Cover photo

Traveling Through History

Issue 7


We had a busy (but slightly restful) week at CenterParcs in Longleat last week.

It’s in a forest and has cabins and villas amongst the trees. In addition to that, they have activities like tree trekking and quad bikes, archery, clay Pidgeon shooting, a pottery centre and of course the obligatory indoor/outdoor pool area, that has rapids and various water slides.

We had a good time but seem to have come home exhausted! Lol

While we were there, we went to Longleat House & Safari Park, which I will feature in the ‘Out & About’ section this week.

Friends from Australia are arriving on Saturday, so we will be busy sightseeing with them including next week Buckingham Palace’s summer opening and the Churchill War Rooms.

This week we are visiting a delightful but not so well-known priory, Wenlock in Shropshire. We visited on 2018 on a not so sunny day!

Hope you enjoy Traveling Through History with me this week.

Savvy Travel Historian

July Theme – Priories

Wenlock Priory – Shropshire


A religious house has been situated on this site since around 680, established by Saxon king, Merewalh of Mercia, who built a monastery for men and woman.

It operated as a monastery for almost 900 years, before the Dissolution in 1540.

Located around and hour and a half north-east of Birmingham and 30 minutes south-east from Shrewsbury.


King Merewalh’s daughter Milburga was the 2nd abbess at the Much Wenlock monastery, and she helped establish a name for it.

During her 30 years there, she was said to have performed many miracles and after she died was venerated as a saint.

Just before the Norman Conquest, Lady Godiva and her husband Earl Leofric of Mercia, founded and endowed a minster at Much Wenlock.

After 1066, William the Conqueror gave one of his loyal supporters, Roger de Montgomery (the Earl of Shrewsbury), vast estates in Shropshire, that included the priory.

He made a request to the Abbot of Cluny (La Charité in France) for monks to be sent to Wenlock and in around 1080 they arrived.

The Anglo-Saxon church was replaced with a much larger one, which looked like the architecture of many Cluniac monasteries in France.

These monks also built many of the domestic buildings and those that we can still see today include, the chapter house, lavabo and the infirmary.

St Milburga’s Remains

In around 1100, building works, at the old parish church, uncovered a box containing a manuscript that told of the burial of the former abbess (now saint) but despite looking, no bones were found.

Not long after this, some boys were playing in the church ruins and it was said that a pit opened up and ‘beautiful and luminous bones’ were inside, believed to be those of St Milburga.

This in turn made Wenlock a place of pilgrimage as people believed that the shrine created for her bones, displayed many miracles, all attributed to the saint.

A blind woman regained her site, a woman with a mysterious disease, drank water that the bones were washed in and was cured, lepers were also said to be cured and a drowned boy revived.

All this resulted in pilgrims arriving at Wenlock in increasing numbers and a town began to grow outside the priory walls to accommodate the new activity.

The priory operated many successful businesses associated with the town and its tourists.

Wenlock became so successful that they were able to create ‘sister’ monastic houses on the Isle of White, in Scotland and two others in England.

Henry III

King Henry III visited Wenlock on a number of occasions, staying there so frequently that he stored wine for his personal use on site.

Timber from the royal estates were donated by him and not long after 1200, the various grants received enabled the building of a new, larger church, to begin.

History of Infamy

Like many monasteries in England (and no doubt Europe too), Wenlock went through periods where the Prior was unscrupulous, and this resulted in a decrease in Wenlock’s reputation.

By 1262 the priory was over £1,000 in debt due to the monks living beyond their means.

In 1272 John de Tyford was appointed prior, having left his previous post due to ‘his dealings with a notorious moneylender’.

He continued this behaviour and Wenlock went into further debt as a result. Just before he left, he sold the monasteries wool crop for seven years in advance and kept the money!

In 1417 an outlaw, brought criminal William Careswell to Wenlock, and he taught the monks the art of coin counterfeiting.

100 Years War (1337-1453)

During the 100 Years War with France, all French monasteries in England were subjected to increased taxation and many lost their land holdings.

Wenlock was lucky to hold onto a lot of its possessions in exchange for a £170 payment each year to the Crown, but this soon became unsustainable as it was more than half its income.

The priory applied to be declared an English priory and in 1395 King Richard II granted this, after a one off payment of £400.

While it remained ‘Cluniac’, it did not achieve full independence from La Charité until papal approval in 1494.

