Guided Tour of Grace Dieu Priory Ruins

Leader: Ann Petty

17  August 2021

You have probably seen the ruins of Grace Dieu Priory beside the A512 near Thringstone.  A cold and dull August evening did not deter 16 of our members and their guests from joining us on a guided walk to take a closer look at them.

Ann Petty from the Friends of Grace Dieu led us through pleasant woods to the gates of Grace Dieu Manor, was used until recently as a private school.  Ann had grown up in one of the houses on the estate so she was able to give us a personal insight into life there during the 1960s.  Our further route to the priory ruins passed the remains of the old Charnwood Forest Canal and Railway, which were built to connect the Leicestershire coalfields to Loughborough but they were never very profitable.

The Priory was founded by Rosa de Verdon in about the year 1240, when she returned to her home town of Belton after an unhappy marriage in Ireland.  It followed the standard plan of a simple church on the north side, with other buildings grouped around a cloister.  The Priory housed up to 16 Augustinian nuns, a number of servants and a male priest to conduct the many services that formed their daily routine.  Rosa herself might also have lived there; she was certainly buried at the Priory when she died a few years later and her fine tomb can still be seen in Belton church.  There is a standing stone in an adjacent field and many worked flints have also been found at the site so the location of the Priory was perhaps chosen because of its existing spiritual significance.

We get occasional glimpses of life at the Priory through church records, legal disputes and a rare set of account books for the years 1414-1418.  Its estates gradually grew as people left land to it in their wills but it never became very wealthy.  The Priory continued in use for 300 years until, like other religious houses, it was dissolved during the reign of Henry VIII.  John Beaumont was assigned to value the property for the Crown and the next day he bought it for the low price he had determined!  (Beaumont had form: later in life he was imprisoned for corruption on a grand scale in the position of Master of the Rolls.)  The Beaumonts converted the Priory into a family home and most of the ruins visible today date from that Tudor period but the broad arch of the medieval Chapter House remains the most distinctive feature.

The estate eventually came into the Phillipps family.  Their main residence was at Garendon and they allowed Grace Dieu to fall into ruin but a later member of the family, Ambrose Phillipps De Lisle, built himself a new manor house on the estate.  He was a prominent local Catholic, founding Mount Saint Bernard Abbey, and he built several chapels and other religious monuments in the woods around Grace Dieu.  After De Lisle moved back to Garendon, a long-term tenant of the Manor was Charles Booth, known for his maps of poverty in Victorian London, who was a generous benefactor to the local area and is buried at Thringstone.

If you would like to visit, the Friends of Grace Dieu offer tours at various times during the year or you can explore on your own by following the signed footpath from the car park of the Bull’s Head carvery at Thringstone.