Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: November 27, 2019
Webpage updated: November 27, 2019




Behind Saint Andrew's Church lies a building that used to be known simply as the Abbey.  It had been built by the Priors of Plympton in the latter part of the fifteenth century as a lodging-house for the priest serving Saint Andrew's and Saint Katherine-upon-the Hoe.  At the dissolution of the monasteries in 1539 the House passed into private hands.

By the end of the nineteenth century it was being used by Messrs Brown, Wills and Nicholson Limited, wholesale grocers, and all trace of any religious connection had disappeared.

the doorway of the Prysten House, Plymouth, just before restoration commenced.

The door to the Prysten House before
restoration was commenced.

In 1919 the then Vicar of Saint Andrew's, the Reverend Arthur W T Perowne, inaugurated a project to acquire a church hall suitable for parochial uses and to preserve the Prysten House, not only as an ancient and historic building but to provide a church house or Chapter Rooms for the whole of the Deanery of the three Towns.  It was to be the parish's Memorial to those who fell in the Great War.

The building was described at that time as having a frontage of 60 feet facing Saint Andrew's Street, with other buildings of 57 feet and 41 feet long to the south and north respectively.  Each building was three storeys tall and they enclosed a central court.  It was thought that at one time a building also existed on the western side forming a quadrangle around the open court.

By the disposition of the doorways, approaches, galleries and stairways, it was concluded that opening on to the court were a number of separate cells for the monks.  This was similar to those of a Carthusian Monastery.

Inside the building, the first chamber measured 31 feet 6 inches by 13 feet and contained a very large fireplace.  This was clearly the "kechyn" that was repaired by Sir Thomas Flyte in 1539 and is recorded in the Corporation's Black Book.  The northern end was probably divided off as a buttery.  A vaulted cellar was discovered circa 1924 beneath the chamber at the south-east corner of this building.

The stairs from the ground level to the first floor were missing at the time restoration began but the circular, stone staircase between the first and second floors was still intact.  The chamber at the front of the first floor measured 33 feet in length by 14 feet wide and was probably used as a common room or parlour rather than a refectory.  The rooms on the second floor were similar to those below and originally there was an open, timbered roof.

In due course the Prysten House was purchased for 8,800, following which the Reverend Perowne was appointed to be Lord Bishop of Bradford and moved away.  Messrs Pearn Brothers Limited, builders and contractors, started work on the restoration of the part fronting Catherine Street on June 21st 1923 and completed it on September 12th 1925.   The cost was some 12,000.  This part is the present Abbey Hall.