Wenlock’s Decline

By 1521, the newly appointed prior, Rowland Gosnell tired to bring back more control over the wayward monks by attempting to improve the quality of monastic life there.

A dispute with the monks over his appointment resulted in a visitation by Dr John Allen who recorded that the monks were immoral, lacked proper worship in their daily lives and had fallen into a pattern of ‘easy living’.

The list of ‘Injunctions and Exhortations’ were extensive and included:

-       There must be no dealing with woman,

-       Gambling on games of cards, marbles and chess were forbidden,

-       Monks were not to take boys to the dormitory,

-       Monks must be content with food & clothes instead of a salary, and

-       The prior should not indulge in luxurious and extravagant living with a large household.

Allen concluded that Wenlock priory’s reputation was in disrepute.

Despite this however, some monks refused the new prior’s attempts to correct these and other indiscretions and he was forced to resign in 1527.


Wenlock’s income was assessed as over £400 in 1535, therefore it was spared during the round of the dissolution of ‘lesser’ monasteries in 1536.

However, by January 1540, the prior and remaining 12 monks gathered in the chapter house and surrendered it to the king’s commissioners.

Henry VIII granted the estate to his physician, who broke it up and sold parts and the infirmary and prior’s lodgings were purchased by Thomas and Richard Lawley, who converted them into a private house (as it remains today).

The remains of the monastery were demolished, and the stone used on other construction sites in neighbouring towns.

Like many ruins at the time (and discussed in newsletters previously), they fell into disrepair and were overgrown with vegetation until a revival in the 18th and 19th centuries.

A formal topiary garden was installed in the former cloisters, and we can still see these today 


The Church

The church built at Wenlock was one of the finest in the country being over 107 metres (350 feet) long.

The above image shows the South Transept (in the middle), with a view towards St Michael’s Chapel at the rear.

The grassed area was the choir, looking eastwards towards the nave.

The Infirmary and Prior’s Lodgings

As mentioned, the Infirmary (shown below on the left) and the Prior’s lodgings (on the right) were turned into a private dwelling after the Dissolution and remains so today.

North Transept

A large section of the North Transept remains and excavations by English Heritage of the crypt in front of it, uncovered the body of a monk holding a simple chalice.

The Crypt

It is no known what the large crypt was used for as the ceiling was low, would have been poorly-lit and it appears that there was no entrance to it from the Nave.

South Transept

The ruin that remains of the South Transept is 21 metres high (70 feet). The small arches seen on the west wall inside were those of the ‘laver’. This provided an area for the prior to wash the monk’s feet before a service, thus mimicking Christ’s washing his disciples’ feet.

At the end of this wall a spiral staircase can be seen (right of the picture below). This would have given access to the clerestory, triforium, the roof & gutters.

Chapter House and Library

The library can be seen here on the left and the three arches lead from the cloisters to the chapter house.

The chapter house was of Norman construction built around 1140 and followed the traditional design seen in many monasteries around the country.

The Refectory

The refectory was where the monks ate, and it was entered through a doorway from the cloisters.


Wenlock has an extensive handwashing bowl called a lavabo, which allowed 16 monks to wash their hands at the same time.

It was built around 1220 with parts reused from an earlier version dated 1160-80.

Originally, it would have been housed in its own building and local ‘Wenlock marble’ was used because it could be highly polished.

After the dissolution, the building was removed but the lavabo remained as a grassy mound until it’s excavation in 1878.

Relevant Travel Information:

Wenlock Abbey, is now a private, restored private house and can be visited on certain days of the month for £25 that includes afternoon tea.

Wenlock Priory ruins are operated by English Heritage and is free to enter for members.

Open daily during summer and on the weekends from the first weekend in November until the following April.

Open daily during the February half term holidays.

Facilities provided at the ruins can be found here and parking is available:

Museum Corner

National Portrait Gallery

Having seen lions up close last week, it reminded me of this painting from the NPG of Sir Edwin Landseer, creating the large Lions in Trafalgar Square, which now sit at the foot of Nelson’s Column.

Painted by John Ballantyne around 1865, he altered the lions after Landseer had finished them and they were in situ so they would match.

There was controversy around the display of this painting, as after it was placed in an exhibition (and before) the lions were finished, Landseer objected to the ‘reveal’ before the they were in place in Trafalgar Square.

