|In the Spring of 1987, a fragment of
finely-carved stone was unearthed in a garden at Riverside, Studley. (see Local Past,
Autumn,1987). Housed, now, in the Sanctuary of the Parish Church, it is one of the very
few known examples of the fabric of Studley's ancient Priorye
Its find prompted enquiries of our County Archaeologist, seeking to know what might be done to preserve the Priory site and its environs from the attentions of the Developer. The reply was encouraging.
An estate of 28 houses, originally planned to be built upon the Priory site, and since increased in number, had been re-located in order to avoid serious damage to archaeological remains. It had been agreed that these remains constituted an important site and should be conserved as open, undeveloped land. So the estate was built, instead, over the leveled fish ponds of the Priory, which were planned and recorded beforehand.
|Any future application to build on the
site would be opposed upon similar grounds, though it would be unlikely that the District
Council would reject an application upon archaeological grounds alone. Any successful
application must result in access to the site being afforded to enable an excavation to be
conducted in advance of construction. But this would be expensive in resource terms, and
no doubt would be constrained by time.
A preferred alternative to a dig would be the scheduling of the site as an ancient monument. Similar to the legislation used to protect listed buildings, the Scheduled Monuments legislation is used to protect archaeological sites. English Heritage, the government body which implements the legislation, were about to start, at this time, a Monument Protection Programme to increase tenfold the number of scheduled monuments, nationally.
Along with all the other monastic houses in Warwickshire, Studley Priory was to be considered for scheduling and if found to be of national importance, legislation would protect the site from any proposed housing developments. This was good news, from the County's Sites and Monuments Record Officer.
Official wheels grind very slowly, and in the Spring of 1989, with the Programme not yet under way, a further application for permission to build upon the site was received by the District Council. This was refused in June. Among the reasons given, was the unacceptable damage to a site of archaeological importance that would result.
Support in opposing this application came from a variety of sources. The parish council was joined by English Heritage; Dr. Della Hooke, a member of the Geography Department of the University of Birmingham, who kindly made available her unpublished survey of the site; Officers of Warwick Museum; and concerned individuals resident in Studley. All was well.
Or so it was thought, for the Applicant appealed against refusal, and the whole process of objecting was repeated, this time to the Inspector representing the Secretary of State for the Environment. His decision would be final and not subject to appeal. Again, the Priory was saved, for the Inspector rejected the appeal against the District Council1s refusal.
There the matter rests for the time being, but there is little comfort in the status quo: in spite of an inspection of the site, last year, no scheduling has yet been confirmed. Planning legislation, subject as it is to political influence for change, remains the only defence against building over the remains of Studley's heritage. Pressure to build, for a variety of reasons, is all around us. The efforts of many, collectively, and as individuals, have so far been successful in preventing the destruction of the site, beneath whose soil lie, perhaps, the very clues which could enable us to unlock some of the uncertainties of our local past.
In any event, we can be sure that vigilance is all-important in the maintenance of both our local and our national fabric. Although there is sufficient documentary evidence available to us to be certain that Studley's Priory once occupied a position of some importance, a dig would go some way to resolving the speculation which surrounds this. But in its execution would be the destruction of the site we seek to preserve.
Warwick Museum's preferred option, the preservation of the site in situ, is sound in more than one respect, for it ensures, also, the preservation of the myths, beliefs and legends that are woven into our sense of history.
Spring 1995 index