begin by building the part of the building necessary for the services of the convent, i.e., the eastern portion with the transept and one or two bays of the nave, and to complete the wall of the nave next the cloister, leaving the rest to be finished as opportunity allowed. The cloister wall was usually but little disturbed in later times, unless some elaborate scheme of reconstruction was taken in hand which involved both church and cloister. At Newstead, where there was no aisle, this wall now forms the north wall of the house, and was largely refaced on the side next the church when the library was made above the adjoining cloister-walk. The lower part on the cloister side is still substantially the 12th century wall, and has a base-course 3ft. high, with a chamfered top. The remains of the doorways in this wall will be referred to later.

The west wall of the south transept remains with little alteration. At its north end a modern doorway has been cut from the cloister into the billiard-room, which occupies the ground floor of the transept.1 Next this is a modern buttress. The stone bench which follows will be described in connexion with the cloister. The wall ends in a massive rectangular buttress, with a face 4ft. 7in. wide, and a projection of ift., which clasps the south-western angle of the building. The work obviously belongs to the years immediately following the foundation of the priory, and must have been begun at once and finished by 1180 at latest.

The internal length of the nave was 107ft. 6in. The transept was about 24ft. from east to west, its internal length from north to south, to judge by the external measurements of the west wall, being probably a little short of 90ft. If the monument erected by Byron to his dog is on the site of the high altar, the eastern arm must have been considerably lengthened in the 13th century. From the presumable site of the eastern arch of the crossing to the foot of the steps of the monument is a distance of 87½ft. If the high altar was at this point, the church must have extended some distance eastward; but it is most likely that the east wall of the church is covered by the monument, and that the high altar was a bay or two west of it. The total length of the church at the date of the suppression may be estimated at about 220ft. or a little over.

So far as the eastern arm is concerned, conjecture only is possible. 12th century plans of churches of canons regular show, as at Bolton and Brinkburn, an aiseless eastern arm flanked at its west end by the eastern chapels of the transepts. In the 13th century such chancels, which were usually rather long, were enlarged by adding north and south aisles, but one or two bays at the east end were left unaisled, forming an eastern chapel projecting beyond the high altar and the procession-path at its back which connected the two aisles. The whole eastern arm was sometimes rebuilt and lengthened, the quire, as at Hexham and Repton, being taken out of the crossing and eastern bay of the nave, and put altogether east of the crossing. The probable dimensions at Newstead suggest that such a rebuilding took place here; but nothing can be stated with certainty until the site is laid open by excavation.

The rebuilding of the nave was begun in the second half of the 13th century, following upon considerable works in the cloister. In some instances, as at Repton and Bridlington, the whole work was entirely reconstructed with north and south aisles. The addition of an aisle on the side next the cloister, however, involved the disturbance of the wall on that side, and a consequent re-adjustment of the adjacent cloister-walk. Thus, in churches which from the beginning had no aisle on this side, an aisle was added only on the side opposite the cloister, where extension was possible. Examples of this method of enlargement are seen in the churches of Austin canons at Brinkburn, Lanercost, Bolton, Thurgarton, Ulverscroft, Canons Ashby, etc. Such an enlargement was planned, if not completed, at Hexham, and may be paralleled from Premonstratensian churches, as at Torre. It was adopted at Newstead, where the new work, however, was of an unusually sumptuous character.

(1) It is possible that the modern doorway in the west wall of the transept occupies the site of an earlier doorway. In churches where there was no aisle upon the side of the cloister, and the quire-stalls extended across the transept, it was obviously convenient, for the proper circulation of processions, to make a doorway communicating directly between the transept and the cloister. Brinkburn priory in Northumberland is a case in point, where the processional doorway is in the transept wall, and the eastern doorway in the nave wall was not used in processions. Cf. also Torre abbey in Devon.