Keys to the Past

Finchale Priory, Framwellgate Moor (Finchale)

Finchale, Priory © DCC 2007
Finchale, Priory © DCC 2007

Finchale, Priory © DCC 2008
Finchale, Priory © DCC 2008

Saint Godric is believed to have founded a hermitage at Finchale, on the banks of the River Wear, in 1110 under the permission of Ranulf Flambard, then Bishop of Durham (1099-1128). Godric's Hermitage is believed to have lain about 1.6 kilometres up river of the present priory at 'Godric Garth' near Framwellgate, where the fragments of a winged building can still be seen, although these are more likely to be the remains of a seventeenth or eighteenth century farmstead, rather than anything associated with the medieval saint.

Initially, there appears to have been ten monks at Finchale monastery, but a grant made in 1278 specified that there should be an additional five members to assist in entertaining pilgrims and the poor who were flocking to the shrine of Godric. The monastery grew prosperous on the endowments made by pilgrims, and in the early thirteenth century, a programme of expansion started with the construction of a new church and associated cloisters built around the existing chapel of St John.

By the early fouteenth century, the recurrent conflicts between the Scots and English meant a decline in pilgrims visiting Godric's shrine and consequently a substantial fall in the revenue of the priory. Records indicate that this had a considerable impact on the monastic community with the number of monks resident at Finchale dropping to as few as five. The priory buildings also suffered and began to fall into a poor state of repair.

Yet, by the end of the fourteenth century, the office of the prior at Finchale was one of the most highly prized positions open to the Durham monks. In the early 15th century, the prior's house which lay to the east of the cloister was renovated and extended. A new entrance hall was added and a kitchen built at the west end, adjoining it to the cloister. As part of this phase of modification a new building was also built to the east of the prior's house; this has been interpreted as a brewhouse.

The prior's house appears to have become the focus of communal life in the later medieval period rather than the older buildings around the cloister, although the dormitory was re-roofed in 1490-91. The prior's inventories also record a number of other buildings including a west and a south gate, a gate chapel, a byre, a granary, a smithy, a henhouse, a piggery, farm and a slaughterhouse. In addition, there was also an orchard, mill and mill-damn across the river. The existing farmhouse and barn at the Finchale Abbey Farm are believed to be medieval in origin and form two of these buildings; the other structures are assumed to lie within the priory precinct.

After the dissolution in 1538, some of the buildings remained in use but most fell into ruins. Much of the stonework was undoubtedly removed to provide building material for farms and dwellings in the area, including the expansion of Abbey Farm. The site was transferred to the Office of Works in January 1916.

The site is Scheduled Ancient Monument and is protected by law.

Reference number:D1295
Historical period: Medieval (1066 to 1540)
21st Century (2001 to 2100)
Legal status:Scheduled Monument
  • National Heritage List for England Entry Number: 1007561
Event(s):Finchale Priory

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See also:
Source of Reference
Local History of Finchale


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Please note that this information has been compiled from a number of different sources. Durham County Council and Northumberland County Council can accept no responsibility for any inaccuracy contained therein. If you wish to use/copy any of the images, please ensure that you read the Copyright information provided.