Saturday 21 November 2009

Benton Priory? Warminster

Robert Hallmann's mysterious photograph of a priory in a misty field.


Last week we received an enquiry from Robert Hallmann of Hadleigh in Essex. His photographs have been published in several books, including The Landscapes Of Essex (with text by Stan Jarvis) and Norfolk, A Portrait In Colour (with text by Keith Skipper), both published by Countryside Books. Robert has also written about times gone by, and his published work includes A History Of Canvey Island, published by Phillimore.

Robert wanted to confirm some details for a photograph he took a long while ago - a photograph which had been labelled on the back: Benton Priory, Warminster. He wanted to confirm the subject of the photo was in Warminster, and he intends, it seems, to discover some history concerning this building. His enquiries led him to phone Warminster Information Centre, where Barbara Gilmour was very helpful and passed on to Robert the contact details for Danny Howell.

Robert then phoned Danny Howell. Danny was able to tell Robert straight away that there is not and never has been a building called Benton Priory in Warminster. Danny asked Robert to e-mail him the photo to see if he could recognise it. Robert soon e-mailed the photo (the one pictured above), which shows an unusual building with all the traits of an early religious edifice. The view looks across a misty field towards it, and as Robert himself said, the picture has something of an eerie atmosphere about it - the photo would easily lend itself to illustrate a ghost story.

The good news is that Danny has now been able to identify the building and its location. It is in Somerset and a few miles from Warminster. It stands adjacent to the A36 Warminster to Bath road, beyond Woolverton but before you get to Limpley Stoke. It is situated between the villages of Freshford and Norton St. Philip. It is on the left side of the road, opposite the turning for Abbey Lane which drops down into Freshford.

Danny says: "I thought the building in the photograph was similar to one I had glimpsed through some trees there whenever I travelled to Bath. I had always been aware of it, but, of course, when you're driving a car on a busy road, you don't get the chance to have a good look. I had to go to Freshford this afternoon (Saturday 21st November 2009) and I used the opportunity to park up and have a closer look at that building. It is indeed the one in Robert Hallmann's photograph. The building and its grounds are not accessible to the public, and the drive leading to it is barred by an iron gate. The pillars of the gateway bear plaques which read Hinton Priory."

So, for Benton Priory read Hinton Priory. Mystery solved.

There are several websites with information concerning Hinton Priory, so Robert should have no problem researching its history.

Danny Howell was happy to be of assistance, as always.