Prinknash Abbey

Date: 08 October 2007

Prinknash Abbey is set to be turned into a retirement village in a £25 million scheme headed by PG Group, which has acquired the abbey and six acres of surrounding land.

PG Group aims to turn the historic building into retirement apartments with a nursing home alongside.

The situation has come about due to the declining number of monks. Their ranks at Prinknash have dropped from more than 60 to just 12 and the abbey, with its dozens of rooms, is now far too big for them. They are moving back to their original home, the 16th century St Peter's Grange, which stands half-a-mile away and which served as the monastery from 1928 to 1972.

The Tudor manor house has been used as a retreat and conference centre for the past 35 years. The monks plan to redevelop the home farm area just below St Peter's Grange as a guest house and retreat centre. The PG Group intends to convert the abbey building, designed by architect Frank Broadbent, into between 50 and 80 apartments for sale. An 80-bed nursing home will be built nearby.

The abbey has a stunning aspect which overlooks the Severn Vale.

The head of the Prinknash community of monks, Abbot Francis Baird OSB, said, "We are selling for a number of reasons. There is the size of the building and the financial cost of running it, with things like heating and insurance.

"It's a waste of a building. We felt that to move back into the grange would be much more sensible. It would be a re-grouping." Abbot Francis, who joined Prinknash in 1978 and was elected abbot 12 years ago, added, "We are making a significant decision, but it's certainly the right decision."

Prinknash Park has been home to the Benedictine monks since 1928 when a deed of covenant was made out by the then owner, the 20th Earl of Rothes. For more than 50 years, Prinknash was synonymous with its well-known pottery which was started by the monks in 1942 when they found a seam of clay during building work.

The monks continued to make pottery at the abbey until 1997 when the pottery was sold. Today, their main income is from the manufacture and sale of incense. Prinknash Abbey is the oldest major incense blender in Europe and have been blending incense since 1906 when the community was on Caldey Island. They sell around 4,000 kg of incense each year and export it worldwide.

At the visitors centre there is a gift shop and tea room and in recent years a monastic and a model buildings exhibition have been opened together with the Orpheus Pavement, a copy of the Roman pavement at Woodchester, near Stroud, and which attract more than 100,000 visitors a year.

Over the years the Abbey has developed a beautiful bird and deer park in the grounds. The park also boasts a large collection of peacocks, exotic pheasants and unusual pygmy goats. The park recently took in a collection of peacocks that were made homeless when a local hospital closed down.

After the Second World War ended the monastery had a community numbering fifty or more. 1947 saw the Abbey sending monks to take over St Michael’s, Farnborough from the Solesmes Congregation. The following year monastic life was restored at the old priory in Pluscarden, near Elgin in Scotland with another infusion of monks from Prinknash. Both of these monasteries are now thriving and self governing.

Their move to St Peter's Grange and the redevelopment of the abbey will not affect the other activities at Prinknash Park. However, the gift shop and the tea room are due to be redeveloped by the Prinknash trustees this autumn and will result in the closure of the tea room, gift shop, exhibitions and Orpheus Pavement until completion.

David Burke