The village of Clare boasts a rich history thanks to its close association with the powerful de Clare family. It was Richard de Clare who invited the Augustinians over in 1248 to found their first English priory here, so it is fitting that after a 400-year absence following the Reformation, the Augustinians returned in 1953 where a Catholic church and retreat now flourish.
Although much of the original church and its associated buildings are long gone, there is plenty of history visible. The oldest building dates back to the 13th century – it started out as the priory’s infirmary, went through a somewhat inglorious period as a barn and now serves as the parish Catholic church.
The original second-storey windows are clearly visible, while the roof’s original beams also survive and can be seen inside the church. The priory house is now principally used as a retreat and is not open to the general public, although take a peek at its original front door, which dates from its earliest years. The house was built during the 14th century, was extensively remodelled during the Wars of the Roses and then added to further by the Barker family who owned it for much of the period after the Augustinians were removed in 1538.
Much of Clare Priory’s grounds are now laid to lawn, but the church’s south wall – all 140 feet of it – remains, along with the stone altar. The priory’s close connections with medieval nobility and royalty are made evident by the plaque dedicated to the ancestors and relatives of Richard III and his wife Anne who were buried here, including Edmund Mortimer and Joan of Acre.
Don’t miss: the Little Cloister and its original wooden features, which date from the 14th century.
Clare Priory, Ashen Road, Clare, Suffolk CO10 8NX