Ballantyne was forced to remove the painting, which was the main work in his exhibition, and it closed shortly after.

 [Photo credit: Adobe Stock - AdobeStock_135609653.jpeg]

Out & About

Longleat House and Safari Park

[Photo Credit – Adobe Stock - AdobeStock_17543033.jpeg]

Following the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1540, John Thynne purchased the former Augustinian priory at Longleat and converted the priory into a county house and it becomes a landed estate.

In 1567, the house burns down, but Sir John creates an Elizabethan house that is completed by 1580.

The Great Hall, with its minstrel gallery dates back from this time.

In the 1660s, Sir Christopher Wren designs the front entrance of the house and from 1757, Capability Brown replaces the formal gardens with a landscape park and the huge tree planting programme has resulted in the large woodlands on the estate today.

During WWI the house was a hospital and WWII it became a girl’s school.

After the second World War, the house is opened to the public for the first time to ensure its longevity as expensive death duties following the death of the 5th Marquess, would have crippled the estate.

In 1980, Her Late Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II visited to celebrate the 400th Anniversary of the completion of Longleat House.

The State Dining Room was used for the formal dinner.

In a future edition, I will feature Longleat House, but I hope you enjoyed this snippet in the meantime.

The Safari Park

The Safari Park was opened in 1966, as an additional way to earn income and became an instant success.

It was the first drive-through safari outside of Africa.

A large collection of animals can be seen. We were lucky, that despite the day being very wet, many of the animals were still active.

(Apologies in advance for the window shots in the rain!)

The East African Reserve area had Zebras, Flamingos, Elands and rhinos.

As we drove through ‘Tiger Territory’, a tiger just wondered in front of the car!

Next up was ‘Lion Country’ and the pride was very busy moving around us.

They then went to hide from the rain in their trees.

At your own peril you enter the ‘Monkey Dru-through’. There are warnings and big signs saying they rip off windscreen wipers and steal hubcaps.

But being the adventurous type that we are, we risked it!

At first there were no monkeys to be seen wondering around but as we neared the exit, and the rain eased, they ran towards a car in front of us and then to ours. Many fun pictures were taken, and we laughed a lot, but this cheeky monkey wanted to hitch a ride on our door handle!

Finally on the way out, ‘Wolf Wood’ saw a pack of wolves roaming and they were on a mission to make trouble, jumping up on some people’s cars and one stood at the back of our exhaust pipe to get some warmth!

Overall, it was a terrific day out, despite the torrential downpour for the whole day!

We would definitely go back on a day when the weather is nicer! Lol

Relevant Travel Information

Full details on all options available can be found here:

Ticket prices for adults is £39.95 for the day.

You can also stay overnight on the estate, with some of the cottages offering views over the safari park area.

This Week in History

July 18

64AD -             Great fire of Rome under Emperor Nero begins.

1925 -              Adolf Hitler publishes ‘Mein Kampf’

July 19

1545 -              Henry VIII’s flagship the ‘Mary Rose’ sinks in Portsmouth    

1553 -              Lady Jane Grey is deposed as England’s Queen after 9 days

July 20

356BC -           Alexander the Great was born

1969 -              First Moon landing - Armstrong & Aldrin walk on the Moon

July 21

1798 -              Napoleon wins Battle of the Pyramids in Egypt against the Mamlurk rulers

1853 -              New York Central Park is created

1884 -              1st cricket match played at Lords

July 23

1579 -              Sir Francis Drake leaves San Francisco to cross the Pacific Ocean

July 24

1567 -              Mary Queen of Scots is forced to abdicate

1673 -              Edmund Halley (Halley's Comet) starts at Queen's College Oxford as an undergraduate student

Michelle is a speaker, author, content marketer, historian and mother of 3 boys.

After 25 years in business and as the ‘Content Marketing Queen’ for the past 12 years, she has helped countless small businesses understand and develop their content strategies and focus on a customer first approach.

Savvy Travel Historian is her passion project, and her weekly newsletter is available on Substack, Paragraph and Mirror. The latter two allows you to collect each Issue as an NFT.

Michelle is co-host of the Web3 By Three Podcast, a weekly show which talks about current stories in the Web3 space and how it applies to B2B marketing, sales and operations. The show is recorded live every Wednesday at 4pm EST/ 9pm UTC on LinkedIn, YouTube & Twitter Spaces.

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