THE Augustinian Priory of St Mary and St Edburg was founded by Gilbert Bassett, then Lord of the Manor, in around 1183 for a Prior and 11 canons.

The priory was endowed with land and buildings around the town and in other parishes, including 180 acres, two mills and a quarry at Kirtlington, 300 acres at Wretchwick and 135 acres at Stratton Audley, Gravenhill and Arncott.

It also held the mill at Clifton and had farms let to tenants at Deddington, Grimsbury, Waddesdon and Fringford. Although these holdings were extensive and close to the market at Bicester, they appear to have been poorly managed and did not produce much income for the priory.

The land given by Gilbert Bassett for the priory buildings lay just south of the parish church, in the place now known as Old Place Yard. The gatehouse was on the site of the former ʻChapter and Verseʼ guesthouse in Church Lane.

The priory church was substantially bigger than the parish church and was built around 1200.

It was then enlarged around 1300 in association with the construction of the Purbeck marble shrine of St Edburg. The church was located just to the east of the old library building that stands there now and stretched under Priory Lane with the chancel ending beneath Bryan House.

The priory church was linked by a cloister to a quadrangle containing the refectory, kitchens, dormitory and prior’s lodging.

The priory farm buildings lay in the north corner of the site, with the present St Edburg’s Church Hall being one of the barns. These had direct access along Piggy Lane to land in what is now the King’s End Estate.

In the south-eastern part of the precinct, in what is now Priory Lane, is thought to have been a hospice or guesthouse. The house now called ʻThe Old Prioryʼ was rebuilt on this site using medieval material.

The eastern edge of the precinct was bordered by the branches of the Bure stream. The priory watermill lay near the site of the building called ʻThe Prioryʼ at the bottom of Chapel Street (formerly Water Lane) and remains of the mill race that fed the waterwheel can be seen in its garden.

Since the priory was never very rich, it was among the first to be closed.

In 1537 the value of its land and property amounted to £176 a year and, following its surrender to the King, the priory church was demolished by Sir Simon Harcourt, the Sheriff of Oxfordshire.

The site and remaining buildings then found their way into the hands of the Moore family who lived there through the rest of the Tudor period. Eventually the rest of the priory buildings were demolished and it became a farm.

The dovecote that we have today is a 16th century building, believed to have been built on the site of the priory’s dovecote. It appears to have been altered in various ways throughout its lifetime, most notably during the 1960s when it was saved from demolition after the roof had already been removed.

A new roof was built, including the distinctive lantern light window at the pinnacle, coloured glass windows were inserted, the exterior staircase was added, and the interior was renovated. Most recently it has been used as a storage facility by the library and council, but those 1960s features still remain.

This Saturday, as part of the Bicester Festival programme, Bicester Local History Society will be at the dovecote from 10am to 4pm with a display on the history of the priory and some of the archaeological excavations that have taken place there over the years.

The dovecote itself will be open to the public, so please come along and join us.