CURRENT ARCHAEOLOGY 113
Sandwell Priory, as it might have looked in the 14th century. Drawn by Lesley Collett.
According to the records, Sand well Priory was one of the smaller Benedictine houses. At its greatest extent it could probably never support more than 4 monks and at the time of its suppression in 1524 there were only 2 monks there. In both 1361 and 1380 the prior was the only monk. Yet when it was excavated between 1982 and 1988 by an MSC team, Mike Hod der and Chris Jones revealed far too grand a building for such a small establishment. What was the reason for this discrepancy?
The initial Church, founded in the mid 12th century, was to our eyes extremely odd, with a very elaborate east end but no nave. There was a long central choir flanked by two shorter chapels on each side - though the remains on the northern side were destroyed by the construction of a post-medieval country house. There were also elaborate north and south transepts off which the side chapels opened. However, despite the elaborate east end, there does not appear to have been a nave. The foundations were dug but pottery in the levelling material indicates that this part was not completed until the later 13th century. A rough stone foundation may have supported a temporary screen separating the east part from the unbuilt nave.
The reason for the extensive building works over such a short period of time is probably due to the involvement of the founding family. In the east end of the chancel, adjacent to the high altar, was a stone coffin (see view from east end, page 190). This had been placed here during the initial construction of the church, for its edges were overlapped by the earliest mortar floors. The coffin had been disturbed by a 19th century pit but it was probably originally covered by a life-sized stone effigy of a knight in chainmail, the head of which was found in demolition rubble near the coffin (see photo, page 191). This was surely the burial place of the priory's founder, William Fitz Guy de Opheni, Lord of the manor of West Bromwich. The style is of the second half of the thirteenth century - possibly half a century after Sir William's death.
However the greatest concentration of graves in the church was in the south transept which was presumably the family burial ground (see page 190, picture top right). Burials took place here throughout the Priory's lifetime and included men, women and children. The most prominent was a stone coffin