Merton Priory Could Gain International Status

Recognition for hidden landmark

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Merton Priory, a landmark religious building dating back to 1117, but hidden largely under the A24 and a shopping centre, could be applying for inclusion on the UNESCO Memory of the World Register.

The former Augustian Priory had been put on a tentative list for World Heritage status drawn up last year by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

But the Government has now decided not to include Merton Priory on a list for potentional World Heritage nominations.

However, an independent expert panel advising the Secretary of State for Culture has recommended that it consider applying for inclusion on the UNESCO Memory of the World Register.

This is a list of documentary heritage which holds particular cultural significance and includes treasures such as the Bayeux Tapestry in France and the Rigveda in India.

Councillor Richard Chellew, who spearheaded the Merton Priory application to go on the Government’s Tentative List, also revealed that a rare copy of the Magna Carta will soon be on display in the borough.

Merton 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 in Colliers Wood 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.

Councillor Richard Chellew said: "I welcome the independent expert panel’s advice that we should consider applying for the UNESCO Memory of the World Register. This is clear recognition of all the hard work by Merton Priory Trustees and Peter Mills of the Mills Whipp Partnership in trying to put Merton back on the world heritage map.

"It’s been an exciting last few months for all of us working for Merton Priory, not least having obtained the rights to make a rare copy of the Magna Carta, which will soon be on display here in the Borough with the proceeds from sales of paper copies going towards the Priory."

Merton Priory Chapter House is also due to re-open in June after extensive enhancements to the displays.

March 25, 2011