Birkenhead Priory

I love the Priory and it’s history. We went twice and I want to go back, hopefully the tower will be finished and we’ll be able to climb the 101 stairs.

The Priory is the oldest standing building in Merseyside. It was build in 1150. The monks followed the Rule of St. Benedict. The Prior and the 16 monk had to be self-sufficient and they grew their own food, brewed beer, kept livestock.bp_01

King Edward I visited the Priory in 1275 and 1277. 40 years later, in 1317, the King granted them the right to build lodgings and sell food. In 1330 they received the sole rights to ferry passengers to Liverpool and charge tolls.

They lived like this for the next 200 years. In 1536 the Priory was closed down and all the property seized in the name of Henry VIII and let to became a ruin. In 1544 Ralph Worsley bought the estate for the sum of 568 pounds.

In 1710 the mayor John Cleveland bought the land. By 1801 the area was sparsely populated by 110 people in only 16 houses. But the population begin to grow in 1819 and Francis Price build St. Mary’s church, the first parish church of the town.

In 80 years Birkenhead experienced an extraordinary growth and reached a population of around 85,000. Between 1913 and 1919 the church authorities were responsible for the renovation of the Norman Chapter House and Scriptorium. It was reopened for use as a Chapel at a Dedication Service held on the 26th July 1919. A bomb destroyed the Scriptorium in 1941.

St. Mary’s church it survives now as only a tower and spire, having been demolished in 1975. There are 101 stairs in the tower, but right now it’s under renovation and it’s not open to the public. The tower is dedicated as a memorial to the 99 men lost in the 1939 disaster aboard the Laird’s built submarine HMS Thetis.
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The Chapter House is consecrated as an Anglican church and there is above a chapel dedicated to the training ship HMS Conway which formerly stood in the River Mersey off Rock Ferry. The door on the right is the entrance.
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The North wall contains a 15th century five-light window depicting the Adoration.
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A panorama of the Church. Click on it to see it bigger.
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The east wall, the one facing the door is a 15th century five-light window which contains a 20th century glass by Ninian Comper.
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I didn’t like history when I was in high school, but now I love to learn about things that happened in the past. I love the fact I can actually touch a piece of history, like this 860 years old wall.
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After the Chapel we visited the Museum.
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The monks daily program.
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The foundation sacrifice.

In 1896 the incomplete skeleton of a small wild adult sheep was found under the south-west buttress of the prior’s lodgings, in a carefully made tomb featuring plain roll moublding and enclosed by a slab.

Dating from the late 13th or early 14th century it has been suggested that the sheep, deliberately immured within the prepared recess, was a sacrificial offering made during the laying of foundations of this part of the priory.

If this was the case, it indicates a cross-over of beliefs with a pagan sacrifice made for a Christian building.
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It’s such a lovely place, nice views, you can learn a lot of history. There is a free parking and the curators are very helpful and very enthusiastic, so don’t miss it if you visit Wirral.

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