Woodchester Priory has been listed as a grade one historic building by Historic England.

Grade I buildings are of exceptional interest, only 2.5% of listed buildings are Grade I. According to Wikipedia, there are only 16 grade one Catholic Churches in England and Woodchester Priory is the only one in the South West.

The following is an extract from the Historic England Website at https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1340700

List Entry Summary

This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

Name: Roman Catholic Church of Our Lady of the Annunciation, boundary walls and railings

List entry Number: 1340700


Roman Catholic Church of the Annunciation, St Mary’s Hill, Woodchester, Stroud, Gloucestershire, GL5 5HP

The building may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County: Gloucestershire

District: Stroud

District Type: District Authority

Parish: Woodchester

National Park: Not applicable to this List entry.

Grade: I

Date first listed: 23-Jan-1985

Date of most recent amendment: 21-Sep-2017

Legacy System Information

The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System: LBS

UID: 132127

Asset Groupings

This list entry does not comprise part of an Asset Grouping. Asset Groupings are not part of the official record but are added later for information.

List entry Description

Summary of Building

A Roman Catholic parish church, built in 1846-9 to designs by Charles Hansom as a Dominican priory church, endowed by William Leigh; with associated boundary walls and railings.

Reasons for Designation

The Church of the Annunciation, a Roman Catholic monastic church of 1846-9 by Charles Hansom, is listed at Grade I, for the following principal reasons: * Architectural interest: the church is a fine piece of mid-Victorian Catholic church building, its restrained, Decorated Gothic style handled with his customary lightness and precision by Hansom; * Historic interest: the church formed the centrepiece of a priory constructed by Charles Hansom for William Leigh in the early 1850s, one of the very earliest to be built after the Emancipation; the priory then served as the Novitiate for the English Province of the Dominican Order for over a century; * Degree of Survival: the building has remained almost entirely unaltered since its completion, save for the addition of further glass and additional fittings, and the creation of a sympathetic dais for the forward altar; * Interior: the interior is of high quality in its design and execution, and is richly decorated for a former monastic church; * Fittings: the fittings are extensive and remarkably lavish, particularly in the context of a monastic church; those designed by the architect for their respective positions are of very high quality in design and craftsmanship.


The religious communities at Woodchester were founded and largely funded by William Leigh, a landowner from Staffordshire with lucrative property interests in Australia. Disillusioned with the Established Church, he converted to Catholicism in 1844. In 1845 he bought the Woodchester estate from Lord Ducie; from 1855, he began to build on the estate his own house, designed by Benjamin Bucknall; the house, known as Woodchester Mansion, was left unfinished at his death in 1873. In thanks for his conversion, and guided by the charismatic Italian Fr Dominic Barberi, the Superior of the Passionists, he planned to finance a new religious community at the E end of his property. AWN Pugin was invited to make designs but withdrew when Leigh decided to scale down the church. The commission then passed to Charles Francis Hansom, the eminent Catholic architect, son of Joseph Hansom. His church was built at a cost of £9,000. The foundation stone was laid by Bishop Ullathorne, Vicar Apostolic of the Western District, on 26 November 1846 and the church was consecrated by the Bishop Hendren, Vicar Apostolic on 10 October 1849, when the monastery was also inaugurated. In 1850 the Dominicans took over from the Passionists. The priory buildings were completed in 1853, also to Hansom’s designs. A model of Hansom’s priory is preserved within the church. The establishment was canonically raised to priory status in 1854, and became the novitiate for the English Province of the Order. William Leigh, on his death in 1873, was buried in the crypt, and an elaborate tomb was erected by his widow in the south chapel of the church; his effigy shows him holding a model of the priory church. Other family members are also interred in the crypt. A Franciscan convent, later occupied by the Poor Clares, was built in 1861-9 a short distance to the N, also designed by Charles Hansom. The convent closed in 2011.

The priory buildings closed in 1966 and were mostly demolished in 1970, leaving the church as the parish church, standing in partly-cleared grounds. The remaining friars moved to St Mary’s Hill House (now the presbytery) until 1985, when care of the parish passed to the diocese. Extensive works of repair and restoration took place in 1989. In 2000, the interior was reordered, with the temporary forward altar replaced with a new, permanent stone altar on a shallow sanctuary platform. The floor was tiled with Minton tiles manufactured to match the originals in the chancel. The painting of the Last Judgement over the chancel arch, by Henry Doyle, was cleaned and restored in 2015.


A Roman Catholic parish church, built in 1846-9 to designs by Charles Hansom as a Dominican priory church, endowed by William Leigh; with associated boundary walls and railings.

MATERIALS: Local limestone with Cotswold limestone slates.

PLAN: The building is orientated NE-SW, but liturgical compass points are used in the remainder of this description. The church has nave with N and S aisles, and N and S porches; chancel with S chapel; crypt; and part of the E range of the former priory cloister to N, housing vestry, sacristy and meeting room.

