Conservation of ruins
Ankerwycke Priory, founded by Gilbert de Montfichet around 1160, is cared for by the National Trust who together with the Berkshire Archaeology Society and Surrey County Archaeological Unit, have carried out investigations to learn more about Ankerwycke’s past as part of the wider Runnymede Explored Project (a five-year initiative, supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund). Cliveden Conservation was appointed to consolidate and slow down the decline of the surviving ruin.
Summary of work carried out
Works onsite began after a two-year collaboration with the National Trust and Historic England to formulate a sound strategy for conserving the ruins. Over this period, Cliveden Conservation stonemasons carried out phases of hot-mixed lime mortar trials, surveying and de-vegetation. Following a process of discussion and research into different wall-head treatments, the decision was taken to soft cap the highest sections of the ruin using turf and sedum plugs.
Well-intentioned but ultimately harmful historic interventions had been carried out during the 20th century. Heavy concrete hard capping which had been applied to the fragile remains needed to be removed, thus reducing the height of the original chalk walls in some places. Once the old hard capping had been removed, the remaining chalk rubble could be consolidated.
The arch within the north wall was in danger of collapse due to the loss of the masonry above it. By reinstating the masonry above and surrounding the arch, it was possible to re-establish the compression necessary to keep the voussoirs in place.
Although the removal of the damaging historic interventions has resulted in dramatic visual changes to the ruins, they are now more authentic and stable. This has allowed for the removal of fencing to improve the setting of the site, effectively integrating it within the surrounding landscape.
The conservation of Ankerwycke Priory represents the last remaining visual cue for a fascinating location with so many stories to share. The work which has been carried out by Cliveden Conservation has prolonged the life of the surviving ruins which will be used as a stepping stone to help illuminate the wider site for visitors.
In December 2023, The National Trust announced that its archaeology work at Ankerwycke Priory had been nominated for Current Archaeology’s Rescue Project of the Year. This prestigious award celebrates achievements of archaeological projects over the preceding 12 months to areas that are under threat and the conservation efforts taken to prevent further loss.
In January 2024, the BBC Two programme ‘Digging for Britain’ featured the Ankerwycke Priory project including the work carried out by Cliveden Conservation.