Cannington Court

Here we've summarized some of the points of historical interest that can be found at our Cannington Court campus. Each point on the map represents a different feature or historical reference. Select one to learn more.

Alianor Poynings Fireplace

Alianor Percy, Countess of Northumberland, was elected Prioress in 1461 following the death of her husband Henry Percy 3rd Earl of Northumberland.

Alianor was born in 1422 in Beverstone, Gloucestershire, to Sir Richard Poynings and Alianor Berkeley, Countess of Arundel. Alianor inherited the manors of Tirlinghamd, Newington, Eastwell and Westwood in Kent from her grandfather Sir Robert Poynings, 4th Baron of Poynings. She became Countess of Northumberland by her marriage to Sir Henry Percy.

Henry Percy fought during the War of the Roses on 29 March 1461 (Palm Sunday) near the village of Towton in Yorkshire the battle took place in a snowstorm and lasted for hours with 28,000 men dying. Henry Percy was one of the commanders for Lancaster (the others being Henry Beaufort, Duke of Somerset; Henry Holland, Duke of Exeter; and Sir Andrew Trollope). Sir Henry Percy died in battle and the Duke of Somerset and Sir Trollope escaped as the Lancastrians retired northward. The Yorkists won the battle, causing a change in monarch to Edward, Duke of York, later King Edward IV, deposing Henry VI.

The fireplace was built in 1475, in loving memory of her late husband after his death in 1461. Her initials, AP, are on the right hand side with an unknown set of initials, HCC, on the left.

Alianor died in 1484 at the age of 62.

Clifford Hall

The Chapel of the Holy Name, now Clifford Hall, was built in 1829 over a medieval courtyard. (The previous nun's church was destroyed in 1536.) The Chapel was completed on 7 July 1831, and was used by 13 Benedictine nuns.

Prior to these nuns inhabiting Cannington Court, Charles II had granted Cannington Court to Lord Clifford of Chudleigh in 1672. Lord Clifford, a Roman Catholic and Lord High Treasurer, died in 1673 with his heirs inheriting Cannington Court. Cannington Court was passed on generation after generation with it being unoccupied from 1768 to 1806 when the 6th Lord Clifford had it reconverted to a nunnery.

The Benedictine nuns moved to Cannington Court in 1806 having fled from the Priory of Our Lady of Good Hope in Paris, during the French Revolution, fleeing to Dorset. They remained in Cannington until 1836 when they left for a larger estate in Rugeley, Staffordshire, now St. Benedict. On their departure the nuns gave St. Mary Parish Church a plaster cast from their Chapel’s altar, which is there today on their south wall.

The Chapel was closed in 1921 when Cannington became an agricultural college and the hall was redesigned as a lecture theatre.

Porch

In 1536 Henry VIII passed the Dissolution of Lesser Monasteries law. Cannington Court was one of the first priories to be dissolved. Henry VIII granted Cannington Court to Edward Rogers I, for his 'good, true, and faithful service' in 1537.

Edward Rogers I died in 1567 and was succeeded by his son George, who passed it on to his son Edwards Rogers II (1563 -1627) who carried out a number of major building works around 1582, including the addition of the Tudor porch with timber gates, typical of the late Renaissance style.

This Tudor porch was built to form a centre piece to the west range. The porch at this time would have been only two storeys high. The third storey was added to the north of the porch much later by the Clifford family in 1714. To make the porch then look central a false third floor was added to the south with blank windows and the porch was extended.

James Room

The James Room was part of the original manor house dating back to the year 899, the manor being mentioned in the Domesday Book in 1086. During the 12th century the De Curci (Courcy) family owned Cannington Court and the village of Stoke of Courcy (later to become Stogursey). The head of the De Curci family, Robert de Curci, gave part of his estate, the manor at Cannington and the advowson of the church to the Benedictine nuns who dedicated it to the Blessed Virgin. This room would have been part of the nunnery in 1138. Due its position the room acted as an early medieval solar or calefactory, the nuns would have come here to keep warm on cold days.

The priory also housed females from some of Somerset's leading families. One such woman was Maud de Meriete of Hestercombe. She became prioress of Cannington in the late 13th century. On her death she was buried with her heart removed from the body and placed in a niche in Combe Flory Church with an inscription, paid for by her family, reading "Le Quer Dame Maud De Merriete Nonayne de Canyntune" translated as "The choir of Dame Maude de Merriete, Nun of Cannington."

Records from c.1317 detail an inquiry at Cannington Court regarding rumours of corruption amongst the nuns. At the inquest two nuns, Matilda Pulham and Alice Northlode, were found guilty of night time activities (resulting in the resignation of the prioress Emma de Bytelsecumb), and Johana Trimelet was found guilty of incontinence having given birth to a child. Her punishment was imprisonment in one room for a year which may have been where the story of a nun buried in the walls comes from.

In the early 20th century, when Cannington was an Agricultural College, a number of reports from staff and students claim they saw ghosts of the nuns walking around at night. The nuns were only visible from the knee up, this may have been due to the change of floor level over the years.

Kingfisher Stained Glass Window

We are unsure where the Kingfisher came from, but the stained glass is dated c.1900 when this was the bedroom of the School's Superintendent. This originally was the master bedroom for the Prioress, but was later converted to a residence after the dissolution of the monasteries. Prior to the addition of the Victorian corridor (that faces the stained glass window) the rooms would have extended to the inner courtyard with a series of interconnected doors. The highest-ranking official would have slept in the Kingfisher room, with the lowest ranking individual in the northern most room. This meant the highest-ranking official would have to walk through all the bedrooms to reach the bathroom in the northern most room. The interior of this room has the original panelling revealed with window boxes and a fireplace.

