St Mary’s Priory Church has had a checkered history and it is worth walking round the outside of the church before visiting.
It is set in a large grassy graveyard with old grave slabs arranged around the walls. On the north wall, just inside the gateway, is a rare survival of a coffin niche. In medieval times, most bodies were wrapped in a linen shroud before being placed in the parish coffin. The body was then carried in the coffin to their place of burial . Once in the ground, the coffin was returned to the niche for storage until needed again.
Medieval stone coffins are propped against the wall. Near them are the remains of the pillars of the central tower. The gateway in the wall near here was once the original entrance to the cloisters.
The splendid archway attached to the north wall with its zig zag Norman carving, was the entrance to the chapter house which has been rebuilt here.
The west front is magnificent, but decidedly lop sided with only the south west tower surviving. It still has its lovely carved Norman doorway. Look closely at the bottom of the wooden door for the Thompson Mouse. Robert Thompson, the ‘Mouseman’, had his workshop in nearby Kilburn. He was responsible for much of the modern woodwork in the church and ten of his mice signatures can be found around the church.
The outer north wall of the church is very plain after the north aisle was demolished in the early c18th.
The south aisle was demolished in the C19th restoration work when the south west tower was in danger of collapse. Rather than rebuild the wall, the south arcade pillars were retained but the arches filled in.