|Dandelions where monks' hymns once reverberated|
A priory is a small monastery or nunnery. Often it was an outpost of a castle, bigger abbey or large country estate. It would have had several purposes - never solely a place where pious monks paid homage to God.
For almost four hundred years, Monk Bretton Priory operated in the heart of South Yorkshire. It was built by the noble and fabulously rich Norman family that developed Pontefract Castle - twelve miles north east of Monk Bretton. The family wanted their monks to pray for their mortal souls and they also wanted them to control tenant farmers and collect rents.
In the twelfth century the nearby River Dearne would have been a silvery stream containing fresh fish and pure water from the Pennine hills. Building the priory would have involved enormous effort. Thousands of stones would have had to be quarried from faraway hills and transported on river rafts or by horse and cart on rutted roads.to the chosen green and peaceful location.
|The gatehouse at Monk Bretton Priory|
The priory had a large gatehouse to control entrances and exits. There was an administration building where financial matters were conducted. There was of course a large chapel for worship and prayer but also a dormitory for the monks, stables, gardens, a refectory for meals and a large kitchen which had ingenious channels for both fresh water and drainage. In short it was an enclosed self-functioning complex. It even had its own graveyard.
In the middle of the sixteenth century, long standing tensions between church and state saw King Henry the Eighth calling for The Dissolution of the Monasteries. Along with other priories around the country, Monk Bretton was closed down, its monks departed and the building gradually fell into disrepair. Thousands of stones were filched for local building projects so what you see today is mostly ruins - a pale but evocative shadow of what once was.
The monks would never have imagined that one day the surrounding area would become very industrialised or that the town of Barnsley would stretch out its tentacles to embrace local villages like Monk Bretton and Lund. But that is what happened and now the old priory sits in the suburbs of the town on the edge of an impoverished council estate called Lundwood where once monks would have wandered collecting nuts and berries and listening to the birds in the trees that stretched heavenwards.
|The priory's restored administration building|
|Drainage channel heading to The River Dearne|
|Kitchen with water channel|