Wednesday, 8 October 2014

The Nuns' Stream

Remains of what may have been the walls of the Priory grounds
In 1268 Prioress Amice obtained the permission of Ralf Morin IV (Lord of the Manor of Harrold) to divert a brook.   As part of this agreement the Prioress undertook not to use the brook to drive a mill. The records do not specify where the stream was, but there is only one brook anywhere near to the site, the one running down what is now called Church Walk and then into the Great Ouse river.  This stream seems to have formed the western boundary of the Priory, and there are what appear to be the remains of substantial stone walls still standing here at what was probably the north west corner of the Priory precincts.

In their authoritative study of nunneries in East Anglia, Roberta Gilchrist and Marilyn Oliva found no evidence of diverted streams: indeed they point out that while the practice was common in men-only monasteries, "female houses seldom possessed such elaborate facilities".  Water was diverted to provide fresh water for the kitchens and channels to flush the monastic latrines. Eileen Power described how Abbess Euphemia had ordered a stream to be diverted for this purpose at Wherwell Abbey in the 13th century.  The agreement between Prioress Amice and Ralph Morin tells us that the new water course was not used for milling, but has no further details as to its purpose.

In September 2014 some local residents and I made a close inspection of the stream.  We had previously found a reference on the 1902 Ordnance Survey map to "sluices" part the way down the stream, as well as two footbridges.  We found no clear evidence of either, although there were some remains of a concrete structure on the bed of what we were now calling the Nuns' Stream.  However, we did find that downstream from the Wellocks bridge by Church Walk for about 100 metres, the stream had been carefully and substantially culverted between stone walls.  These were about 2 metres in height and extended the length of the stream to about 30 metres beyond the point where we suppose the sluices were installed (the stream takes a sharp right hand turn at this point).

What appears to be an arched entrance to a new underground
stream feeding the Priory with fresh water
The walls to the culvert are heavily overgrown now, and in places have been undermined by
flooding, but are still clearly visible.  As they follow the stream down from Wellocks, the space widens from about two metres to around five at its widest point.  This, with the stream being dammed by sluices lower down, would have created a very substantial artificial pond with a large head of water.  About a metre down from the top of the culverting, immediately before where we imagine the sluices were, there appear to be the remains of an arched opening to an underground channel to take water to the Priory.

This evidence, though, is inconclusive as the stream is heavily silted up at this point.  There is no evidence of the Priory stream today and it is likely to have been built over by later development in the 19th and 20th century.  However, on the opposite side of the former Priory site, along the banks of the Great Ouse, there are the remains of what appears to be a substantial stream or drain originating in the the remains of the Priory or Hall.  The outflow here is said to be arched and built of stone, similar to what we observed at the Nuns' Stream side of the site.  The remains are close to a Victorian boathouse, but have been buried in recent landscaping work by one of the local residents. This outflow is also visible on 19th century ordnance survey maps.

The new pond: stone lined, two metres deep and 5 metres wide
at this point.  A substantial body of water to feed the Priory.
It is possible that these works were done by one or other of the tenants at Harrold Hall, rather than the nuns at the Priory.  However, the stonework appears to be well weathered and consistent with other late medieval stonework nearby, such as the walls of St Peter's church.  My guess is that the nuns had the stream culverted in the 13th century, with an underground stream running to the western side of their cloister where perhaps there were kitchens or latrines.  The stream then carried on out and discharged into the Great Ouse. The flow of water into this culvert was controlled by means of sluices which kept a large head of water in the artificial pond on the edge of the site, and backing up Church Walk towards the High Street.

For more photographs of the Nuns' Stream and other remains, please visit my Harrold Priory collection on Flickr.

No comments:

Post a Comment