Stained Glass Window CC102

It is believed this is a depiction of Rosamund de Clifford, the Fair Rosamund or the Rose of the World, mistress to King Henry II. Rosamund may have been born in the priory, though other records state she was born in Frampton, Gloucestershire, and was educated in Cannington when she was young. Rosamund was later educated at Godstow Nunnery, near Oxford, where she met King Henry II. The lovers would meet in the maze he had made in his park at Woodstock, Oxfordshire. Their son was born in 1173 but there is no other mention of him.

Eleanor of Aquitaine, Henry's wife, on learning about the affair, found Rosamund and forced her to choose between a dagger and a bowl of poison. Rosamund chose the poison. It was not until Rosamund's death in 1174 that Henry II acknowledged their relationship.

This room was where Bishop Collingridge had his library in 1812, He died in 1829 and is buried in the memorial gardens here at Cannington. A possible window may have existed on the east wall opposite the door that was blocked by 1839 when Choir was built on the mezzanine level of Clifford hall. These rooms became the bedrooms of the school superintendents in 1868.

Lady Rosamund

The stained glass lunette was installed in the chapel c. 1863, some 30 years after the chapel was built. The Chapel may have been built in response to the Catholic Emancipation Act in 1829 and the leniency it provided the nuns. Under the act the many restrictions that were placed on the nuns were removed and they are allowed to worship more openly.

The stained glass depicts the Perpetual Adoration of the Sacrament, the adoration of the Eucharist, a practice that would have been very difficult during the French Revolution. This would have been an integral part of worship for the nuns at Cannington.

The new design of Clifford Hall by John Peniston was unusual for this time, with an octagonal form. It may have been Peniston's desire to express the newly freed Catholic faith that he chose to look to the churches of Renaissance Italy for inspiration.

The Chapel of the Holy Name was dedicated on July 7th, 1831 and in use as a Parish Church under the Clifton Roman Catholic Diocese until 1921 when the Chapel was closed.

Entrance Doorway

This doorway is one of the main surviving features from the medieval phase of Cannington. The door construction is dated c. 1460 to 1480 due to its architectural details and was accessed via stone staircase. This would have been the main entrance to the first floor refectory where the nuns would eat and discuss the chores for the day.

After the dissolution of the priory in 1536 this may have become the great hall of the manor where the family would eat, being near to the kitchen on the ground floor. The turret to the right of the entrance door was added in 1570 to provide a staircase from the hall to the main drawing room now the games room.

The stone staircase was removed in 1919 when Cannington Court was converted to an Agricultural College, with the modification of the floors and the addition of a toilet block and a door in the turret was added. The toilet block was removed in 2013 to provide a new access doorway.

Games Room

This was the original Chapel for the nuns, with the windows facing south onto a small recreation area. The alcove in the wall is likely where one of the windows existed. It is likely this space would have also served as the chapel prior to 1536, serving also for the small lay congregation of the village. The confessional booth was located where the stairway in the tower is now, with an organ in the gallery above the east end, with the altar at the west wall. The Choir would have been located were the mezzanine to Clifford Hall is now. This would have meant that the nuns and laity could see the altar but not each other.

After the Dissolution of Lesser Monasteries in 1536, as the largest space, this would have become the Great Chamber, a high statue private chamber, and sometimes a sitting room for the owning family. It returned to being a chapel during the 18th century before the new chapel (now Clifford Hall) was built in 1831 when the windows were blocked up.

In 1868 Cannington Court was granted permission from Lord Clifford to become the Cannington Certified Industrial School for Roman Catholic Boys. This space would have then been converted to a canteen for the students to use.

Victorian Fridge

This was likely the main kitchen during the Middle Ages, later becoming the parlour room when a new block was built on to the building. A fireplace and chimney breast was added to the original building in c. 1630, later to be converted to a small larder or pantry. The larder is positioned in a north wall meaning that it would receive the least amount of sun. It may have had containers for ice on a shelf or on a slate slab, called a “thrawl”, to help maintain the cold within this unit. In the 19th century this 'fridge' would have been called a cellar due to its low positioning where it would maintain a lower temperature.

Dairy Block

The Dairy Block dates to 1868 when Cannington Court was an industrial school for boys, used to store cattle or farm machinery. In 1919 it was turned into a gymnasium and later converted to a dairy and florist in 1928. It was turned into classrooms and offices by the Agricultural College in the late 20th century. The east of the Dairy Block was purpose built in 1938 as administration offices in the Neo-Georgian architectural style. In 1995 these were changed to student bedrooms, kitchens, and bathrooms on both floors. A building was added on the south end of this block, but was removed with a new Brassage building erected in its place.

Opposite the gardens is the Priory Barn that was used to store the King's tithe by the nuns. As the convent was exempt for tithes (earning below £200 per year) they used it to store tithes from their tenants. This building was rebuilt c. 1530s to 1580s when the priory was dissolved. It was later converted into two cottages, and later three units during the 19th and early 20th century.

Kitchen Fireplace

In 1138, this was the nun's main kitchen with the room to the south used for storage. The flue for this fireplace would have gone up through to the James Room above. Access to the Refectory would have been by the staircase through the entrance leading up to the first floor. This was the main kitchen until the 17th century when the block to the west was built, the fireplace and flue was then no longer used and a new fireplace put in the north wall of this room. This room would have then become the parlour used in food preparation and storage.

The door in the north wall connected to the stables from the manor which has long since gone.

Brassage

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Reception

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