EXTERIOR: The church is in Decorated Gothic style, set on ground which slopes steeply to the E, allowing a crypt under the eastern end. Entrance is via the moulded, pointed S doorway, the porch arch having attached octagonal column shafts in the parapet gabled end, and quatrefoil side openings. The buttressed aisles have two-light windows with Decorated tracery; there are similar, smaller two-light windows to the nave clerestorey. The offset buttressed W end has a heavily-moulded pointed doorway, and a four-light W window with Decorated tracery. Chancel and chapel windows are each of three lights. The large five-light E window has elaborate tracery including a rose containing three spherical triangles. Part of the former priory range to the N has trefoil-headed casements with narrow trefoil lancets to the lower floor. The tower is set in the angle with the priory range; it has clasping buttresses, and an octagonal belfry with broaching to the short spire, brought down below the belfry openings, resulting in spherical triangle openings to each face, and trefoil-headed openings with pierced screens below those, on the cardinal faces only. The striking design is emphasised by the positioning of the octagonal stair turret in the NW corner. The small, cross-gabled N porch was formerly linked with the W range of the priory buildings.

INTERIOR: The nave arcades are of six bays, having octagonal columns with moulded feet and capitals, and pointed arches. The wall shafts are set between, with carved head stops and foliage capitals, each one different, supporting the scissor-braced-trussed nave roof. The pews date from the C20. At the W end of the nave is an elaborate chest tomb with the robed effigy of Francis Nicholson, Archbishop of Corfu (d 1855). The large, octagonal stone pulpit with stone steps has carved symbols of the Evangelists in painted and gilded quatrefoils matching those on the screens. The high-relief Stations of the Cross are in panels set into the walls of the aisles and W end of the nave. Tall, canopied statue niches with ornate decoration are set at either side of the E end of the nave; that to the N houses a statue of St Dominic, that to the S a statue of the Virgin.

The high, moulded chancel arch has a wall painting by Henry Doyle (1827-92) above, depicting the Last Judgement. The five-bay stone rood screen, by Charles Hansom, has cusped and crocketed tracery and carved angel enrichment to the string moulding, and trefoil piercing above. The lower panels have sculpted demi-angels in quatrefoils, painted and gilded, holding shields and symbols of the Passion. Above is the rood, a large painted and gilded Crucifixion flanked by statues of the Virgin Mary and St John. The chancel has a six-sided, painted, panelled ceiling which includes religious symbols. The floor is tiled with richly-coloured Minton tiles in various geometric designs; marble steps ascend towards the high altar, which remains in situ. The altar and reredos are painted and extensively gilded; the reredos has sculpted angels in crocketed niches to either side; the altar front has figurative scenes including the Crucifixion at the centre, in quatrefoil panels matching those on the screens. The triple-arched sedilia to the S side steps down towards the W. At its E side is a shouldered-arched piscina. The C19 choir stalls have carved head ends. A pointed-arched doorway to the N, with head stops, gives access to the remaining part of the former monastic buildings, which include the sacristy and a first-floor meeting room.

In the S aisle, the W end is screened off with a low, Gothic timber balustrade, to create a baptistery; the stone font is octagonal, with panels with symbols of the Evangelists, similar to those on the screen. The floor has polychrome Minton tiles. The E end of the aisle forms the Chapel of the Forty Martyrs of St Sebaste, divided from the aisle by a three-bay stone screen matching that in the nave. Set under the arch between the chapel and the choir is the elaborate alabaster tomb of William Leigh (d 1873) by Richard Boulton, his effigy attended by an angel, with a lion at his feet; he holds a model of the church. The N aisle has an altar at its W end, against the W wall, a relatively simple stone table with stencilled decoration. Against the N wall is the altar of the Rosary, added circa 1894; in stone, the reredos has a high, canopied niche at the centre.

The original stained glass windows are by William Wailes of Newcastle. Three in the aisles are by Hardman, installed in the late 1890s. In the N aisle is a rare signed work by WG Saunders, and a continental window of circa 1884. In the S aisle is a reset window of 1936 by Edward Payne, Arts and Crafts designers, brought here from the former chapel at Hampton Green near Box.

The crypt, accessed from the outside of the church on the S side, runs under the E end of the nave and chancel, and the remaining part of the E range of the monastic buildings. The crypt is vaulted, the ceiling carried on robust stone piers of square section with chamfers. At the E end, directly under the high altar, is a simple altar table carried on three slender piers, with foliate carving to the capitals. Under the S aisle chapel is the Leigh family vault, with burials in a stone matrix behind closing stones with carved inscriptions. The crypt continues under the stub of the monastic range, which has vaulted storage.

SUBSIDIARY FEATURES: The churchyard has a public access from the S, through a gateway in the boundary wall. The path to the S porch is flanked by wrought iron RAILINGS of unusual design: widely-spaced barley-twist uprights support a continuous top rail with scrolled ends, from which rise tapering finials with ball tops.

The BOUNDARY WALLS of the present churchyard are a mixture of the original boundary walls and the remains of the monastic buildings demolished in 1970. They surround the space on two sides, and are irregular in their height, layout and construction. The original boundary walls have angled coping stones. There is a stretch of high retaining wall to the W.

Selected Sources

Books and journals
Harding, J A, The Diocese of Clifton, 1850-2000, (1999), 222-4
Verey, D, Brooks, A, The Buildings of England Gloucestershire I: The Cotswolds, (2002), 745-6
The Architectural History Practice Limited: Churches in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Clifton: An Architectural and Historical Review, prepared for The Diocese of Clifton and Historic England (January 2016)

National Grid Reference: SO8416701061