St Albans’ ruined priory on heritage ‘At Risk’ register

Sopwell Nunnery ruins, photographed by Jason Hawkes for his book Hertfordshire from the Air

Sopwell Nunnery ruins, photographed by Jason Hawkes for his book Hertfordshire from the Air - Credit: Archant

The ‘poor’ condition of a former Benedictine priory in St Albans has resulted in it being put on an At Risk register in an annual heritage report.

The remains of Sopwell House in Cottonmill Lane have been added to a list of At Risk sites in the East of England on the Historic England Register which gives an annual snapshot of the health of the historic environment.

The Sopwell Ruins, as they are known colloquially, have been added in the endangered Category A in the report which means they are at immediate risk of further rapid deterioration or loss of fabric.

Sopwell Priory, which is also known as the Sopwell Nunnery, was built around 1140 as a cell of St Albans Abbey. But the ruins that can be seen today on green space off Cottonmill Lane are those of a Tudor mansion built in the sixteenth century by Sir Richard Lee on top of the nunnery foundations.

It is still possible to see the gatehouse, one wing, an adjoining cross wing and a kitchen .

The Historic England Register describes the Sopwell Ruins as ‘well preserved post-dissolution remains of Benedictine Priory” but labels

the condition as poor.

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It says that the building requires repairs to wall tops and areas of lost walling and window openings where cracking and decay is causing loss of fabric and risk to the structure.

The garden walls are also in need of urgent repairs

The report confirms that discussions are underway with the owners - St Albans district council - about additional grant aid which might be needed to complete a full repair programme.

St Albans council’s property and asset manager, Debbi White, said: “This summer the council commissioned a structural engineers report on Sopwell Nunnery ruins. We have already carried out the urgent works identified, which comprised repair works to high level brickwork, including removal of vegetation.

“We are now assessing the fairly urgent and non-urgent works and we will be looking at funding options, including any available grants. Historic England is aware of the condition of the remains and is working with us to investigate a sustainable solution for their conservation.”