Cambridgeshire Churches

Isleham Priory

the small remains of Isleham Priory

Travelling around Cambridgeshire, you get sadly used to finding churches which have since been converted to different purposes. There are plenty of villages - Papworth St Agnes and Little Ouse, for example - whose churches were made redundant in the 20th century and were turned into houses or community centres. Going further back, there are the monastic churches, whose monasteries were dissolved in the 16th century and which either disappeared or were converted into private houses (Denny Abbey is a good example). None of them have been disused for quite as long, however, as the church of the old priory at Isleham. This was established in the 11th century, shortly after the Norman conquest, as the daughter house of the Abbey of St Jacut sur Mer in Britanny, and always remained an alien priory.

It managed to survive many years of intermittent war between England and France before falling foul of Henry V during his famous campaigns, and was dissolved in 1414. The site was given to Pembroke College, who raided the monastic buildings for stone, and turned the old church into a barn, which it remained until English Heritage acquired it in 1944.

As I say, nothing of the priory remains save this rather meagre (though charming) little church. It is quite a tall building, despite being rather small, and externally looks mostly the same as it was when it was built in about 1090. A new south door was inserted at some point, but no new windows, which means that the only light for the interior comes through a number of tiny slits with rounded heads. The large, rather blank walls are decorated with herringbone brickwork, and the rounded apse at the east end is punctuated by several shallow buttresses. The roof is prettily uneven, and the whole thing - including the grassy garden in which it's set - has an air of austere neglect about it.

There are details of a keyholder on the information board,
but they were out when we tried to visit.

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