Merton Priory Could Become World Heritage Site

Hidden landmark could gain international status

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Merton Priory, a landmark religious building dating back to 1117, but hidden largely under the A24 and Sainsbury's supermarket in Colliers Wood, could become a World Heritage Site.

The former Augustian Priory has been put on a potential World Heritage list drawn up by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

There are only four World Heritage sites in London - Kew Gardens, Westminster Abbey, Westminster Palace and the Tower of London - and it could take at least two years to find out if Merton Priory will join them.

The priory grew into one of England's largest medieval monastaries, but was disolved and demolished in 1537 during Henry VIII's reign. Henry actually re-used stonework from Merton Priory to build Nonsuch Palace near Cheam.

It then completely disappeared until major excavations were undertaken when the Sainsbury’s hypermarket and Merantun Way were built in 1988.

Although the Priory itself was demolished in 1538, a good length of its boundary wall still survives. It stretches from the Sainsbury’s recycling centre to the Christchurch Road roundabout, and can be seen from the Priory Retail Park, amid the undergrowth on the other side of the Pickle Ditch. A blue plaque (left) marks the site of the entrance to the Priory precincts.

There have been several excavations in recent years, including one by Channel 4's Time Team in 2002 which was on the site of the former Liberty's works at Merton Abbey Mills. It found a monastic building which was associated with the Priory.

But the only access visitors can get to the Priory is when members of the Merton Priory Trust, founded in 2003 to provide and support and education centre for the site, open it up for special events.

It is due to be open to the public during the London Open House weekend, which takes place on September 18 and 19.

July 23, 2010