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Restoring the rare medieval undercroft at Dunstable’s Priory House

By October 12, 2022December 7th, 2023No Comments
Interior of Priory House showing the medieval undercroft.

Cliveden Conservation (Heritage Trust Network Partner Member) is working alongside Messenger and The Morton Partnership to carry out restoration work to the medieval undercroft at Dunstable’s Grade II* listed Priory House, currently on the Historic England’s Heritage at Risk register.

The undercroft at Priory House, constructed of vaulted stonework, is a rare and almost complete example of its kind from the 13th century. In September 2022, a project began to safeguard the historically significant structure from environmental and structural issues including movement and cracking in the stonework.

The repair of Priory House is being run by Dunstable High Street Heritage Action Zone, in partnership with Dunstable Town Council and Historic England. They will be working with structural engineers, The Morton Partnership, building contractor Messenger and Cliveden Conservation to sensitively repair the undercroft, protecting and retaining as much of the original 13th century material as possible.

Trudi Hughes, Historic England Heritage at Risk Surveyor, said: “The really exciting thing is that the undercroft, about which we knew very little, other than it was reported to be 13th century, now reveals itself as the ground floor and part of the first floor of a 13th century building, with evidence of partitions. There’s a lot more medieval fabric within that 18th and 19th century shell than anybody ever thought before. It’s important that we save, restore and protect this much-loved building for local people and visitors to continue to explore and enjoy.”

As specialist contractor, Cliveden Conservation is focusing on the conservation and repair of the stonework and the external render. The first stages of the works will involve investigating the deterioration of the clunch stone in the undercroft from above and below the vaults to determine the most effective and appropriate method of conservation treatment.

Sarah Tattersall, Conservation Accredited Engineer for The Morton Partnership said: “The project team have worked hard to understand the causes of the complex structural and environmental issues that have resulted in deterioration to the stonework, through research, investigation and monitoring. On the basis of this detailed understanding, proposals have been developed to conserve and sensitively repair the fabric, sourcing “clunch” stone from the local quarry at Totternhoe. We are delighted that works are about to commence.”

Alongside the repair and conservation work, new research will record the rare features of the medieval undercroft and look to more fully understand its relationship with Dunstable Priory. Works are expected to take approximately 10 months.

Find out more here.

Image copyright: Dunstable Town Council

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