Norman capital from the St Nicholas Priory lavabo

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Norman capital from the St Nicholas Priory lavabo

This is one of a series of capitals in Purbeck marble discovered re-used in a post-medieval drain in the kitchen of St Nicholas Priory. They clearly come from a structure which was dismantled in the priory at the time of its dissolution in 1536. The capitals are unusual in being wedge-shaped in plan; this view shows the narrow end of one of them.

In a careful study of these fragments the architect and architectural historian Harold Brakspear showed that the capitals must have come from a circular structure — almost certainly the priory’s lavabo. A lavabo or lavatorium was the place within the cloister where the monks would wash their hands before entering the refectory to eat their meals. This took the form of a circular structure within the cloister in which a central fountain was surrounded by an open arcade. St Nicholas Priory seems to have had such a feature.

Acknowledgments: RAM Museum