Public asked to sponsor 900-year-old floor as archaeologists begin "giant jigsaw" at excavated monastic priory

By Culture24 Reporter | 16 March 2015

Priory undercroft to return in "extraordinary" style as public given chance to sponsor 900-year-old floor

A photo of a large priory estate under a tree
Norton Priory, in Runcorn, is 900 years old this year© Norton Priory Museum Trust
The first Victorian tiles have been lifted from the floor of the 900-year-old undercroft at Norton Priory, the museum and medieval complex in Cheshire which is considered among the finest excavated monastic sites in Europe.

Archaeologists are conserving the building after escalating water damage caused the floor to sink and the tiles to crack. Much of the stonework is also being repointed as part of a transformation of the museum, described as “ageing” by organisers but now backed by a £3.7 million Heritage Lottery Fund grant.

A photo of a large statue of a god-like figure
The huge 14th century statue of St Christopher is part of the collections© Norton Priory Museum Trust
“It’s a bit like a giant jigsaw,” said Will Walker, of Earthworks Archaeology.

“Each tile has to be numbered and its location marked on to a plan so that once the stabilisation works have been completed, the tiles can all be replaced from the exact location from which they were taken.”

A decade of intense archaeological excavations preceded the opening of the museum in 1985. The site was founded as a priory in 1115, becoming a mitred abbey during the late 14th century and a family home for 400 years following its dissolution by Henry VIII in 1536.

An 18th century walled gardens and scheduled ruins are spread across the 47-acre priory, including the twelve-foot tall, 14th century statue of St Christopher, described by Tate Britain as one of the most important medieval sculptures in the world.

“The proposed architectural plans are ambitious but sympathetic to the medieval remains,” said Frank Hargrave, the Director of the museum and gardens.

“The museum, previously located close to the undercroft, will be pushed back with a glazed link up to a new first floor gallery that will replace a crumbling 1970s roof.

A photo of men in high visibility clothing carrying out a brownfield archaeological survey
The Walled Garden will remain open to visitors at a reduced admission price© Norton Priory Museum Trust
“This attractive new glazed space will become the main entrance to the site, with the undercroft and St Christopher statue located at the heart of the redeveloped museum.”

Members of the public are being invited to support the project by sponsoring a tile in return for a place in a permanent dedications panel when the undercroft reopens in 2016, encompassing a new gallery.

“The effect will be extraordinary,” said Lynn Smith, the Priory’s Senior Keeper.

“The undercroft is unique in that it shows 900 years of history within the building’s fabric.”

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A photo of curving stone walls within a historic monastic site
The museum closed before Christmas but is expected to reopen in August 2016© Norton Priory Museum Trust
A photo of a family sitting down smiling within a stone wall monastic site
The full cost of the project is £4.4 million© Norton Priory Museum Trust
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