Turn off Exeter’s busy Fore Street and walk down the narrow Mint Lane, and you will find the city’s oldest building, St Nicholas Priory and its small but beautiful gardens. Originally founded in 1087 as a Benedictine monastery, the priory evolved across the centuries from monastery to city museum.
In 2018, Exeter Historic Buildings Trust acquired the west wing of the priory from Exeter City Council, along with the gardens to the south of the building. Our main aim was to open the buildings and gardens to the public and make them vibrant community spaces. With the assistance of the National Lottery Heritage Fund, the trust has repaired the buildings and established a busy programme of tours, performances and events.
Last summer, we turned our attention to improving the garden. Working with our dedicated team of garden volunteers, we considered ways to redesign the garden to reflect the priory’s history and enhance the interpretation of the site’s monastic origin. After considering various options, the trust decided to establish a modern medicinal garden, which would reflect the both the monastic and Tudor history of the priory. Medicinal, or ‘physick’ gardens were common to monasteries in order to treat the ailments of the community, while Tudor gardens made extensive use of herbs for both culinary and decorative purposes. Once complete, the medicinal garden will be one of only two such gardens in Devon and Cornwall and we are excited about the new ways it will allow us to interpret medical, garden and monastic history. The trust has secured a grant from the Finnis-Scott Foundation for the work, and we are just waiting for lockdown to ease so we can start.
If you live in the Exeter area and are interested in the project, we would love for you to join us. We are always looking for new volunteers at the priory and we would very much welcome new garden volunteers as we establish our new medicinal garden. You can contact us by emailing [email protected] or visiting our website at www.nicholaspriory.com and completing the enquiry form.
As always, be in touch and stay safe!