Restoration work to the medieval undercroft at Dunstable’s Priory House, to repair and protect this important historic structure, will begin this month.
An undercroft is a cellar, often brick-lined and vaulted, and was used for underground storage in buildings in medieval times.
The work at Grade II* listed Priory House is an important project for the Dunstable High Street Heritage Action Zone, which is run in partnership by Dunstable Town Council and Historic England.
The undercroft at Priory House, constructed of vaulted stonework, is of national significance because it’s a rare and almost complete example of its kind from the 13th century.
It is suffering from environmental and structural issues, including movement and cracking in the stonework. We are working with Dunstable Town Council and Historic England, and structural engineers The Morton Partnership, to sensitively repair the undercroft, protecting and retaining as much of the original 13th century material as possible.
Priory House is one of the oldest buildings in Dunstable, along with the Priory Church. Alongside the repair and conservation work, new research will record the rare features of the medieval undercroft and look to more fully understand its relationship with Dunstable Priory.
Priory House has had a varied history. It was built on the site of Dunstable Priory’s guest house for travellers. It became a private house in 1545, and one of the first owners was the local Crawley family, who used part of the building to create an early mental health hospital.
In 1743, the original stone vaulted hall was incorporated into a much larger house with the Georgian façade and interior details that can still be seen today. By the 19th century, Priory House was owned by the Munt family, who built a hat factory next to it, on the site of the present gateway from High Street South. The factory was demolished in 1907.
Since 1956, the building has been used as offices and is now a heritage centre and tea rooms.
Works will begin this month (September) and are expected to take approximately 10 months. During the works, Priory House will remain open with reduced seating in the tea rooms. The exhibition space on the first floor will close from 19 August. It is hoped that full service will resume in summer 2023.
Find out more information and keep up to date at https://www.dunstable.gov.uk/hshaz/priory-house-restoration
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