Before the foundation of the Cluniac Priory of St James the current area of Priory Park probably formed part of the woods and fields belonging to Dudley Castle, which had already been built by 1086 and, before that, to the manor recorded there prior to the Norman Conquest.
A priory was founded by the Lord of Dudley, in the mid 12th century. The chapel and cloisters would have stood within a wider landscape of monastic buildings and structures. These would have included fishponds, which are partially preserved as earthworks to the west and northeast, but would probably also have included a mill, gatehouse, guest lodgings and agricultural and other industrial structures, as well as gardens, fields, woodland, a rabbit warren and a quarry. The chapel and cloister buildings were improved in the 13th and 14th centuries and the priory became the burial chapel for the Lords of Dudley. However, the occupation of the priory came to an end in 1539 when it was dissolved by Henry VIII.
During the Civil War the priory was used by Parliamentarian forces besieging Dudley Castle. Records also relate that the priory buildings and surrounding area were developed for a variety of industrial activities during the 18th century, during Dudley’s development towards the Industrial Revolution. However, the industrial structures were cleared in 1825 when the area was laid out as parkland and formal gardens for Priory Hall. This house was built by the Earl of Dudley, but was later occupied by the Earl’s agent. The parkland included areas of ornamental tree planting and carriage drives leading to the house, one of which ran through the ruinous structures of the priory chapel and cloisters. Parts of these were demolished for the building of the carriageway, whilst others were planted with trailing ivy to accentuate their romantic appearance.
The early editions of the Ordnance Survey maps, produced in the late 19th and early 20th century record the development of a complex of buildings to the north of Priory Hall, forming a ‘home farm’ for the Priory Estate.
In 1926 Dudley Borough Council acquired the whole Priory Estate to develop housing for families displaced by the clearance of slums in the centre of Dudley. In 1929 Dudley Borough Council commissioned a plan for the new development from Edward Prentice Mawson, son of the noted landscape architect and town planner Thomas Mawson, whose business he was assuming control of at that time. His proposals for the Priory Estate included provision of a landscaped public park, incorporating the ruined priory chapel and cloisters and the later garden features of Priory Hall, as well as providing facilities for sports including bowls and tennis. Although the finished park differed considerably from Mawson’s design, it did include many of the elements he proposed and it retains much of the spirit of his plans.
By the late 1930s the park had achieved most of its current appearance, although the surrounding park railings were removed during the Second World War. Additional park shelters were erected in the 1950s. Following the inevitable cuts in parks maintenance budgets in the late 1970s and 1980s, the condition of the park deteriorated. A friends group was established in February 2002 with the purpose of protecting and improving the quality of life for residents in the neighbourhood of Priory Park, through the continued provision of a public park and its management and maintenance. Although Priory Park remains the property and responsibility of Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council, the Friends of Priory Park and the Green have played an important role in identifying and promoting works required to conserve and enhance the appearance and public amenity of the park and its historic features.
A short chronology of the Park’s history is set out below:
|1086||The area was part of the landholding of the Saxon Manor of Dudley and subsequently Dudley Castle, as was recorded in the Domesday Survey of 1086.|
|Mid 1100s||The Cluniac Priory of St James was founded by the Lord of Dudley, in the mid 12th century. In addition to the ruins that can be seen today, there would have been further buildings, ponds and enclosures covering most of the southern part of the park and The Green.|
|1539||Occupation of the priory came to an end in 1539 when it was dissolved by Henry VIII.|
|1640s||The priory was used by Parliamentarian forces besieging Dudley Castle during the Civil War.|
|18th Century||In the 18th century, the area was developed for a variety of industrial uses.|
|1825||The area was laid out as parkland and formal gardens for Priory Hall, built by the Earl of Dudley.|
|1926||Dudley Borough Council acquired the Priory Estate to develop housing for families displaced by slum clearance|
|Late 1930s||1930s the Priory Estate housing had been built and the park had achieved most of its current appearance.|
|1940-45||Park railings removed to contribute to the war effort. Parts of the park, including the area known as ‘The Green’, cultivated as part of the ‘Dig for Victory’ campaign.|
|1950s||Post war renovation of the park; park nursery created to the immediate north of Priory Hall|
|1954||The Council’s minute books records the building of a stone shelter donated by Mrs Nora Hanson. It comprised a stone terrace enclosed on three sides by stonewalls with circular narrow coursed stone columns originally supporting a tiled roof. The surrounding area was laid out as a ‘rock studded slope.’|
|1955||Park Pavilion built|
|1970-80s||Decline of the Park|
|2002-10||Friends of Priory Park formed and restoration proposals for the park actively pursued. Children’s Play Area and MUGA built.|
|2010||Priory Park awarded £1.8million from HLF to restore the Park|
|2012||Park restoration commences|
|2013||Park restoration complete|
|2014||Priory Park award its first Green Flag Award|