The Mercian nunnery
Trentham Priory is said to have originally been the site of an Anglian nunnery, built in the first years of royal Christianity in Mercia at 'Tricengeham' (Trentham). It was founded by King Æthelred of Mercia, and given into the care of his niece Werburgh. Werburgh died at Trentham on 3 February 699, and was granted sainthood.
There is no trace of the original site or even knowledge of exactly where it was located. There are the remains of what is said to be a stepped base for a Saxon stone cross, to be seen today in the churchyard at St. Mary and All Saints at Trentham. But it is not known if this cross base is authentic, an authentic import from elsewhere at the behest of the Sutherland family, or a later antiquarian fabrication. There was also a claim made in 1858 that large stones, discovered during routine drainage work at St. Mary and All Saints, were the foundation stones of the nunnery.
The Augustinian Priory
Trentham became an Augustinians monastery house from the 1150s, under the patronage of Ranulph, Earl of Chester. The foundation charter talks of... "the restoration of an abbey of canons" at the site, but there is no actual evidence that the Priory was built atop the old nunnery site. Shortly after Ranulph's death, the Priory appears to have passed into the hands of King Henry II. Henry granted additional charters and the Priory seems to have been securely established by 1155 - the Pope confirmed its religious charters in 1162. The Priory had a relatively modest patchwork of widespread holdings, from which it drew tithes, rents, and other services. The Priory served as a parish church for Barlaston and Newcastle-under-Lyme, along with other smaller places nearby. It maintained an outlying hermitage at Hollywell (a holy well) in the rolling hills north of Tunstall.
An order of suppression was given to the Priory on 17 June 1540, as part of the more general dissolution of the monasteries in the British Isles at that time. The religious community at Trentham had never been large, ranging between 5 and 8 canons during its lifetime. The vacant site was then given to Charles, Duke of Suffolk - and it then promptly found its way into the ownership of James Leveson of Wolverhampton. Leveson was a wealthy wool merchant who founded what is now known as the Sutherland family, who founded Trentham Hall and Trentham Gardens on the site.
Trentham Priory's small square tower is preserved at Dalbury Lees in nearby Derbyshire... "The small church tower formerly belonged to Trentham Priory, in Staffordshire". Dalbury was recorded as supporting Trentham Priory from the early 1290s onwards.
- A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 3: "Houses of Augustinian canons: the priory of Trentham" (1960).
- George Wrottesley & Frederick Perrot Parker, "Cartulary of Trentham Priory: Introduction", from Staffordshire Historical Collections Vol.11 (1890), pp. 295–299.
- "Photo of Cross". Retrieved June 8, 2012.
- The History of the County of Derby, Part 2 (1829), page 337.