Conishead Priory, Ulverston (Archaeological On-Site Assessment)

Conishead Priory, Ulverston, Cumbria: Archaeological On-Site Assessment

As part of an on-going programme of renovation at Conishead Priory a recent application was made for funds to restore the ‘chapel’, which would also add further scope for the appreciation of the historical development of the site. Originally the site of a leper hospital in the early 12th century, Conishead became a priory in c1180-1184 and remained so until the Dissolution and it was seized by the Crown in 1537. Conishead Priory was dismantled and its estates were incorporated into the Duchy of Lancaster and later leased to Thomas Stanley, the second Lord Monteagle. In 1547, Conishead was granted to Sir William Paget who then sold it to John Machell a year later. In 1554 Conishead was sold to William Sandys. After William Sandys died in 1583, Conishead was left to Margaret Dodding and Barbara Philipson. Margaret’s grandson George Dodding later bought out the Philipsons. The estate passed through his daughter Sarah, wife of John Braddyll, to their son Dodding Braddyll. Dodding’s son Thomas Braddyll in turn left Conishead to Wilson Gale. After his death in 1818 his son, Thomas Richmond Gale Braddyll inherited Conishead. In 1821 Thomas began to rebuild the hall that was built on the ruins of the Priory, but the work took over 20 years to complete and required a change of architect in order to get it completed. In 1847 Braddyll went bankrupt and Conishead and its estates were sold off. The Priory and park was bought by a Scottish syndicate that converted it into a spa hotel. In 1925 the estate was bought by a group of investors who sold it on to the Durham Miners Welfare Committee in 1929, who used it as a convalescent home until 1970. In 1972 the estate was sold; the park was split into two and both parts were sold, with the Priory being sold to a Mr Jones of Wigan. Unable to get planning permission he put the house and estate back on the market. The Priory buildings remained empty until 1976 when it was bought by the Manjushri Kadampa Buddhist community for a sum of £75,000. The Manjushri Kadampa Buddhist community has done much to preserve its structure. In 1996 a new Buddhist temple was built in the grounds.

The on-site survey followed on from a desk-based assessment, and identified the recorded elements of the Priory’s historic landscape and placed them in the context of the historic development of the site as a whole. It comprised a walk-over survey, which investigated those sites of historical and archaeological interest known to be situated within the estate owned by the current Priory and identified sites not previously recorded. A list of all of these sites was produced, tied to a plan of the estate showing their location. In addition, a brief investigation of the development of the different parts of the Priory buildings was also carried out. This has provided a basic phasing of its development, which has incorporated information contained in the earlier desk-based assessment wherever possible.

A brief discussion of the results of this assessment is included, summarizing the pertinent points, the relationships between and relative importance of the various parts of the site and the phasing of the buildings.

The full report is available on the Archaeology Data Service website: