Property transfer often affords an opportunity to investigate the background of a building when overtures at another time might have met with less success. A familiar edifice that has been standing sentinel in Studley 'since perhaps the early 17th century is the black and white house known as No. 1 Priory Square.
Opposite the Barley Mow Inn, at the junction of the roads from Astwood Bank, Redditch, Birmingham and Alcester, it has witnessed over the years the comings and doings of a busy thoroughfare. The last two years have seen it become near-derelict, its lime-washed brickwork flaking and greyed; the damp from within and without taking its toll as the roof tiles collapsed and the Vandal tribe smashed its window glass in ritual destruction; its once proud head hung in shame. But its heart beat on, for its sturdy, carpenter-marked oak timbers had been standing too long to bs easily toppled when times became hard. Fortune changes and January 1985 saw the beginning of its refurbishment: a professionally conducted face lift will result in its use, not as a dwelling house, but as a suite of offices.
What do we know of its history? Very little, it seems, for like so many other familiar or common-place things, it has 'always been there'; ordinary mortals paid scant attention to the keeping of documents for the sake of posterity. The house was latterly part of the 'Needles' site and is squeezed against the north corner of what Studley now calls the Co-op, alias Leo's Supermarket.
Within living memory the areas the bottom of Marble Alley was an orchard, complete with its own black and white cottages. These were demolished before World War 2, being in an unhabitable condition, and the ground soon built upon by extensions to the needle factory. Built under, too, for here was to be found an air-raid shelter. Searches through transter deeds and indentures lodg ed with a Birmingham solicitor revealed nothing earlier than 1859 and certainly none of it could be proved to relate to our partic ular building.
The two-bay house occupies a commanding position: it is grade 2 listed, with brick-filled panels to the fully timber-framed structure and standing on a high brick plinth. Though now lacking its south gable and one-time rendering, as evidenced by the hacked timbers, it remains essentially unaltered, possessing an entrance hall, two rooms, kitchen and store on the ground floor; four bed rooms on the first floor' all topped by an attic, entrance to which is reached (at some risks by a very steep stairway. The house is reputed to have been connected to the Augustinian Priory by a 300 yard tunnel; no evidence has been found. It does, indeed, possess a brick-lined cellar under its garden on the north side and its reputed tunnel connection with the Barley Mow some 70' across the road has been vouchsafed by Studley people who claim to have seen the bricked-up passageway.
Named within the indenture of 1859, which refers to a conveyance of 1822, were Robert Knight of Barrell's Hall, John London, builder and Samuel Hoitt, miller, both of Henley in Arden, Mary Newland, spinster, of Stratford, William Warrilow, writing master, of Stratford, Francis Brown, farming at Tardebigg and William Gibbs, farmer, of Alveston Hill. The attached schedule sets the scene as it was in earlier times. Though specific to the 'inn commonly known by the sign of the Golden Fleece', it contains an interesting description of the offices:- 'outbuildings, stables, yards, gardens, heretofore part of a foldyard and rickyard where formerly stood a barn and cowshed'. The inn was identified by ref erence to the owners of neighbouring ground; for example, it was bounded on the north and west by 'the road leading from the Spernal Ash Turnpike road towards the Four Elms'. Known today as High Street, this stretch is still called 'Fleece Hill' by older res idents. The inn was a close neighbour of 'our' house and we thus have confirmation of its rural setting: indeed, recently discoverd photographs dating from the 1930's show the buildings of similar construction at the bottom of Marble Alley. The house stands now a tangible reminder of the needle site's former usage; a surv ivor from earlier times, deserving of our care and concern as one of Studley's finest remaining timber-framed buildings: a jewel indeed, which will both enhance and enrich in its repolishing.
A footnote: Since writing the above it has been possible to examine the inside of the gutted building. The 4 rooms on the first floor were originally 2 large ones, the later partitions being of brick. All original walls and ceilings were of lath and plaster; all the timber joints were very plain. Under the garden may have been a well, suggested by the circular way in which it had collapsed, for no access to a cellar was found inside the house.
The remains of Studley Priory, incorporated into the chimneys of Priory Farm, 'suggest a substantial stone building, reputedly ruined by 1539. However, no quantity of such stone is to be seen in the locality, so it was a surprise to find sections of the brick plinth of the house on the west side both sitting upon a stone foundation and forming an outer skin to a sandstone inner, Whether this is a foundation of an earlier structure cannot now be determined for it is encased in new brickwork and remains for future generations of local historians to ponder over.
Alcester & District Local History Society
Summer 1985 Index