St Nicholas Priory

St Nicholas Priory in Exeter was a small Benedictine Priory founded by William the Conqueror after the Norman conquest of England. The Priory was a daughter house of Battle Abbey near Hastings which was endowed with the church of St Olaves in Exeter and monks were sent to serve the church. In 1087 these monks formed a new monastic community and dedicated their church to St Nicholas. It remained a small community but managed to acquire very beautiful buildings and was to play a significant part in the charitable life of the city for over 450 years. The monks worshipped, studied, served the poor and offered hospitality.

The Priory consisted of four ranges around a square, roofed cloister walkway, with a central garth (garden). The great Priory church occupied the South side and the West range comprised the Prior’s chamber, splendid Guest hall etc and a large kitchen, which also served the adjoining Refectory in the North range. Much of what we see today dates from their major re-building of the 15th century.

Along with most of the other small priories in Devon, St Nicholas was dissolved in 1536. The church, chapter house and monks’ dormitory were sold and swiftly demolished, perhaps to prevent the possible return of monasticism at a time of political uncertainty. The west range and the refectory range survived and were converted for use as a mansion for a wealthy merchant family.